In a previous blog entry, I noted three columns worthy of some attention. The three deal with to varying degrees America’s place in the world, our use of power, in particular soft-power, and the move by much of the world to non-American spawned means of economic, social or political governance. By way of introduction, a brief review of each column, and then my thoughts.
Europe Is the Next Rival Superpower.
But Then, So Was Japan.
by Jonathan Rauch, National Journal
The premise, gained by no more than the title, is that many are proclaiming Europe to be the next superpower, or moreover, that Europe is a superpower. Rauch, to his credit, shows a bit of restraint or skepticism, yet he like, Rifkin, Reid and Leonard, who he quotes, portrays the sense that America isn’t what she used to be or never was. At least not in the use her influence or soft power, and he dutifully derides American culture as "cowboy individualism" while the Europeans are seen as having a communitarian ethos that "better suits the times."
The Bushies’ New Groove
by David Brooks, NYTimes
In a nutshell, Brooks details his impression that the Bush administration has a renewed vigor for building during the second term, as opposed to tearing down, i.e. war, in the first. He notes that the administration has even shown a strong appreciation of soft power for this term and is looking beyond the Middle East. Perhaps because he writes for the Times, he has the obligatory, not sure where they’ll use it (soft power) comment but all else aside, a fine column.
Dream On America
The U.S. Model: For years, much of the world did aspire to the American way of life. But today countries are finding more appealing systems in their own backyards.
by Andrew Moravcsik, Newsweek International
The central thesis: Anti-American sentiment isn’t an aberration and U.S. soft power isn’t as influential as it once was in the face of alternatives from Europe or Asia. There are dubious statements that weaken his argument, and the glossing over, or outright ignoring, of factors that are antithetical to his view. And still, it’s a good read and at a minimum may lead some to ask, what is America’s place in the world.
The reward of guiding men or nations to freedom is seldom, if ever, their eternal gratitude. The effervescent feeling of "free at last" is quickly replaced by the needs and desires of day-to-day life and governance. While many nations, and peoples, are fondly pro-American in their stance in the days following their deliverance from war, enemies at arms, or economic peril, it is wrong to believe that it will last indefinitely. We should neither expect, nor feel shorted, when time passes and those who had been concerned with survival turn a cold shoulder to the U.S. after shifting to the higher challenges of self-governance, foreign policy, or creating economic opportunity.
Whether it is the European nations who survived with American intervention and continued presence, or Japan, whose world view was so thoroughly reconstructed and improved, the evidence of American might was unquestionably clear in the 20th century. Both, however, experienced more than the military capability of the U.S. The American spirit guided our actions as the U.S. strove not to remake them into American satellites, but instead to free them to a course of their own selection. Just as we’ve begun to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is common, even here, to discuss the anti-American sentiment of much of the world. In doing so, I, like many others, often fail to distinguish between those who culturally express disagreement with the U.S. and those who express through economic or foreign policy anti-U.S. objectives. With the advent of the European Union, this is far too easy to do, as much of the EU can be seen as anti-U.S. while the nations that make up the EU are more apt to simply be hands stretching for greater opportunity. France excluded. ;)
We have taken a leading role in the development of freedom and opportunity throughout the world not by our drive, but rather out of the absence of such leadership from older nations or soft powers such as the UN. Of course, national security has led the way in determining where and when we would exert overt force, and diplomatic and economic force have long been the standard elsewhere. As such, how is it that others see our influence waning?
It is simply a matter of the shrinking world. As Drezner notes, there are fewer poor dictators around and therefore fewer people living under the circumstances that most glaringly differ from the life of Americans. This is a sign of success. That those who’ve recently been freed may choose to become more European, Indian, or Japanese in their economic or political being, reflects only on our past success and as a reminder that where we have stepped in, it has lead to much gain.
Should the President’s administration increase its reliance on soft power? Yes and no. Build alliances, strengthen bonds, and compromise when the parties involved are aligned with the interest of those who are at greatest risk. Otherwise, if necessary, stand alone as a light unto others.