Democrats and Republicans Agree That America Is Always Right

The mid-term elections in the United States demonstrated that domestically, Americans are sharply divided, with the balance of power nationally almost exactly divided between Democrats and Republicans with each believing that the other party is too extreme and a threat to democracy. But when it comes to foreign policy, Americans and political parties are more aligned. In theory, that should be a good thing. In fact, it is not.

That’s because alignment is based on a continuing fantasy of American global preeminence that may have been true in the mid-20th century but is long past its expiration date. This la-la-land syndrome has sharp consequences. When US foreign policy fails to understand the changing balance of power globally, it undermines what remains of US power, not only internationally but domestically.

Nowhere is this imagination more evident than in the way the Biden administration and leading Democrats have reacted to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to cut his country’s oil production. In response to the Saudi-OPEC+ move to cut production by as much as 2 million barrels per day, former congressional Democrats exploded with indignation. Seeing the move as a deliberate U.S. reprisal and a means to bolster Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oil-dependent regime (which will benefit from continued rising oil prices), Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said on CNN: Be very frank about that. … It’s Putin and Saudi Arabia versus the United States.” US President Joe Biden promised that his administration would undertake a comprehensive review of the entire security and economic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and declared that in light of the actions of the crown prince, “there will be some consequences for what they did .”

The mid-term elections in the United States demonstrated that domestically, Americans are sharply divided, with the balance of power nationally almost exactly divided between Democrats and Republicans with each believing that the other party is too extreme and a threat to democracy. But when it comes to foreign policy, Americans and political parties are more aligned. In theory, that should be a good thing. In fact, it is not.

That’s because alignment is based on a continuing fantasy of American global preeminence that may have been true in the mid-20th century but is long past its expiration date. This la-la-land syndrome has sharp consequences. When US foreign policy fails to understand the changing balance of power globally, it undermines what remains of US power, not only internationally but domestically.

Nowhere is this imagination more evident than in the way the Biden administration and leading Democrats have reacted to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s decision to cut his country’s oil production. In response to the Saudi-OPEC+ move to cut production by as much as 2 million barrels per day, former congressional Democrats exploded with indignation. Seeing the move as a deliberate U.S. reprisal and a means to bolster Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oil-dependent regime (which will benefit from continued rising oil prices), Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said on CNN: Be very frank about that. … It’s Putin and Saudi Arabia versus the United States.” US President Joe Biden promised that his administration would undertake a comprehensive review of the entire security and economic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and declared that in light of the actions of the crown prince, “there will be some consequences for what they did .”

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Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey went even further in his speech, saying: “I must also speak out against the recent decision of the government of Saudi Arabia to help fund Putin’s war through the OPEC+ cartel. There is simply no room to play both sides of this conflict. Either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping an entire country off the map or you support him. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a terrible decision driven by economic self-interest. The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”

The unilateral language of high dudgeon speaks to a worldview that places the United States at the center of what is good, just, stable, and order and that anyone who leaves the will of the United States is opposed to what is good, just, stable, and order. Last month, it was the Democrats who seized the mantle of speech, but the Republicans are equally inclined. In April 2020, a group of Republican congressional representatives, again challenging Mohammed bin Salman, sent a letter threatening punishment if Saudi Arabia did not cut production in the face of the oil price crash caused by the COVID-19 shutdown. “Failure to address this energy crisis will jeopardize joint efforts between our nations to cooperate economically and militarily,” the letter said. “The American military presence in the Middle East region has maintained the stability that provides economic prosperity and ensures the security of our two nations.” In this reading, the only thing standing in the way of war and chaos in the region was US military and economic guarantees, a lens that conveniently overlooks the chaos unleashed by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2009 with irrelevance. total of. The United States is in chaos triggered by the Syrian or Yemeni civil war.

Of course, on September 20, 2001, US President George W. Bush delivered the most egregious example of this amusing view of American power. al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bush promised an aggressive retaliation, declaring to the world, “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” The gray areas are gone.

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All these are just words, but these words reflect a world view which then translates into politics. It is a worldview shared by a group of American foreign policy less divided between Democrats and Republicans and animated by a long-standing belief in the indispensability of the United States to ensure world peace and prosperity, as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. so clearly articulated. It is a view expressed by former US President Ronald Reagan and invoked by many others—up to Mike Pompeo, former US President Donald Trump’s secretary of state—that the United States is the “last stand”. [of freedom] on Earth” and that if freedom is lost in the United States, it will be lost globally. It is a view that the United States, which was a global remark in the decades after the Second World War and well into the end of the 20th century, will always be the remark.

You might ask what’s wrong with a little self-aggrandizement from a country that still has the largest economy in the world and the most powerful military? What is wrong is that it leads to a misreading of the nature of power heading to the heart of the 21st century. A large military cannot be easily used, even if it can repel threats. When it is used, as it was in Iraq and Afghanistan, it led to a weakening of the American power because its forces were not enough to achieve its political goals in these countries and regions. U.S. military equipment has been critical to Ukraine’s defense, but so have inexpensive drones supplied by Turkey—and on the other hand, drones supplied by Iran. The American military advantage is huge, but when it comes to drones, you don’t need to be big to make a big difference.

A worse problem is the mismeasurement of US economic and soft power. The former remains massive but also relatively less than at any point since the end of World War II. This is a product not of American failure per se but of the resounding rise of the rest of the non-Western world and the emergence of billions of people in Asia, Latin America and Africa in—for lack of a better word—the middle. class. More evenly distributed global prosperity and a reduced wealth gap among nations (as the late physician Hans Rosling so brilliantly demonstrated) have been accompanied by less conflict, longer lives, and caloric abundance. It is undoubtedly a good thing, but it also means that the relative economic power of the United States has decreased.

This has also been accompanied by a decline in American soft power, in what Harvard professor and longtime security official Joseph Nye has described as America’s ability to shape other societies by example. Soft power is hard to measure, but as other parts of the world have succeeded with their own unique formulas—India and China especially (whether one likes those formulas or not)—the lure of the United States has diminished. That has only been accelerated by an America less welcoming to immigrants, workers, and students from abroad, who have been a quiet but potent part of American soft power and global influence.

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Again, relative The decline of power is not a negative for the United States or the world, but the failure to recognize it and act as if it is still in the 20th century is a negative for US power. One important tool of restraint that remains available to the United States is that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. This allows the American government to threaten countries with eviction from the dollar system or American banks if they do not cooperate with the goals of American foreign policy, thereby giving teeth to the “with us or against us” idea. But the constraints supported by the decline of relative power are leading many countries to seek to move not only from the dollar regime, but from the continuous economic intuition with the United States. And with several alternative centers of wealth globally, that is now easier to do and less painful than it would have been when George W. Bush demanded allegiance to the war on terror.

There will be no sudden collapse here, but the American position in the face of a changing world will have the effect of reducing influence and encouraging countries to seek other relationships and economic systems that do not flow from Washington. Like a death by a thousand cuts, harm will accumulate slowly but inexorably until one day, in the face of American saber-cluttering, economic or military, other countries will just shrug and ignore it.

Given the vast economic resources of the United States still command and reserves of soft power that have been depleted but not entirely drained, one can still imagine a more moderate recognition of the nature of power in the world today and a more realistic approach to the world. problem This would not change the inexorable movement in a world of many centers and dispersed powers, nor should it, but it would allow the United States to pursue its interests more effectively and continue to be a constructive and stabilizing force. One can imagine that, but right now, it requires more imagination in the face of not much evidence. There is time to change course, but that time is running short.

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