Every farmer understands the importance of seed corn. It is the best of the seed, cultivated to provide future crops. The quality of seed corn determines the quality-or lack thereof-of future harvests. Without good seed, prepared in advance, succeeding harvests will yield diminished crops.
This agricultural concept can help us understand where America stands in international relations. As Americans move into a new century and the reins of power transfer from one political party to the other, this is an apt time to assess the previous decade and consider the events of the next few years. What happened in recent years to America’s seed corn, so to speak?
A decade squandered?
Ten years ago the United States led a coalition of military forces from many nations in an air and land attack to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces. Although they were successful in this goal, the allied forces stopped short of ousting the Iraqi leader from his position. Saddam Hussein still sits in power in Baghdad, with a firm grip that still threatens the stability of the region.
Ten years ago the Berlin Wall had recently crumbled, and the Soviet Union was in its last months. The Cold War ended with the United States the victor and brought the opportunity to shape a new order in the world. Yet peace still has not come to the Middle East, and Russia’s experiment with economic reform and democratic government still leaves much to be desired.
During the ’90s America rode the wave of its biggest economic expansion. With domestic prosperity, the country had time to focus on foreign-policy issues that cried out for wise leadership. The country had plenty of time, it seemed, to at least lay the groundwork for renewed progress.
One of the strengths of the American presidency is its inherent power to shape and conduct foreign policy. Each administration understands this duty and uses it, at least ostensibly, to benefit American interests and world stability.
A president may lack skill in domestic policy. Such a weakness can often be covered by Congress. But the world looks to the leader of the country as the embodiment of American policy and values. Therefore it is critical that an administration pursue coherent goals in its relations with the other major powers.
The past eight years of American foreign policy appeared unfocused and uncertain. In hot spots around the globe U.S. military forces were committed to peacekeeping efforts that focused on no obvious goals or any graceful exit strategies.
Only in recent months did America focus on a concerted effort to achieve a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine. Even then it was carried out in the shadow of, in the words of the outgoing president, “leaving a legacy.” In July Camp David talks between Israeli leader Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat broke down, leading to months of violence and growing bitterness on both sides.
Growing threat from China?
China poses a major problem for American interests. Its desire to “reunite” with (read absorb) Taiwan is a relentless threat to peace in the region. China is determined to play a more influential role in Asia, which may again bring it into conflict with its historic rival, Russia.
China’s strategic objectives will play a role in the balance of power. Add to this China’s possession of ballistic missiles-capable of striking the U.S. mainland-and its proclivity to export nuclear-missile technology to poor but aggressive nations, and you have a volatile mix.
Instead of achieving positions of strength in relation to China during the past eight years, the outgoing administration is left with two clouded legacies. One is China’s effort to influence the 1996 presidential campaign by making cash contributions to the Democratic Party. The second is the disappearance of sensitive nuclear secrets from the Los Alamos nuclear-weapons labs that may have wound up in Chinese hands. Satisfactory answers to questions about these issues have yet to be given.
China is not the only nation able to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union retain that ability, and hostile nations such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq are developing ballistic technology.
Meanwhile America’s options regarding how or even whether to develop a system to defend itself against nuclear attack arestill debated. Some advocate a space-based, “star wars” type of system, while others prefer a ship-based approach that would allow more mobility in deployment.
Russia, however, continues to oppose American efforts to upgrade its missile-defense system. Again, years of opportunity have been wasted in this area.
Shrinking military defense
Although the United States still fields the world’s most powerful military force, the past 10 years have seen a marked decline in its resources and abilities. Given its state of preparedness, some question whether America could mount another Desert Storm-type operation such as the one that drove Iraq from Kuwait.
Between 1990 and 2000 the number of U.S. Army divisions was reduced from 18 to nine. The Navy shrank from 600 ships to 300. Air Force wings declined from 36 to 18. America’s defensive forces have effectively been cut in half even while deployments have expanded all over the globe.
When a nation relies on its armed forces for defense, the military must be kept in peak condition and at sufficient numbers to deter aggressors. Without that ability, and the threat it carries, the world would be a much different place. Historically, America’s military role has meant more to the stability of the world than any other nation’s in recent history.
What lies ahead?
What other challenges could President George W. Bush face? Economists believe the United States, 18 years into the biggest period of economic stability the modern world has seen, is overdue for an economic “correction.” Recent months brought steep stock-market plunges and strong hints of a coming recession. The current budget surplus overshadows the overspending of the past eight years, but flawed management would become obvious during an economic downturn.
The next president could see the first nuclear war since 1945. Analysts suspect
the most likely spot for such a confrontation would be the India-Pakistan border.
The region continues as a hot spot of military activity, and both India and Pakistan have demonstrated to the world their nuclear abilities.
In October terrorist suicide bombers attacked the U.S.S. Cole while it docked in Oman. Two years ago terrorists bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing hundreds. Many experts think it is only a matter of time before America will suffer a major attack within its borders larger and more deadly than any previous effort.
What sort of dangers might that include?
Former Clinton national-security adviser Anthony Lake recently authored 6 Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can M eet Them. In one of the book’s scenarios, terrorists release anthrax bacteria into a stadium full of sports fans. Days later, after suffering fever, chest pain and vomiting, 17,000 spectators die. With anthrax, no smell, taste or sight warns its victims of an attack. The first signs show up days later, when it is too late.
Are such dangers too far-fetched to happen? Emergency-preparedness authorities have already run a drill of such a scenario
in preparation for a possible real-life attack. Between 1993 and 1995 several people were arrested trying to sell or buy or cross international borders with deadly biological or chemical weapons.
Mr. Lake believes the United States has lived prosperously with the mistaken impression that the Cold War is over and that it faces no serious threats. “We’re not using these good times to prepare for the threats that are very clearly coming or are already upon us in this new century,” he said. “I wrote the book as a warning that
I hope could in some small way stimulate action in our society and our government” ( Book magazine , November-December 2000).
Sadly, the results of the recent presidential election show a divided electorate and a potentially crippled executive branch at a time when the United States needs unambiguous and decisive leadership in foreign policy. America needs an able team of leaders who can formulate a credible foreign policy and inspire the confidence of other nations.
Leaders can plan, but unforeseen events can cause chain reactions that change the course of history. Witness the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by an unknown Serbian anarchist in July 1914. Within weeks events spun out of the control of leaders and diplomats and plunged the world into war.
Someone once asked a British prime minister, Harold McMillan, what factors most shaped his administration. “Events, my dear boy, events,” was his reply.
What could occur that would set in motion a string of events that would radically change the world balance of power? No one can know for sure, but the Bible advises us that the best-laid plans of human leaders don’t always work out.
Psalm 2 shows that nations make plans in vain when their will does not fit God’s purpose. Treaties and alliances that serve only national interests will ultimately come to nothing. “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision” (Psalms 2:1-4 Psalms 2:1-4 1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
4 He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision.
American King James Version×).
From Daniel we learn that God rules over the nations, and He ultimately accomplishes His will. “… He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:21-22 Daniel 2:21-22 21 And he changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings: he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
22 He reveals the deep and secret things: he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
American King James Version×).
Events that can shape the future of the world can happen unexpectedly. Specific end-time events can take place without warning. God tells us to watch and to love His truth (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 1 But of the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need that I write to you.
2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.
3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes on them, as travail on a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
5 You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
American King James Version×; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all delusion of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
American King James Version×; see also John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
American King James Version×). If we do, we’ll understand the proper context of the events of coming years. GN