Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quasi Makes Me Quesy

I have said much about the two Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security that took place last week, but I have to address one more aspect of it.  The CDAI folks come out with a paper they promote each year as part of the event, and this paper is usually quite good.  Indeed, because the Canadian government fails to do much in the way of strategic thinking/writing, these CDAI papers are essentially the best that we can get from the Canadian defence establishment (since CDAI consists of retired military folks, other government officials, and others in the Ottawa area). 

Yet I have to take a shot at it for "Quasi-isolationism."  The paper raises increasing quasi-isolationism as a key feature of the world that Canada must grapple with.  What is quasi-isolationism?
It is more of a desire to not intervene in every situation in the world from a political or moral basis as  it felt compelled to in the past and that trend of not intervening is directly a result of the last decade  and the will to not become entangled in a specific region’s problems for years as it was in Afghanistan and Iraq. p. 19
Is that quasi-isolationism?  Or is that restraint?  Or could we call it ... normal US foreign policy?  That is, the US, in its post WWII history, tended not to be involved in two major wars at once.  US foreign policy has always been selective, choosing some places to place greater attention and even effort, and others not so much.

The new normal may just be the old normal.  Sure, budget cuts (hey, the US is making the tough decisions that the Conservatives are too weak to face) will limit what the US can do, but perhaps the two wars and the semi-war (Libya) with the domestically toxic outcomes (Benghazi) have taught the U.S., or at least President Obama, something kind of important: humility.  Intervention is more than just expensive--it is really hard.  We don't know what we are going to get from the Afghanistan experience, and Iraq, well, oy.  Libya did produce regime change with minimal effort, but with minimal effort comes just a wee bit of chaos.  Syria?  One of the reasons why so many outsiders are reluctant is that the past 13 years or so have taught us that force has limited utility.

Aye, there is the rub.  Force has limited utility, so perhaps the American realization that only and always using a hammer might not be the best way to approach problems.  The US is hardly disengaged from the Mideast, with a diplomatic effort towards Iran, Kerry trying diplomacy with Israel and Palestine, and, yes, even continued diplomatic efforts towards Syria. 

So, I have to push back a bit and suggest that a U.S. (and other Western countries) that is just a wee bit more humble might not be a bad thing for Canada.  It certainly is a good thing for Americans.  It certainly is no relation to the isolationism that our grandparents knew.

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