America's presence in the world is a net benefit to other nations, plain and simple. But it is also a benefit to Americans. Throughout history, whenever we have withdrawn and isolated ourselves the world has suffered, and Americans have suffered, too.
America's withdrawal from the Middle East and appeasement of dictators in Moscow and Tehran in the past several years has led to terror and chaos that now threatens us at home. We must end this policy, not double-down on it.
It has become popular and seductive to believe the world should pay us for our services and the security we can provide. Many argue, in effect, that the United States should become a mercenary state or protection ring. Pay us and we will defend you; don't pay us and we will up and leave. Such demagoguery gets cheers from the crowds. It's easier to sell than the more complex argument about the need for strong U.S. global leadership. It is a narcissistic foreign policy to say the world needs us, but we don't need the world. More than that, it isn't true.
America has troops stationed all over the world and has relationships with many nations, including some that don't love us. This American global presence reflects in part the moral makeup of America's altruistic heart and commitment to human dignity. More importantly, it is essential for our own security.
Our Arab allies, shamefully abandoned and mistreated by the current administration, are certainly not perfect. But they are the leaders of the Sunni denomination of Islam to which the vast majority of the world's Muslims adhere. We must have strong relationships with them if we are to defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda.
Just a few weeks ago, the coalition of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dealt a major blow to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen by retaking the port city of Mukalla, where a radical strain of jihadists held control. These jihadists are focused on striking the United States and its people and were responsible for killing sailors on the USS Cole, among many other attacks.
What the Arab states did against al Qaeda is something we no longer have to do ourselves. Their engagement in the war against terrorism and our mutual relationship is inherently in America's self-interest. If we leave the Arab states, they won't implode --- they will turn to Russia in their own self-interest and self-preservation. They may even increase their support for extremist militant organizations linked to al Qaeda as the only fighting forces allied with them against Iran.
The willingness of some to talk openly about dismantling NATO epitomizes this narcissism. We simply have to think back to the dangers of the Cold War to remember, and realize, the importance of NATO. The expansion of Soviet communism threatened our safety and that of our allies. It was stopped and ultimately defeated because together we were willing to defend and support each other until the end.
The willingness to go to war as a team makes war less likely. Yes, America was the main contributor to the Cold War effort (we are, after all, well-resourced and heavily populated) but it was not something we could have done alone. America has built alliances because they serve our interests and help us, and they have always done so. Advocating the destruction of those alliances demonstrates a deep ignorance of history and blindness to the current state of the world.
Our alliances in the Pacific are no less important to our security and to our way of life. South Korea and Japan are vital partners, both globally and economically. Asia is one of the most important regions for American exports. The ability to send goods through sea lanes in the Pacific lets many people in the 16th Congressional District of Illinois, which I have the honor to represent, go to work and provide for their families.
One out of every five American jobs relies upon the ability to export. The United States has kept the peace in the Pacific for decades, and has reaped enormous economic rewards. Some now encourage South Korea and Japan to build nuclear weapons and to fuel an arms race that could collapse that peace. Americans will suffer along with the people of Asia if that happens.
America's withdrawal from the Middle East has left the region engulfed in war and terror that is spreading to the West. The Syrian Civil War was sparked by a brutal dictator who carried on the oppressive legacy of his father. It has caused the largest refugee crisis since World War II, flooding Europe with refugees and destabilizing another major trading partner. It allowed ISIS to take root in the region, and has left an entire generation of children uneducated or, worse still, educated by ISIS and al Qaeda. Uneducated and radicalized populations are fertile recruiting grounds for future terror networks who would love to strike our homeland again. Intervention in Syria is not something that is just in the interest of the Syrian people and our European allies. It is vital to the security of the United States in the long run.
American trade agreements with other nations not only ensure we remain competitive on exports, replacing "made in China" with "made in America," but also help America write the rules on economic issues around the world. With 95% of the world's consumers living outside our borders, America has an opportunity for greater economic engagement and homegrown manufacturing. This too is in our self-interest.
Simply put, a narcissistic foreign policy that sees our role in the world as that of an aloof mercenary nation rather than a leader is both dangerous and misguided. History will judge any future isolation as it has judged past attempts at isolation: disastrous, damaging, destructive.
As this presidential election progresses and statements are made about America's place in the world, please remember: the world is safer with an engaged America, and so is the United States. It is in everyone's interest for the United States to be involved. It is particularly important for future generations of Americans who will otherwise be called to put on a uniform to clean up the mess.