Wednesday, November 29, 2006
More on costs of superpowerdom
FORMER Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's confident claim a decade ago that the United States was the world's "indispensable nation" -- the one country whose participation was needful to solve the most pressing challenges facing the global community -- is looking mighty threadbare.
The "transformational presidency" of George W. Bush was supposed to reinvigorate America's global leadership and enhance its ability to project power throughout the world. Instead, debilitated by the quagmire in Iraq, America is increasingly disrespected by its adversaries and mistrusted by its allies. Gone are the days when the United States could almost single-handedly cut a recalcitrant country off from the global economy or raise a truly multinational coalition to take military action against a rogue state.
America's invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq have raised serious questions about its judgment. The campaign of exaggerated threats and distorted intelligence that preceded the invasion has led many to question whether American power is a source for good. The departure of the principal architects of the policies of the last few years and their replacement by more tempered, seasoned personnel is no longer sufficient. The goodwill and trust that America has historically enjoyed has evaporated. Today, the essential grand strategy, not only of countries like Russia and China -- but even, at times, of some key European states as well -- is to contain and impede, rather than support and enhance, the use of American power to reshape the global order.
Nor has the White House's Iraq calamity been without domestic repercussions. Repudiated at the polls, the Bush administration is gradually appreciating that there exists no consensus within the American body politic for further unilateral adventures abroad -- especially if they send energy prices soaring sky high. The Bush administration has neither congressional nor public support for the most limited of strikes against either Pyongyang or Tehran, for intervention into Darfur, for undertaking a major new effort to bring peace to the Middle East, or for tackling a whole host of other problems.
At the height of the Vietnam War, a besieged Richard Nixon declared America "a pitiful, helpless giant." Today, an anguished American public desperate to be relieved of the Iraq burden is finding false comfort in isolationist shibboleths of the past and instinctively recoiling from further entanglements abroad. For those in Europe and Asia still expecting Washington to shoulder any burden should, for the next two years, look elsewhere.
The Persian Gulf, because of its energy resources, is the only place that we need to be. But even there, we do not need to go and look for enemies - we do not need to confront Iran (or did not need to have invaded Iraq).
It is not so much cost-free Foreign Policy that is the probelm as much as a mental image of the world in which US can do anything.
I think US can do a lot of things still in the military or economic sphere but they are neither repeatable nor sustainabl - they are one-shot things.
We need to get out of these places that are not germaine to US any longer and let others fight it out.
This is exactly the larger problem. And it is at this level of grand strategy that it might be useful to refocus what the United States says to the world.
Right now, any grand strategy of other powers to impede America is three years out of date and almost certainly makes no sense as a basis for anticipating future US actions. Given how deeply our present policy has collapsed, I don't see what we would lose by now posing an undiplomatically drastic question: namely, to ask the public opinion of Eurasia what an American withdrawal from the eastern hemisphere would mean to the relations that the other great powers would have with each other in two or three decades.
If Iranian leaders write us to demand that we leave the Middle East, we should in reply ask the Iranians to state how their security will improve when Saudi Arabia (and later Iraq) get nuclear weapons. We need to ask China how the conduct of North Korea will improve security in northeast Asia if Japan goes nuclear and militaristic in response. We need to ask the Russians if they look forward to an isolated existence that depends on a benevolent China and a peaceful border with Islam.
Some Eurasians may dismiss such questions as long as we remain a power in their hemisphere. Surely we will have to change if we are to continue to have a positive role there. But the need for us to change is no reason why Eurasians shouldn't debate among themselves the full consequences of our disengagement. In the two decades that followed the last time we went home, in 1919, the great powers of Eurasia did not manage their own mutual relations very well.
It is time for Eurasia to think out what role, if any, we should have in their hemisphere. And if the verdict is that we should leave peacekeeping to others, then we have every right to ask the other great powers to explain how they will avoid repeating the pattern of the 1920s and 1930s.
Japan, South Korea, and Germany are not sovereign states; they are semi-sovereign and thus there is zero possibility of them building nuclear bombs.
Certainly if US withdraws from North East Asia she can still extend her nuclear umberella to S. Korea and Japan. But the 30,000 soldiers over there are not needed.
The US presence is South East Asia, on the other hand, is welcomed by all those who fear one or other regional state - Japan, China, India, or Indonesia are the usual suspects; i.e those that are feared by others.
I do believe that security of sea lanes should be the sole responsibility of US - but then we need to extend the current US military alliance with Australia and New Zeland to states such as Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippenes in an explicit manner.
In the Persian Gulf, it is not Iran that is a threat to Saudi Arabia or UAE, it is a nuclear armed and hungry Pakistan, it is an India withh her blue navy.
Saudi Arabia does not have the capacity to build a bomb, Iraq will never be a threat to any one again - that is finsihed.
