Tag: American hegemony

WPTPN: The Loss of the American Narrative

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Aida A. Hozić is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Florida. This blogpost draws on a chapter prepared for Hegemony and Leadership in the International Political Economy, edited by Alan Cafruny and Herman M. Schwartz (Lynne Rienner, forthcoming).

There is a moment at the end of every regime when the relationship between all hitherto accepted modes of representation and reality seems to collapse.  Regimes start running on fumes when well-established political rituals appear devoid of meaning, when institutionalized practices are revealed as arbitrary, when beloved symbols of power suddenly have no referent, pointing instead at power’s empty seat. In short, regimes collapse when narratives that have held them together are no longer believable.

America, I would argue, might be rapidly approaching that point.

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Thursday Linkage

I saw this image on Twitter tonight and it kind of summarized how I feel about the news this summer which has been awful. I’ve been reading posts from thoughtful commentators like Steve Walt, Micah Zenko, and Jay Ulfelder who remind us that it’s not all bad or at least it’s not as bad as has been in the past (anybody remember World War II? [anyone] or perhaps even the early post-Cold War was as bad as it right now).

Still, from Ukraine to Ferguson to ISIS in Iraq/Syria to Gaza to Ebola, this has been one shitty summer for news and also nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. I think the current security threats are making many IR security folks feel as uneasy as the IPE folks felt during the 2008 recession. Since I kind of straddle different worlds, I worried then and I worry now.

In the midst of all this, we’ve at least had a ray of lightness and kindness which is the viral “IceBucket Challenge.” I know some have scoffed at this act of slacktivism, but awareness and fundraising for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) has gone way up. So, I say go out and dump ice on your head and donate money to a good cause. Relax, hug and kiss your kids, and let’s hope cooler heads around the world prevail. F–k bad news. Some links below that capture some of the rough news. Continue reading

The Snowden Affair and International Hierarchy

Most of my public comments on Snowden have focused on how to evaluate his actions as a US citizen and someone entrusted with a high-level security clearance. Here I want to focus on an analytical concern–that of international hierarchy.

I don’t have a strong sense of the degree that other scholars associate me with the “new hierarchy studies,” but a major theme of my work is that we are better off understanding crticial aspects of international relations as structured by patterns of super- and subordination than as anarchical. Indeed, my sense is that two of the most prominent advocates of this view–Krasner and Lakeoverestimate the importance of anarchical relations in world politics. Still, both correctly note that de jure state sovereignty serves to deflect attention from the prevalence of hierarchical control among and across states. Continue reading

Flexibility and Constraint in Hegemonic Orders

About a year ago I introduced an ocasional series called “Quarter-Baked Ideas.” The idea was to blog about semi-formed thoughts related to international affairs. The whole notion turned about to be quarter-baked: I haven’t done another one until now.

Do rising powers have an intrinsic advantage in “flexibility” when compared to dominant ones? The answer to this question matters a great deal, I submit, to debates over the persistence and decline of hegemonic orders. As I’ve alluded to before, there’s a curious blindspot in mainstream hegemonic-order theory.

On the one hand, hegemonic-order theories emphasize the significance of, well, hegemonic orders. The costs and benefits of those orders are supposed to influence the disposition of second-tier states and thus whether they challenge the dominant power. Gilpin noted, in particular, the allocation of status as a key factor in accounting for whether rising powers adopted a status-quo or revisionist approach to hegemonic orders. Ikenberry, among others, sees the character of hegemonic orders as of central importance: the US-led order, he argues, is durable because it provides “voice opportunities” for other states and involves multiple mechanisms (“self-retraining” or “self-binding” elements) that limit the potential for American predation.

On the other hand, such theorists don’t really treat order itself as an object of contention. The character of the order might be important, but all the action occurs at the level of alterations in the distribution of state capacity. Hegemony lasts so long as the dominant power avoids, or prevails over, rising revisionist states. Yet, as should be obvious, hegemony isn’t separable from order. A political community might stand at the apex of the international pyramid of power, but if doesn’t build and maintain an order then it isn’t exercising hegemony. Indeed, this is why Ikenberry invests a great deal of energy in arguing that the liberal order can persist even without unipolarity, and that states might even accept US security primacy after relative decline.

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Notes on Hegemony and Symbolic Capital

This is of interest only to international-relations theorists and fellow travelers.

A long-standing claims about hegemonic orders is that they are normative ones: that a dominant power uses a wide variety of power resources to create a set of international rules and regimes conducive to its ideological and material interests. After World War II the United States worked actively to promote norms and institutions consistent with a broadly “liberal internationalist” environment, albeit ones refracted through the prism of Cold War competition. After the Cold War the United States enlarged the order, however unevenly, and during the Bush Administration it sought, but generally failed, to recast that order along neoconservative lines.

