They are trying to get their hands around a quandary they can only get a partial grip on.
A survey last autumn by the Pew Research Centre suggests that 52% want the United States to “mind its own business internationally”, the highest figure in five decades of polling. But when America’s president speaks of due caution, the world hears reluctance—especially when it comes to the most basic issue for any superpower, its willingness to fight.Did you catch that? They only briefly touched on what is a large part of why America seems to be holding back.
Already, regional powers are keener to dominate their neighbours. China is pressing its territorial claims more aggressively, Russia interfering more brazenly. In 2013 Asia outspent Europe on arms for the first time—a sign that countries calculate they will have to stand up for themselves. If Mr Obama cannot forge a deal with Iran, the nightmare of nuclear proliferation awaits the Middle East. Crucially, doubt feeds on itself. If next door is arming and the superpower may not send gunboats, then you had better arm, too. For every leader deploring Mr Putin’s tactics, another is studying how to copy them.
Such mind games in the badlands of eastern Ukraine and the South China Sea may feel far away from Toledo or Turin. But the West will also end up paying dearly for the fraying of the global order. International norms, such as freedom of navigation, will be weakened. Majorities will feel freer to abuse minorities, who in turn may flee. Global public goods, such as free trade and lower cross-border pollution, will be harder to sustain. Global institutions will be less pliable. Americans understandably chafe at the ingratitude of a world that freeloads on the economic, diplomatic and military might of the United States. But Americans themselves also enjoy the exorbitant privilege of operating in a system that, broadly, suits them.
But there will be no vanquishing as long as the West is so careless of what it is losing. Europeans think they can enjoy American security without paying for it. Emerging-world democracies like India and Brazil do even less to buttress the system that they depend on. America is preoccupied with avoiding foreign entanglements. Mr Obama began his presidency with the world wondering how to tame America. Both he and his country need to realise that the question has changed.
Sure, the present Administration is run by people who, for decades, have seen the scale, use, and significant size of American military power as an antibody to their philosophy and world view - but in 2014, this has morphed in to something else.
Americans do feel a bit tired of the world and what others who are quite capable of doing for themselves, expect us to do for them.
This feeling of "ingratitude" has soaked in to a large part of American's feelings towards foreign entanglements from all sides of our political spectrum. It comes from the advice given at the birth of this nation from its father - and it comes from our experience in AFG and IRQ as well - but not in the way the editors of The Economist think.
Yes, America is tired in a way - but it is tired of having allies who only put in at best half the effort they expect America to put in defense of the West (see percentage of GDP on defense as a reference). They are tired of those who ask the most from American for their own defense and national priorities, while being the first to micro-manage, criticize, and condemn America when she does act. She is tired of playing the mercenary for others. She is tired of being asked to say, "thanks for the help" to other who show up just enough to show the flag, but not enough in numbers, time, or desire to fight and to be much more than placeholders at best - logistical drain at most - all the while criticizing the effort at the front, from the rear.
We tire, many times, of showing up on the field for a collective effort, but being the only people who not only showed up with enough kit, the correct kit, and to top it off be the only ones who seem to give a crap. There are a few exceptions to this, GBR, DNK, EST and a few others - but not even close to a majority of those nations who expect us to stand in front of them when the wolf comes to the door.
We are tired of being asked to bleed for the national interests of others that have nothing to do with ours, but when we ask for others to do the same, they either decide to tut-tut, or if they are feeling magnanimous - they'll send a medical team.
No one likes being taken for granted, and then spat on for the effort.
That is part of it. Not all, my friends at The Economist - but part.
In a more snarky way, one of the commenters over at the article said it best, "What would Europe fight for?"