Syria May be a Pivot Point for America
This column first appeared in the Shift Age Newsletter.
Regardless of what transpires in the geo-political landscape relative to the civil war in Syria, it may well be looked upon as a pivot point for citizens of the United States. This could be the beginning of a necessary and critical conversation about the future of the country in the Shift Age and, longer term, in the 21st century.
Twenty years ago the United States “won” the Cold War. Twelve years ago the country was attacked by Al Qaeda. This prompted the country to enter two wars in Islamic countries. It is not clear that the United States have won these wars, as the definition of winning is unclear. What we do know is that we have been “fighting the war on terrorism” for most of this century.
There are two realities that America is wrestling with today that may be accelerated by the civil war in Syria. The first is that we have yet to fully redefine what it means to be the single most powerful country in the world. America has become an empire, a democratic 21st century empire. This makes us both uneasy and proud. The narrow and destructive manifestation of this power is becoming the policeman of the world. We manifest this by the largely unilateral wars we have plunged into in this century. That is far too narrow a definition and utilization of our empire-like power. This is a residual of the Cold War mentality of power. This is the geopolitical issue we face
The second reality affected by the civil war in Syria is that American citizens have been overwhelmingly clear that they do not want another military engagement in the Arab Middle East. We are not just war weary, we are concerned about all the problems within our borders and the need to address them, and spend money on them rather than another military adventure abroad. On this the people have spoken loudly and clearly to our elected officials in Washington D.C. This is the domestic rebuilding issue we face; doing what is necessary to remain a great country and not a country in decline.
So the geopolitical opportunity today is to find a way to be the empire we are without being simply the military policeman. We will need to find ways to lead and influence a world into peaceful integration without thinking of military options first. We have multiple areas of global dominance other than our military. Our economy drives the global economy. Our culture influences countries around the world. Our technologies and innovation lead the world into this new century. We have incredible influence in the world today. We must find a way to stand tall but not stand alone, to influence and even manipulate strategically in ways that merge global humanity with national interests.
This is at the essence of the Shift Age and of this century because in this global stage of human evolution, the nation state is giving way to ever more global integration. As the empire at this time of history, the United States must, as a nation, lead the world into this new stage of global reality.
On the home front it is time to reinvest in American infrastructure, not those of Afghanistan, Iraq or even Syria. As a country, America is at a critical juncture when our infrastructure, our education systems, our incredible opportunities in manufacturing, the reality of a total failure in the war on drugs, and our ever more racially and culturally diverse culture need attention. This attention must come with new, fresh ideas and not dealt with through the legacy thought from the 20th century that still pervades today.
A few years ago, during the Great Recession, I was constantly asked about America’s future in the face of a China in resurgence and the outsourcing of jobs to India. The general tenor was around whether we will remain a great nation into this century and age. As I have written over the past two years, China is facing major problems as is India, Russia and Brazil. I have written about the Eurozone being a non-growth zone for most of this decade. There is no country, or region that has the power and influence of the United States today.
So, now is the time to define what being the global power, the empire of the world is at this time, both globally and domestically. We must both lead the world into the global future of this century and reinvigorate across the board domestically. It feels like the current crises of the Middle East is an opportunity to thread the needle globally and to bring all our national intelligence, wealth and ingenuity back to a domestic focus to create a new America.