Here’s an ominous juxtaposition of stories from today’s news. First, this poll:
A near-majority of Americans say the United States should become less active in world affairs, a dramatic change from the post-9/11 national environment and one that comes as President Barack Obama tries to juggle crises in the Middle East and the Ukraine.
In a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should dial down its activity in foreign affairs, versus 19 percent who said the country should be more active around the globe. Three in ten respondents said the current level is correct.
That represents a major flip in how Americans view world affairs since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, nearly 4 in ten Americans said they wanted to see more engagement around the world, and just 14 percent said the nation should be less active.
Comparable studies in the mid-1990s found that about a third of Americans believed the U.S. should reduce its foreign policy footprint….
Hmmm… I wonder… Could that be the same 47 percent Mitt Romney was on about?
Meanwhile, we have this item from The Guardian, which no one could mistake for a pro-interventionist newspaper:
The biggest geopolitical risk of our times is not a conflict between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation. Nor is it the risk of chronic disorder in an arc of instability that now runs from the Maghreb all the way to the Hindu Kush. It is not even the risk of Cold War II between Russia and the West over Ukraine.
All of these are serious risks, of course; but none is as serious as the challenge of sustaining the peaceful character of China‘s rise. That is why it is particularly disturbing to hear Japanese and Chinese officials and analysts compare the countries’ bilateral relationship to that between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.
The disputes between China and several of its neighbours over disputed islands and maritime claims (starting with the conflict with Japan) are just the tip of the iceberg. As China becomes an even greater economic power, it will become increasingly dependent on shipping routes for its imports of energy, other inputs, and goods. This implies the need to develop a blue-water navy to ensure that China’s economy cannot be strangled by a maritime blockade.
But what China considers a defensive imperative could be perceived as aggressive and expansionist by its neighbours and the United States. And what looks like a defensive imperative to the US and its Asian allies – building further military capacity in the region to manage China’s rise – could be perceived by China as an aggressive attempt to contain it….
It’s no accident that we see Americans gazing into their isolationist navels, anxiously taking their own temperatures, while a British publication gazes out at the world as it is. Even as it ceased to rule half the world, Britain has remained at least interested in what happens around the globe. Whereas the average American on the street will always default to isolationism, barring catastrophic events that temporarily turn his attention abroad.
Which, in a world that has relied since 1945, and especially since 1991, on American engagement — economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and yes, military — as a stabilizing force, is not a good thing.
For a generation, China has steadily been engaging more closely with the world, including nations in our own Monroe-Doctrine backyard. One of the first editorials I wrote for The State in 1994 was on the subject of Chinese diplomatic and trade initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. They have been so successful that, according to Stratfor, a Chinese economic slowdown has a deleterious effect on the region:
A looming slowdown in the Chinese economy promises trouble for China’s economic partners in Latin America, especially commodity exporters. The growing relationship between China and Latin America is on display this week as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tours the region in a trip that will wrap up April 26. Wang is visiting Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to discuss bilateral financing and trade deals.
China’s slowing economy and potential for domestic economic instability threatens to sharply lower demand for key commodities exported by Latin American countries. Particularly vulnerable are countries such as Brazil, Peru and Chile that have seen China rise in importance as an export destination…
My relativist friends will say that’s fine. We had our time; maybe it’s China’s turn. All nations are alike — there’s nothing exceptional about our own; any perception to the contrary is pure, narrow chauvinism — and a world in which China is the dominant influencer is no worse than one that turns to America.
As you know, I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.
Fortunately, everyone who has held the White House in my lifetime agrees with me — or at the very least says he agrees with me, whatever his actions may say. Our serious political discussions tend to be about ways and means, not ultimate aims. In fact, while he was defending a foreign policy based on the assumption that intervening in Iraq was the worst foreign policy mistake of our time (with which I’m bound to disagree, at least somewhat), I rather like the president’s invocation of a doctrine based on singles and doubles rather than home runs:
MANILA — At a news conference in the Philippines on Monday afternoon, President Obama initially scoffed when a reporter asked him to explain the “Obama doctrine” in light of his handling of recent world events.
But then he seemed to embrace the idea. Surveying hot spots from Syria to Ukraine, Obama laid out an incremental, dogged approach to foreign relations that relies on the United States deploying every possible economic and institutional lever before resorting to armed force.
“That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows,” said Obama, who is nearing the end of a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia. “But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”…
The problem with isolationists is that they don’t even want us to get up to bat. They don’t even want to show up for the game. Which is not good for the country, and even worse for the rest of the world.