Friday, June 13, 2008

Do Other Countries Want "American Leadership"?

One of the themes in Secretary Rice's essay, the subject of yesterday's post, and a theme sounded by so many other American commentators on foreign policy, is that the rest of the world wants "American leadership."

I am prepared to concede the following points: that the rest of the world does not want to empower another power to serve as a global hegemon (e.g. replace Washington with Beijing); and that the U.S. is still seen as the key component (but not the only one) to the maintenance of the current international order. But I am less sanguine that the rest of the world is not going to take the opportunity to limit or hem in U.S. power. I think that the process will continue where countries bypass and route around the U.S. when it is in their interests to do so. I don't see January 2009 as some sort of "reset button" for international affairs.

For instance, are our key European allies going to be receptive to Senator Biden's statement yesterday, in discussing energy exports from Eurasia, when he asked, "Do we have the right pieces in play to confront the Russian position?" I don't know that there is much interest in CONFRONTING Russia. Some diversification, yes, but not much beyond. And contrast the worrying tone about sovereign wealth funds on the Hill the day before with Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, calling SWFs "saviour wealth funds" because of their ability to inject large amounts of capital resources that benefit the West's businesses and banks. Don't think you'll find many U.S. politicians willing to use similar language.

I think we'll be in for rough waters ahead.

I think other countries have no objection to smart American leadership--the type that in the past brings about win-win outcomes both for the U.S. and for others.
The answer to Senator Biden's question is "No." And that is unlikely to change. The fact is, the Russian government knows better than to trust our promises, and has been carefully eliminating vulnerabilities we can pressure. They have no hope we will ever help them, and have no fear of anything we can do to hurt them. That is the definition of "No Leverage".

The fact is, the West needs Russia far more than Russia needs the West. This is already understood in Berlin, Paris, and Rome. Someday it will be understood in Tallinn, Vilnius, Warsaw, London, and Washington DC, though only after the experience of much pain, which is already occuring, as high-flying economies based on "borrow and spend" continue to collapse.
Ditto for Iran.
The worrying thing is the way the U.S. reacts to these shifts. By trying to play up divisions and hostilities that justified American interventions at first place, the U.S. is becoming a huge spoiler, without, as it seems, fully understanding it. That will certainly backfire.
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