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U.S. Can Shape the World for the Better

By Daniel Stevenson

The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union, once branded the "evil empire" by former President Ronald Reagan, is now convulsed with a struggle for democracy, all but eliminating the threat of a nuclear war between superpowers. However, new and possibly more dangerous scenarios are unfolding every day with the role of the United States in global affairs again vague and uncertain. As the statesman Adlai Stevenson said, "If total isolationism is no answer, total interventionism is no answer either. In fact, the clear, quick, definable measurable answers are ruled out. In this twilight of power, there is no quick path to a convenient light switch." These points, made with regard to the Cold War environment of the 1960s, are equally salient today as the United States strives once more to redefine its global political goals in a "new world order."

John F. Kennedy declared, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it." America has a tradition of welcoming the responsibility of defending freedom and of taking a leading role in actively promoting the ideals of democracy worldwide. A moderate interventionist policy has succeeded in many instances, including the Berlin airlift, the Korean War, and to some extent in Somalia. On the flip side of the coin, misguided, mismanaged, and unethical interventionism has also resulted in epic disasters, including early American involvement in Latin America, the Vietnam War, and the illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua. And while isolationist policies have worked in some areas, one need only look at the Nazi concentration camps, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or the current conflict in Bosnia to see that apathy and ignorance have a terrible cost.

Any new foreign policy agenda should incorporate both well-reasoned and tempered intervention and equally careful isolationist practices. The United States must balance its own interests with those of the world it now stands poised to lead into the 21st century. On the one hand, we must be prepared to defend our principles worldwide and to take swift, decisive action when necessary. As President Clinton said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last Monday, Americans "must not hesitate to act unilaterally when there is a threat to our core interests or to those of our allies." This policy was exemplified when Clinton ordered the bombing last June of the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters after a CIA report indicated that the Iraqis were responsible for a failed attempt on the life of former President Bush.

On the other hand, as one of the most powerful nations in the world today, the United States has a duty to take part in multilateral efforts through the United Nations and other multinational bodies. United action by the global community has demonstrated the potential to resolve conflicts and to solve monumental problems in ways much more effective than the actions of individual countries, as shown by U.N. brokered peace agreements around the world and organizations such as the International Organization for the Red Cross and UNICEF.

"The momentum of the Cold War no longer propels us in our daily actions," declared Clinton in the U.N. speech. The traditional enemies no longer exist, replaced by newer, less apparent threats. Along with this, U.S. foreign policy has also changed, becoming more comprehensive and global. Important national interests must now be tempered with larger international considerations as the line between foreign and domestic policy fades. While domestic programs remain an immediate, important, and long overdue concern, global events have such far-reaching repercussions that isolationism and protectionism would be disastrous.

As Clinton said in his speech, "The United States occupies a unique position in world affairs today. We cannot solve every problem, but we must and will serve as a fulcrum for change and a pivot point for peace." America has great leverage on the world stage, and the current global situation presents a singular opportunity to shape the future for the betterment of humankind.