"It is my goal to make the London Center, the premier foreign policy institute in the country, one that is shaping
the debate on international affairs and influencing decisions emerging from the Congress."
"Adventures are not all pony rides in May sunshine.” So JRR Tolkien warned Bilbo Baggins - and the rest of us - early in “The Hobbit.” Like Friendships, and Marriages and everything else, relationships are easy when the sun is shining, when, as the poet Robert Browning would tell us: “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world."
For most of the last 40 years the devotees of globalism pushed a foreign policy - and economic policy, in particular vis-a-vis China - that might just as well have been formulated by Tennessee Williams’ tragic character Blanche Dubois. For much of that time, and in particular in the nearly three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US foreign policy elite have relied on the kindness of strangers to promote US interests. They formulated policies that pushed US strategic industries off shore, that placed ever larger percentages of the US economy under foreign controls, that let would-be enemies gain greater and great access to US technology.
In fact, the globalists had it easy; the world was essentially at peace (or we liked to tell ourselves that), economies were booming (even when you take in the mess that was 2008), technology seemed to have an answer for everything. What could possibly go wrong? Even the European Union (EU), despite the Greek economy (and the Portuguese economy, and well, several others…) seemed to be doing okay.
But Friendships, Marriages, Adventures - and Globalism - don’t mean much if they can’t survive stress. COVID 19 is that stress. Despite all the high-sounding words spouted by EU bureaucrats, and academics nearly everywhere, when push came to shove, when a member of their community needed help, when Italy found itself stricken by the virus and asked for help, what did they do? Germany and France, the two de facto leaders of the EU, made it clear that they would take care of their own needs first. Others withheld medical supplies that had already been bought by Italy. And the UN and the World Health Organization mainly has played patsy to the Beijing government and its ongoing stream of prevarications.
And so, here we are…
As an astute friend of mine pointed out just the other day, the difference between the European Union and the United States is that we are set up to work, we are, in fact, a federal system. The federal government doesn’t come up with the specific answers for each state, the federal government works with the states and the governors come up with answers - so that we end up with tailored answers for each problem, 50 (56 actually when you add Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands) different answers.
It’s informative to watch what happens when there’s a crisis that spans more than a few neighborhoods: attention immediately starts focusing on “My Problem.” No one really stops and asks: “Well, should we send the ambulances elsewhere? Do we really need the fire department?” No. Rather, the questions become very focused, very localized: Where is the fire department? Where are the ambulances? Where are the police? What aid is coming HERE? Why hasn’t the governor mentioned this neighborhood? Is the Army Corps of Engineers doing something about this water?
As my astute friend put it: “This is exactly why our system for disaster response is best. It puts local and state governments front and center with the federal government in a coordinating and reinforcing role. Many times at NORTHCOM we had this discussion: Who's in charge for this situation? The answer would be: The County Commissioner. And the General would say: Do what he wants.”
Hmmm… The federal government working for the locals. Maybe the Army Corps of Engineers fixing local flooding. Or building an emergency hospital. Army and Navy doctors and nurses working for a city; a hospital ship or two lending a hand...
Globalism is failing because it fails to address the reality of stormy days, when things aren’t “all right,” it fails to address what happens when strangers don’t wish you well, when strangers really aren’t kind.
But where does that leave us now?
In a problem as complicated and convoluted as a pandemic there are going to be miss-steps. And there were. And there were issues of equipment stockpiles that should have been maintained over the years and weren’t. And local governments that spent money on pet projects rather than on disaster preparations. And there will be more pain to come. But we seem to be working our way through those problems.
But what’s next?
There are a host of facets to that answer, to include better disaster preparations at all echelons of government. But there’s also the issue of the US and its relations with other nations, especially with China.
We should begin by looking at our grain stockpiles - and be aware that while others may have problems in the near term - Latin America is a key grain production center for the entire globe, allowing China to gain control of that grain would force much of the world to rely on their kindness in the event of a future crisis. Beijing’s willful cover-up of what happened (and in all likelihood is still happening) in and around Wuhan is all the proof we need that Emperor Xi cannot be trusted.
Then we need to look at our other strategic stockpiles: fuel, raw materials, chemicals for a range of products, to include pharmaceuticals, etc.
The long and short of it is this, there are countries we can trust - because our relationships have been tested in fire - and those we cannot. Remember what happened to Miss DuBois.
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...