The two most importnat “mainstream” pieces to focus on the normative dimensions of hegemonic orders are probably John Ruggie’s “International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order” and G. John Ikenberry’s and Charles Kupchan’s “Socialization and Hegemonic Power.”

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Podcast No. 7 – Interview with Alex Cooley

The seventh episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I interview Alex Cooley about his books on hierarchy, basing, incomplete contracting, and his new book — Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Contents

  • Front Matter
  • Who is Alex Cooley?
  • Logics of Hierarchy
  • Base Politics
  • Contracting States
  • Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia
  • End Matter

Note: the publication date of the podcasts remains in flux, but I am aiming to have them appear Friday-Sunday each week.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

Another Nail in the Battered Coffin of Irony

This must be satire. It isn’t? No, it has to be.  I mean… seriously?

In a post on his Twitter account, Calderón offered his condolences to the victims but then added that the incident showed that “the American Congress must review its mistaken legislation on guns. It’s doing damage to us all.” 

It was hardly a new theme from Mexico’s lame-duck president. But his latest statement requires an extraordinary amount of gall. During Calderón’s presidency, more than fifty thousand of his people have died in the war on drugs that he chose to escalate. A foreign leader with that awful of a track record daring to lecture the United States on its policies regarding firearms is not likely to sit well with most Americans.

Yes, the blame for the Mexican war on drugs falls squarely on Calderón’s shoulders, and his shoulders alone
But there can be no doubt that this sort of thing does not sit well with Americans. As the saying goes, with great power comes the right to lecture, and not be lectured to. 

Speaking of Retrenchment

Christopher Preble has a solid critical review of Robert Kagan’s new book at The National Interest. Preble is particularly concerned with the free-rider problem:

EVEN THOSE inclined to believe Kagan’s assessment of the international system and America’s role in it must contend with one central fact that Kagan elides: the costs of maintaining the status quo are substantial and likely to grow. That is because Washington’s possession of vast stores of power—and its willingness to use that power on behalf of others—has created an entire class of nations that are unwilling to defend themselves and their interests from threats. The data clearly show a vast and growing gap between what others pay for defense and what Americans pay to defend them. The critical question, then, centers on differing perceptions of this capability imbalance. Because U.S. security guarantees to wealthy allies have caused them to underprovide for their own defense, they also have less capacity to help the United States in its time of need—either now in Afghanistan or in a theoretical future contest with China or a resurgent Russia. Kagan contends other countries will choose not to defend themselves and their interests, but at other times he acknowledges it is precisely the presence of American power that has discouraged them from doing so. In the end, it is clear Kagan doesn’t want other countries to defend themselves because, he says, they just can’t be trusted to get the job done. Most will be content to let security challenges grow and fester on their borders, or within them, leaving the United States—and the United States alone—with the task of cleaning up the mess. As he sought to explain in 2003, Americans should “be more worried about a conflagration on the Asian subcontinent or in the Middle East or in Russia than the Europeans, who live so much closer,” because the harm from other countries’ failure to act will inevitably threaten U.S. security.

This is spot on: from a pro-primacy position, depressing non-US defense spending via security guarantees is a feature, not a bug. The positive case is that it reduces the risks of interstate war and otherwise suppresses rivalries. From a US perspective, it also enhances Washington’s influence. The negative case is, as Preble stresses, that it shifts the burden of others’ security onto the US taxpayer and may hasten relative decline.

As recent Japanese-ROK security agreements suggest, this doesn’t amount to an all-or-nothing deal. States in the US umbrella that feel sufficiently worried about their security won’t ignore their own needs. In this context, the Asia pivot also makes sense, as the major European powers really aren’t that concerned about traditional military threats. I see no problem with rejecting Kagan’s Manichaeanism, recognizing that the US does have significant room for defense savings, but still acknowledging the central place of the US in many aspects of global security–and acting accordingly.

Retrenchment and the US Alliance System

Robert drove a great deal of traffic to the Duck with his provocative posts on retrenchment and US alliances. His efforts to “grade” allies by strategic importance has led to some interesting results and fascinating discussions. But I think he’s working with an overly narrow view of what alliances are good for. Here I agree with Steve Walt in general, although I have a somewhat different spin.

Robert’s analysis treats alliances as if they are basically cooperative security arrangements, produce little in the way of externalities, and amount to a net negative investment only offset by the relative “strategic importance” of an ally. Thus, Robert advances three major criteria: (1) direct security interest, (2) need, and (3) values/symbolism. This can be summed up as “where is it located? Can it defend itself? Does a US commitment help Washington in the war of ideas?”

