With military and terrorist battles occurring in several places around the world, the question of America’s role in global conflicts is a matter of hot debate.
After several years of sending our soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are understandably weary of war. Few people favor aggressive intervention in the world’s hot spots.
Given that context, it was enlightening to listen recently to former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman discuss America’s role in the world. In addition to his lengthy Senate service, Sen. Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, the first-ever Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket.
He spoke at the Zions Bank Trade and Business Conference, making an eloquent and compelling case for America’s continued engagement in the world. He strongly disagreed with those who say America should turn inward and ignore the world’s trouble spots.
While I’m not an expert on foreign policy, I strongly agree with Sen. Lieberman. As the world’s greatest economic and military power, and with no motive beyond enhancing stability, safety and freedom in the world, America has both a moral and practical obligation to be a global force for good.
That doesn’t mean we should interfere militarily in every conflagration. That would be unwise and we lack the capacity to do so. Even so, a strong America with the resolve, motivation and ability to resist despots and terrorists, when necessary, is a powerful deterrent to oppressors who would otherwise victimize innocent people and destroy freedom and opportunity. If the world’s bullies feel they can wreak havoc with impunity, they will certainly do so.
Those who say America has little stake in what happens around the world are wrong, said Sen. Lieberman. Not only does America have a moral obligation to prevent genocide and atrocities, but it is also in our best economic interests, he said. International political stability means more global economic opportunity and more prosperity for America.
Sen. Lieberman noted that, historically, periods of U.S. isolationism and withdrawal have been followed by terrible wars and ravaged economies. By contrast, when America has engaged, our military strength has created stability needed for international commerce, bolstering the worldwide economy and providing a foundation of peace.
After World War II, America’s presence in Europe and Asia created immense commercial opportunities. The presence of the U.S. Navy guaranteeing freedom and safety of maritime commerce helped raise 2 billion people out of poverty and into the middle class, Sen. Lieberman said, creating enormous new markets for U.S. goods and services.
Sen. Lieberman is one who believes, as I do, that America occupies a special place in the world. And this is especially true because we have no ambition to seize another country’s land or rule its people. We simply want to advance stability, freedom and opportunity in the world.
Perhaps former Secretary of State Colin Powell said it best. A number of years ago at a conference in England, when challenged with a question about America’s motives overseas, he replied: “We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives. And we have asked for nothing more than enough ground to bury them in .”
In fact, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission, 24 permanent burial grounds are located in 10 different foreign countries where 125,000 American soldiers are buried.
In none of those wars was America’s own shores or cities directly or imminently threatened. But the sacrifice of those soldiers kept war far away from America and helped make the world safer, more stable and more prosperous, with more freedom.
America must remain globally engaged and reject isolationism.
A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.