Friday, May 22, 2015

Copyright 1999 Miklos N. Szilagyi
Published in the Tucson Citizen on April 21, 1999 as a Guest Opinion under the title
"America can't afford to fight every battle"

In the year 150 BC, Rome was the only superpower. After the conquest of Greece, she defeated Carthage as well. Hannibal took his own life, and Carthage was no longer a threat for Rome. It was, however, not enough for the good Romans. They first took 300 children of the noblest Carthaginian families as hostages, then took all of their ships and weapons of war, finally demanded that all of them leave the city and burn it to the ground. A three-year siege followed this atrocious demand, after which Carthage was burned down, its soil plowed and sown with salt and its remaining inhabitants sold as slaves. The city ceased to exist and Rome celebrated her glory.

It is difficult to be the sole superpower. There are no checks and balances that would stop the thirst for more and more conquests. This, eventually, leads to the destruction of the superpower itself, as the example of Rome (and others) shows.

America now has a unique opportunity to exercise leadership based on principles other than destruction. For the irst time in history, we could use our power to lead the world by example. We could show what informed, educated, and moral people can accomplish. We could clean up our streets so that they are safe to walk and play on. We could remove drugs and guns from our schools. We could improve our educational system and reach the level when we have an informed public opinion that our leaders can rely upon. We could choose qualified and moral leaders who are trusted at home and abroad, and have a long-term vision for America and the world

No country is as perfect as we are. In many countries, most people live in poverty, and they kill each other for ethnic, religious, or other reasons. As the only superpower, we must have a clear policy of what constitutes our strategic interests. The rest of the world should know that we are not going to tolerate any infringements on those interests. We must take action if there is a threat to our national security. President Kennedy was right not to allow Soviet missiles in Cuba and it was right to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait.

There are, however, limits to how much we can change other countries. We should respect the sovereignty, equality, and cooperation among nations. We must understand that our ideas are not necessarily desirable for people who have a thousand years of history based on different ideas. Bombing, invading, and removing presidents is not leadership but aggression that undermines not only our credibility but also our own freedom. We cannot force our peacekeeping forces on two hundred countries and cannot participate in every civil war that is going on.

It is difficult to be the only superpower. Are we qualified for the job or prefer to follow the path of Rome?