One problem with these criteria should be obvious. As Robert is quite aware, “security interests” can get pretty fuzzy once we move beyond “contiguous territory.” It isn’t even clear that common borders make necessary allies; after all, who exactly will be invading the US via Mexico? Regardless, one of the problems with “selective engagement” strategies hinges on precisely this ambiguity: it is too easy to slip into either *nothing* being a vital national interest or *everything* being crucial to national security. The “values” criteria is, I submit, even more subject to abuse.

But even if we wave away problems with the three criteria, my suspicion is that Robert’s assumptions about alliances are wrong. Alliances — whether formal defense pacts, strategic partnerships, or whatever — are also control mechanisms by which states reduce the autonomy of their partners: sometimes states forge alliances precisely because they judge other states to be unreliable (for a classic treatment, see Snyder’s Alliance Politics). In some strategic partnerships, the capabilities of the ally are irrelevant: the relationship enables power projection by providing extra-territorial bases and access. Alliances often involve significant externalities, in terms of the signals they send to potential friends and enemies alike. These signals aren’t just about “values,” but the scope and nature of US commitments. In short, an assessment of US alliance commitments requires a more nuanced outlook than Robert provides, and his consequent analysis may be significantly flawed.

Mexico is a good example. It isn’t so much that the US forges a close relationship with Mexico to pool military resources, but because it is more costly for the US to impose formal hierarchy on the country. When it comes to US basing and access agreements, it is true that these can develop relatively quickly — as in Central Asia after 9/11 — or that lost opportunities can return as a result of shifts in power and threat. But it is also the case that long-term basing arrangements tend to enjoy a degree of stability that often proves elusive in newer US-host relationships. Which amounts to a rather elliptical way of saying that it isn’t always efficacious to abandon strategic partnerships to save some short-term cash.

Adopting a more nuanced view of the “importance” of various bilateral and multilateral partnerships doesn’t take away from the importance of the exercise. I agree that everyone needs to spend more time thinking, and writing, about US strategic interests and which international relationships are most important in light of those interests.

But, at the end of the day, we need to be clearer about what we mean when we talk about “strategic overextension,” “relative decline,” and other key terms in the debate over “retrenchment.” The connection between bloated military budgets and strategic partnerships is not necessarily a direct one. US relative decline may force Washington to adopt clearer strategic priorities — such as pivoting toward East Asia — particularly when it comes to providing robust security guarantees. However, a lot of the recent “damage” done to the blood and treasure of the United States stems from wars of choice — and one in particular — that had very little to do with the central connective tissue of its alliances and partnerships. 

The irony of focusing on the number of these relationships — rather than how much the US commits to them or broader aspects of the US defense budget — is that Washington’s alliance architecture is probably its best hedge against the rise of potential competitors. It both allows for the pooling of resources and it also reduces the likelihood of rising powers being able to wedge apart possible balancing coalitions. So, yes, the US needs to be smarter about how it allocates resources and less willing to resort to expensive military ventures of dubious geo-strategic value, but nothing about “retrenchment” requires slashing and burning its strategic relationships with other states. At least not in the foreseeable future.

Ranking US Allies: A Response to Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan & all those Canadians…

Last week, I tried to rank US allies, drawing response from both Walt and Sullivan (oh, and these guys, whose website name’ll creep you out). So here are a few responses:

1. I accept the arguments from many commenters that Turkey should be on the list. So here is a final list, a ‘top 12’ of US allies in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, Egypt, and Turkey.

2. Walt’s expansion of my argument toward “zero-based alliance formation” formalizes my initial intuitions for US alignment-picks. He asks if the US had no allies right now, which ones would it choose, because many US allies are left-over from previous commitments that may no longer be valuable. It’s an interesting, semi-counterfactual exercise. Its logic may be a clearer way to think about US allies than my use of retrenchment to force a ranking on US allies. I think this is a pretty good paper topic actually…

Instead of my 3 proposed alliance criteria (direct security benefits to the US; how desperately a potential ally needs the US; and the values symbolism of an alignment), Walt lists 6 benchmarks: power, position, political stability, popularity, pliability, and potential impact. These are richer than mine but also make it much harder to build a ranked order. I wonder what Walt’s top 10 would be then? I think he would be harder than I am on small states. That follows insofar as realism would suggest that larger states are usually more consequential. By including values/symbolism as a criterion, I allow places like Taiwan and SK to hang on.

