The US will face many challenging events and circumstances in the years to come in our dealings with other nations and areas of the world–principally, the Mid East, Latin America, North Korea and the edges of the Russian Bear. Inevitably others will emerge that aren’t even on the radar screen right now. No matter who is President these difficulties will be before us and require action of some sort. Even inaction is action. A few examples of times past would serve that President well if he will ponder them and extract the lessons there to be learned. Some worked out better than others and some were not so good but even failure has its own lessons in what to avoid the next time around.
The Boer War is a good place to start because at that time England was in the role of world policeman and monitor that the US finds itself in today. It was at the turn of the 20th century the superpower of the world. Most modern and revisionist history makes England out to be the “heavy” in that conflict. There is some justification for that but only some. Facts are that the Boers controlled the central portions of South Africa and had many foreigners there as workers. Most of the workers were British. They were not allowed any of what we would call civil rights and were oppressed by the Boers. There had been ongoing negotiations for several years between the Boers and England to amerliorate the situation but the Boers were obdurant and would not consider any proposal to grant greater freedoms to the foreign workers. England had no plans to go to war with the Boers. After all it was far away and the issues while very important from a humanitarian standpoint were nothing to go to war over. The Boers launched the first attacks and are the ones who declared war against Britain. An absurd thing to do as it was a very small nation taking on the world power. But the Boers believed that the British would only moan and groan and not take any affirmative action against them and that public opinion in Britain and around the world would be supportive of their position. Simply put they thought the British would not find if worth the candle. But they were wrong. First Britain could not allow its prestige to be so openly challenged. Make no mistake that when it comes to foreign relations that prestige and respect are of paramount importance. The power and influence of prestige and respect often can resolve issues without ever employing the use of force. Never underestimate your opponent. The British did respond and gathered the troops and resources which was no easy task and did join the battle and won. They won the standup fight rather quickly and then even won the insurgency that followed for some time. As a footnote it was this war where Churchill first acquired fame. He went as a journalist and was captured by the Boers but made good his escape from their prisoner of war camp and wrote of his adventures. That story was fascinating to the British public. Surely you can see some parallels to today’s headlines in this tale.
The occupation of Iraq will last for a number of years and is to be expected. You don’t recall but we sent our Marines to several Latin American countries from 1900 to about 1925. One of those was Haiti. Yes, the same Haiti where Clinton sent troops in the ’90’s. We sent troops there to restore some semblence of order in 1915 and they remained for 20 years! From a Democrat W. Wilson to a Democrat, Roosevelt. The fighting will diminsh in Iraq regardless of President but a substantial number of troops will remain and it is in our interest that they do so. We still have troops in Japan and Germany over 60 years after WWII. They are not fighting but they are there. The presence of those troops over the years has served our interests well and the interest of our allies.
When the Spanish American war broke out in 1898 and we took the Phillipines there was some substantial uproar and opposition at the time by press and some politicians. Several in Congress even accused the President and Country of “criminal aggression” against Spain and the Phillipines. No point in examining here whethere there were weapons of mass destruction there. The decision was made, we won the initial fight quickly but it was followed by a violent and bloody insurgency by the Moros and other ethnic groups which lasted a few years. There were many awful atrocities by the insurgents. We played pretty rough too and finally won the day under the command of Arthur MacArthur, the father of the even more famous General Douglas MacArthur of WWII. The Phillipines did flourish under our protection. We introduced school, hospitals and trade where none had existed before. We left the Phillipines far better than we found it. Check the facts. We left in spite of the warnings of some that we were trying to build and empire.
Shortly after the Spanish American war we wanted to fulfill a long ambition of many to build a canal through central America. We “stole Panama, fair and square” as one politician put it at the time. The casualties were “one donkey and one chinaman”. Columbia was ticked because we took their province from them for our own purposes. Facts are that “Panama” had revolted against Columbia 50 times in 50 years. It was not a stable region and was under the US sphere of influence per the Monroe doctrine for a hundred years at the time. We did take it and built the Panama canal. A true marvel of engineering and a boon not only to the US but for all of central America and the northern reaches of South America, including Columbia. We paid for it, not any of them but they also shared in the rewards of its completion. Again check the facts. The whole region was better off after our “aggression”. The story of the canal deserves a complete entry of its own. You recall we had to invade Panama again in the ’80’s because it had become a virtual mafia state run by drug dealers. Did we push around our might at that time? Sure we did, but again ask the question–was everyone better off for what Reagan did? The answer is clear. Not just the US but everyone else was better off after Noriega was removed.
These are only a handful of past events that still have relevance today in our world. The internet and jets don’t change the national security interests and the economic interests of peoples. Facts are we have taken many lands by military action but the US has never been a conqueror. Think about it, we could have simply annexed all of Europe after the war and made Japan one of our territories if we had wanted. Who could have stopped us? That is not what we are about. Underneath the obvious financial and security interests we have pursued in our conflicts we have a the core always been about decency and doing the right thing. May we always be so.