Nixon had the correct approach - creating and sustaining regional hegemons that could keep the peace.
I was proposing a way to respond to the grand strategy of the other great powers who seem to think that it is still 2003. Your points recognize that much has changed since then, but you imply a continuing US role in the eastern hemisphere to which, I am arguing, more explicit assent from the major powers in that hemisphere is now necessary. If that assent is not forthcoming, I see no reason why we shouldn't ask these powers to explain how they would keep Eurasia at peace by themselves.
I would like to believe that nuclear weapons will be difficult for new countries to obtain, but over the next two or three decades I do not think the outlook is hopeful. Saudi Arabia has close ties to Pakistan and could quickly acquire nuclear technology from that country if needed to offset a nuclear Iran. Iraq's nuclear future is I agree more uncertain and the Shias may not want nuclear weapons if they enjoy the protection of Iran. But I would expect an Iraqi state to seek nuclear weapons covertly if Iran becomes overbearing.
Japan is already debating the military clauses in its postwar constitution and there is nothing we can do to prevent a nuclear Japan. The US nuclear umbrella over Japan is one of the last things we will ever withdraw from the eastern hemisphere. But the problem is that it does not give Japan the diplomatic clout that Tokyo may feel the need to possess in the decades ahead, as China pushes out and energy supplies tighten worldwide. Japan may want greater military independence so that its needs are taken more seriously.
Under Nixon, the hegemons (eg. the Shah of Iran, Suharto of Indonesia) were aligned with the United States. The regional hegemons that fill any vacuum left by the United States today are likely to pursue their own interests. These may clash not only with America's but with those of other great and small powers nearby. I would like to see Eurasians acknowledge and debate what to do about this risk instead of continuing to define their future solely in terms of pushing back the United States.
If I were them I'd say that an isolated existence is a better deal than having the above plus a US that continually acts to oppose and eliminate their influence wherever it is found.
One needs to be able to decide who is to be protected aganst whom.
A US-Vietnam military alliance directed against China could make sense.
On the other hand, when Australia starts its enrichment activities, one has to ask oneself who is the enemy here: Japan? Indonesia? India? or China?
You have a benign view of US global activities; that view is not shared by all. And Iraq, Kosovo, color revolutions, the nuclear deal with India have not helped the US case at all.
One has to assume that the effort to roll back US will continue until we reach a new equilibrium.
US being tied down in Central Europe, NE Asia, Iraq and ME suits a lot of other states just fine; they can take advnatage of it to further undermine US power abroad.
The premise of my question is that the US cannot sustain its present policy. If you disagree, then I take your point.
I agree that US policy has not been consistent. Until we signal more strongly our intention to change, other great powers may see no reason to alleviate our difficulties.
The question is whether there will be a new equilibrium when America pulls back or whether an American pullback will leave Eurasia less stable. My hope is that the other great powers are open to discussion of a new equilibrium. In addition to contributing to a more secure future, thinking about this now could lessen the chaos that threatens to mark the transition.
Sure it has. Every other country gets no more say in how the world, their region, and sometimes their internal policies are run, than they did in 1992.
And less, if we can arrange it.
"Until we signal more strongly our intention to change, other great powers may see no reason to alleviate our difficulties."
Why do you think we're willing to change? If our freedom of action magically increased tomorrow, we'd be right back in their faces.
"The question is whether there will be a new equilibrium when America pulls back or whether an American pullback will leave Eurasia less stable.
There will be a new equilibrium. And it will be less stable for a while.
"My hope is that the other great powers are open to discussion of a new equilibrium. In addition to contributing to a more secure future, thinking about this now could lessen the chaos that threatens to mark the transition."
Why should we expect other powers to be any more interested in "equilibrium" than we were between 1981 and 2003?
US nuclear nonproliferation policy has not held all countries to the same standard, which is all I meant by US policy not being consistent.
Regarding your other points, I would restate my reply to Anonymous 12:26 above. Whether you see the United States as a good or bad influence in the world, that influence is going to lessen and I think it is legitimate to ask what kind of world will result.
You asked "what kind of world will result". The answer is that there will be winners and loosers.
Winners: Russia, India, China, Brazil, Iran, South Africa Nigeria, Burma, North Korea, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Cuba etc..
Loosers: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Joran, Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, UK, Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbijan, Finland, New Zeland, and others like those.
Business as usual: Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Panama, Libya, Algeria, Moroco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Canada, Iraq, and assorted others.
Loosers: Australia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Joran, Malaysia, Singapore, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, UK, Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbijan, Finland, New Zeland, and others like those."
This might actually help the Long War. If noisy coalition-busters and irritant-generators like Poland, the Baltics, Georgia, etc have less prominence, maybe we'll make some progress improving relations with countries like "Old Europe" and Russia, who come with actual intel, political, and military capabilities.