Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Empire Decomposed: American Foreign Relations In the Early 21st Century

Chas Freeman (first casualty in the Israel lobby’s efforts to rein in what in its early days might have looked like a dangerously independent Obama administration)

Americans are accustomed to foreigners following us. After all, for forty years, we led the industrial democracies against the former USSR and its captive entourage. After the Soviet collapse, we bestrode the world as its sole colossus. For a while, we imagined we could do pretty much anything we wanted to do on our own. This, in the opinion of some, made followers irrelevant and leadership unnecessary.

Still, on reflection, we thought things might go better with a garland of allies and a garnish of friends. So we accepted some help from NATO members and some other foreign auxiliaries in Afghanistan. And, when we marched into the ambush of Iraq, we recruited a few other nations eager to ingratiate themselves with us to tag along in what became known as "the coalition of the billing." In the end, however, in Iraq, it came down to us and our faithful British collaborators. Then, without even a "yo! Bush," the Brits too were gone. And when we looked for other allies to follow us back into Afghanistan, they weren't there.

All this should remind us that power, no matter how immense, is not by itself enough to ordain leadership. Power must be informed by vision, guided by wisdom, and embodied in strategy if it is to inspire companions and followers. We're a bit short of believers in our leadership these days, not just on the battlefields of West Asia but at global financial gatherings, the United Nations, meetings of the G-20, among human rights and environmental activists, in the world's regions, including our own hemisphere, and so forth. There are few places where we Americans still enjoy the credibility and command the deference we once did. A year or so ago, we decided that military means were not always the best way to solve problems and that having diplomatic allies could really help do so. But it isn't happening.


  1. meme or not, it is widely believed to this day:

    For roughly fifty years since the end of World War II the United States, has provided global leadership to the West and western-aligned nations of the world. The enabling factors of this leadership were direct results of the war. These factors included the political and economic ruin of Europe and Asia, the overwhelming industrial/economic strength and political stability of the U. S. relative to the rest of the world and the need for a U.S. economic, political and military umbrella in the face of an ideologically antithetical and militarily potent Soviet Union. In short, the U.S. has led the western world because it possessed the resources and interest to do so and because of the western perception of a common threat.