What the West has Lost

The situation in Ukraine has really had me thinking about the ability of the U.S., and more broadly, the West, to intervene in conflicts and disputes around the world. Republicans have been skewering Obama for being weak and indecisive (meanwhile, The Daily Show skewered such Republicans) and letting world leaders like Assad in Syria and Putin in Russia do as they please, whether it means killing their own people or discretely invading a neighboring country. Indeed, even Benghazi is being newly used as a talking point, with Senator Lindsey Graham claiming that "When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression." 

Really? Is this an Obama thing? The American public does not want to send any more people to war. That's part of why Obama was able to overcome Hilary's "clear path" to the presidency back in the 2008 election. It is so, so easy for opponents to say that Obama is being weak and indecisive, but rarely do they actually offer viable alternatives. Okay, you don't want to send people to war. But you don't want to do nothing. Offer a suggestion! But no, it's much easier to critique someone else's idea than come up with your own. So okay, diplomatic solutions. Sanctions? Freezing assets? Essentially, isolating the country you want to punish in such a way that they are forced to come to the bargaining table? It sounds good, but...

It doesn't really seem to be working anymore. The U.S. has spent a painfully unreal amount of money in Afghanistan over the past decade+ with very little to show for it. We are in the process of pulling our troops out and leaving the nation in the hands of a leader we were supposed to be able to work with but has essentially denounced us in recent months. We hear tales of woe and despair from North Korea, a country that would almost seem like some sort of global performance art because of it's utter weirdness if the results weren't so tragic and inhumane. Russia just went ahead and invaded a sovereign nation, Putin knowing that the West would be hard pressed to react in any meaningful way, at least immediately. And don't even get me started on the West's complete inability to make any real progress in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, as the Palestinian territories literally shrink. Despite countless trips back and forth to the Middle East in the past year, John Kerry and his international allies have been seemingly unable to make any groundbreaking progress. 

In these modern, post World War I and II times, we think that there is some unwritten code that the developed, industrialized, liberal democracies of the world (the West) will never again battle as they did for centuries before and instead have at least a fragile relationship with each other, regardless of their histories. They will negotiate, use diplomacy, maintain the peace. These nations will use this collective power to intervene in conflicts that erupt around the world, pool resources, and act in accordance with an international code of law.

But looking at the current international crises, there are few victories that Western diplomacy can really claim. Arguably, bringing Iran to the negotiating table could be seen as a success of sanctions and other methods, but that has as much to do with a change in regime and a shift in the calculus of the Ayatollah. Syria giving up their chemical weapons is barely a win, because while it does fulfill some international norm, people are being killed by other means without much Western intervention. When stuff like this happens in the world, we like to think that the combined Western powers can really DO SOMETHING. That collectively they can come up with solutions that can make the bad things stop happening. But it doesn't really seem to be the case anymore. 

These powers need to adapt to the new way the world works. The old incentives and punishments that used to project a sense of Western power seem to be inadequate in the face of the emerging kinds of enemies that we are increasingly facing. Indeed, so much of the current hatred in the world is directed towards "the West," or at least the values that certain people have convinced themselves that the West represents. What now? How can nations such as the US maintain a global presence without being the world's police? Should intervention even be our responsibility anymore- should it lay in the hands of organizations such as NATO and the UN? Until the ideal balance is struck, the West will continue to be ineffective in guiding world policy in a positive direction, and millions around the world will continue to suffer for it.