Thursday, March 24, 2011

Has the U.S. been deliberate in taking a back foot on Libya

In a previous post I condemned Obama for his administrations apparent dithering over action in Libya. But what if, the Americans were merely pretending to be useless, or rather, back footed in there dealings. This is the question posed by American-born British journalist Janet Daley.

In other words, they were only pretending to be useless: it may have looked like a collapse of moral leadership, but it really went completely according to plan.

Even if we take this wildly charitable interpretation at face value, what does it say about the role that America is choosing to adopt on the global stage? That in future we can expect it to follow rather than lead? That it has abdicated its role as defender and standard bearer for the principle of freedom - the idea that all men are born with inalienable rights to ''life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'', which the great founding documents of the United States declare to be universal and not simply the birthright of residents of one nation?

If America is now to make its commitment to those values conditional - even when the oppressed populations of totalitarian countries are putting their lives at risk to embrace them - then we are living in a very different world from the one to which we have been accustomed.
I am increasing becoming concerned about a future where America turns inward and begins butting out of world affairs and hot spots as so many seem to wish for. As Daley writes:
What would an America be like that did not expect to be called upon to support democratic movements and defend oppressed people? Its citizens have always been taught to see themselves not just as fortunate residents of a lucky country but as bearers of a spiritual truth - a model for the world of how men should live. Are they to become just one more self-preserving, inward-looking populace obsessed with entitlements and an easy life like so many - dare one say it - cynical, war-weary Europeans?
The United States is increasingly dealing with a challenging world. At a time where countries as China, India, Russia and Iran are vying for regional predominance, where competition between liberalism and absolutism has re-ignited, where and nations are once again, gradually lining up along ideological lines, where the rift between tradition and modernity (Islamic fundamentalism verses modern secularism) is widening, and finally when anti-Americanism is so pronounced we need to take stock and hit the pause button. The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen nailed it in piece from 2007:
Which is why we ought to be careful about demanding that the US butt out of world affairs. Just in case they do. Who will pick up the slack if the US does the multilateral thing, sending in token troops to the next genocide hot spot? Which country’s ships will be among the first into port laden with aid and troops when the next tsunami hits Asia? Are we happy to leave it to Russia or China to guard Western interests when it comes to Iran and North Korea? And just remind me the last time European soft power, not to mention hard power, solved a major conflict.

And so it goes on. Everywhere one looks, the US is there. Not always perfect. Criticise them for specific failures by all means. But acknowledge the scorecard: the full spectrum of US hegemony, from its brute military muscle to the soft seduction of American ideas, has been an overwhelming force for good.
I am not convinced that the U.S. will turn completely inward toward elements of isolationism, but Libya has shown us a clear departure from past ways. A foreign policy predisposed to being traditionalist (as opposed to transformationalists), pragmatist (as opposed to neocon) and internationalist (as opposed to unilateralists). So why should we hit the pause button? If in fact America does turn its back on other nations for a sustained period, say 25 years, world order, as we have come to know it, will be turned on its head. As I wrote in 2007:
... if the day were to come that the U.S. does collapse economically, financially, politically and strategically, or alternatively butt out of worldly affairs as most seem to wish, not completely but enough to cause major shifts, then the world may be faced with a global situation of startling instability and great risk. A global shift in power of which the end product cannot be accurately guessed at, nor can it be forecast with any exactitude's" ...
Further reading: Preserving Primacy