Jinping Monroe? Rhyming with History
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.
- James Monroe, 7th Annual Message to Congress, Dec. 2, 1823. Also known as The Monroe Doctrine.
Mark Twain is credited with saying “history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Whether or not he said it is open to dispute, but regardless, the expression has stuck, in part because of its dismissive insight.
A person might act unpredictably. People, however – as in large groups of them – act in patterns that, while not necessarily predictable, tend not to be a surprise.
I’ve been thinking lately about a few chapters in American history. First is what Americans know as The French and Indian War, or the Seven Years’ War, which lasted considerably longer than seven years. The other is the Monroe Doctrine.
By the mid-1700s, England and France were busy colonizing North America, having beaten out their closer European neighbors. France occupied what is now Canada, and much of the current Midwest, particularly valleys with big waterways, while England held the Atlantic seaboard to the South. Spain, meanwhile, controlled points south in the Caribbean and South America, extending to the Gulf Mexico and modern-day Florida, just to the south of the Georgia buffer zone filled with outcasts from English prisons. In between all of these were indigenous nations not too keen on anyone’s infiltrations, but picking loyalties based on what appeared to be the best deal, especially as British colonists kept pushing west.
War was inevitable, and when it broke out it went beyond what we would consider a World War into a total war whose goal was to annihilate entire civilizations, including the murder of children. The Seven Years’ War in turn led to the American Revolution, which in turn led to the American Revolution (and the War of 1812) and the founding of the American Republic.
Spain continued its dominance in South and Central America, and with burgeoning independence movements, coupled with high debt loads, the U.S. sought to limit European influence which could be a threat to it security, and during his State of the Union address in 1823, President James Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine, basically stating the Americas were under the umbrella of the United States.
It’s not a stretch to see a parallel with the Pacific. Big nations attempting to exert authority in a vast chunk of territory, building alliances to further both militant and cultural dominance.
This past September President Joe Biden hosted a first-ever summit of Pacific island leaders at the White House. Despite a snub from the Solomon Islands, which gained some traction with the Marshall Islands, 14 island leaders accepted the invitation to be wined and dined (per Foreign Policy’s description) and be reminded of America’s extended backyard into the Pacific.
Being a government meeting, the summit produced a document: an 11-point Declaration on U.S.-Pacific Partnership, with the points ranging from strengthening the Pacific partnership, bolstering regionalism, tackling climate change and natural disasters, and the like. You can find it on whitehouse.gov.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t read it. And I suspect that those who signed it didn’t read it either.
The question of the U.S. in the Pacific has since largely gone back on the radar screen of the D.C.-centric political and media universe. To the District of Columbia, the Pacific is like electricity or the internet; you don’t think about it until it’s gone.
Then again, as I’ve stated before, one of the flaws of the Compact of Free Association is the open immigration escape valve that has had the effect of alleviating the need to take one’s own country seriously. Coupled, of course, with American indifference about poverty or development in general. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but solutions are in short supply.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, the media’s reception to what I will call “America’s Indo-Pacific Posture” has been predictable.
This past June, CNN reported that China’s former Ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing is engaging the Pacific as equals, not as backyard colonies.
We’ll see what comes of Debt-Trap Diplomacy.
Foreign Policy magazine published an op-ed piece titled “A Summit Can’t Fix America’s Pacific Islands Problems: They don’t just want a diplomatic deal: they want a reckoning with a history of abuse.”
I mention Foreign Policy specifically because of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 “America’s Pacific Century” in its pages, which I’ve mentioned before.
A protective cocoon around one’s nation is nothing new. China’s done it for eons, the U.S. has done it for two centuries. History is rhyming once more.
Gabriel McCoard is an attorney who previously worked in Palau and Chuuk State. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.