Thursday, June 26, 2014

They Hard Truth About American Fecklessness

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry over at The Week gives everyone a clear eyed look in the mirror about the significant damage that continues to be done to the reputation if the USA.

It is hard to argue with him. This can be fixed, but it will take time and better, more long-term strategic thinking from leaders than we have now;
States are, in Nietzsche's words, the coldest of all cold monsters. But not all states are as untrustworthy as the United States. Imperial Britain was ruthless. But it was rationally ruthless. This is not the case for America. When America intervenes in a country, forms local alliances, and then screws its allies, it is almost never because of cold-hearted calculation. Most of the time, it is because of frightened improvisation. All the cases I have laid out involve America pulling out of a half-finished conflict, primarily for domestic political reasons, rather than reasons of national interest.

Please understand my point: In each of these particular cases, you can debate the case for or against what America did, and in some, or even many, America might have even done the right thing. But you are still left with the problem that groups of non-Americans trust the American state at their own peril.

And it really is a big problem for U.S. foreign policy. If you lead an important faction in a country where America intervenes, why should you help the Americans, since the record so clearly shows they will drop you when the going gets tough?

This leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because America is not seen as trustworthy, local stakeholders don't support America; because local stakeholders don't support America, the going gets tough; because the going gets tough, America gets going. This is pretty much what happened to the U.S. in Afghanistan. That self-fulfilling prophecy leads to a never-ending, vicious cycle.
But here's the thing: Despite everything, America really is "the indispensable nation."

The world's shipping lanes, and with it its trade, and with it the global economy, are protected by the U.S. Navy. We hear a lot about war, but we don't hear about the many regional conflicts that don't happen because the world has a largely benevolent (though often clueless) hegemon instead of being the plaything of jostling regional blocs. U.S. security guarantees ensure peace in the Pacific, Europe, and, still, important chunks of the Middle East.

... the world is kept sorta-peaceful and sorta-prosperous because all over its map are, ahem, red lines, drawn by American security guarantees. But, if America continues to be so untrustworthy as an international actor, how long until there is a "bank run" on American security? Already, Chinese officials are watching America's response, or lack thereof, to the defiance to Uncle Sam's global order in Ukraine and Syria. The world is a big chessboard, and moves in one place affect the rest of the board.

This is a problem that is bigger than any country or any region. It's a fundamental problem with how America approaches the world. And the biggest problem is that no one seems to be aware of the problem, or only dimly.

How to fix it? Well, the first step is to admit you have a problem. But perhaps I can offer a suggestion, or just a wish. Perhaps if America actually had a strategy for how to deal with the world; perhaps if America viewed the world as something definite to embrace and work on, rather than an amorphous blob out there; perhaps if America actually had a sense of mission, rather than necessity, about its role in the world; perhaps then it would feel a bit ashamed to so rarely honor its commitments.

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