From my top 12, I think Walt would probably kick out Israel, Taiwan, maybe Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and SK. Japan and NATO would probably be higher, and I think Brazil would be in there, and perhaps Australia. (I didn’t include those last because I think the US has few interests in Latin America and Australia benefits from the massive Indonesian glacis.)


What’s interesting though is that neither my nor Walt’s criteria would dramatically change the US alliance structure as far as I can tell. Walt would probably wind the US down in the ME more rapidly, while retaining NATO more, and I would do the opposite. We both probably agree that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan should not make the cut. Finally, I think my benchmarks would ‘pivot’ the US toward Asia faster than Walt’s, although I am not sure. Anyone want to comment on what top 10 Walt’s benchmarks would create?

3. I was please to see that Sullivan flagged – not necessarily approved, but just noted – my argument for Indonesia as America’s most important bridge to the Muslim world. I realize this is kinda off-beat, given that the ME is what dominates our perceptions of Islam and where Islamist pathologies are worst. (Here is a critic, a neocon perhaps, calling me ‘delusional’ for ranking Indonesia this way.) So here is a quick defense, more or less along the lines of what Secretary Clinton said a few years ago.

Indonesia is a syncretic model of pluralist Islam and politics; I think this is pretty widely accepted. No, it’s not as modern and liberal as we might like, but by the standards of the region, other developing countries, and especially the OIC, it is a paragon. Let’s be honest about that. It could easily be far, far worse (think Pakistan), which is why I find it unfortunate that we don’t pay attention much. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and a friendship with Indonesia doesn’t mean avoiding tough issues, just like engaging China doesn’t mean we should ignore human rights and other similar issues.

So in its own imperfect, struggling way, Indonesia represents the future of political Islam (speaking very broadly to be sure), not the past, which is a lot of what the ME represents and what Arab Spring is trying to break. If the flat-earth religious elites of places like Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia are allowed to dominate the global conversation on Islam, more conflict is likely. By contrast, Indonesia offers a possible model for Islam to live with both democratic politics and religious pluralism. That we should vigorously support such an effort, through some kind of alignment, strikes me as so self-evident, that I am amazed that we never talk about this.

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. Its military is “conditionally subordinate” to civilian control. Its human rights record has improved since the dictatorship. Its troubles with salafism and religious tolerance are there, yes, but again, by the standards of reasonably comparable states like Egypt or Pakistan, its record is good. There has no been no major jihadist terrorism since the 2003 Marriot bombing. Jemaah Islamiah is out there and nasty, but this stuff is far less threatening, with far less hold over popular imagination, than similar movements in so many other OIC states, especially given Indonesia’s huge size. Indeed, it’s Saudi oil money funding wahhabist preaching in Indonesia that is the big salafist threat, not homegrown Indonesian clerics.

So instead of lining up with badly governed Arab autocracies as we did in the ME – alignments that create islamist blowback – doesn’t it seem far more beneficial for US to align with a (reasonably) moderate, very large country (4th biggest in the world) that also worries about China, with improving democratic credentials? Like Turkey (also on the list now), Indonesia suggests that Islam can coexist reasonably well with modernity and liberalism. Similarly, Muslims have demonstrated that they can leave in reasonable peace with non-adherents in religiously diverse states like the US, India, and Indonesia. This is great news – somebody should tell the Tea Party and remind the Christian Right that it too should be a little more tolerant. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Islam in more monocultural places like the ME would be harsher and less tolerant. So we should be grooming South and SE Asian states where tolerance is more entrenched, if only out of the sheer necessity of preventing endless internal conflict. And Indonesia is easily the leader here. Hence I ranked it at number 7.

Even ‘long war’ neocons should see the value at this point in defusing the tiresome, now fairly stalemated debate of whether Islam can find a modus vivendi in the modern world or not. Regarding this debate, places like Indonesia and Turkey are not-perfect-but-good-enough-given-current-circumstances models for Islamic democratization and the cutting edge of Islamic politics. This is why we should be attached. We want US alliances to actually get us some real value-added, not just encourage free-riding from countries that already like us. This is why Indonesia is more important than Germany or Japan. We should have learned from the Arab Spring uprisings and Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt that supporting nasty dictators in the ME breeds a politicized Islamic backlash. Huntington notoriously argued that Islam had ‘bloody borders,’ but places Indonesia blunt that disturbing logic. That is very, very good – and far more valuable to the US than aging, tired alliances like NATO.

4. Canadians got pretty passionate over this. I didn’t know that was possible. Like most Americans, I tend to assume that Canadians are Americans who simply refuse to admit that fact (sorry – couldn’t resist that one), but commenters came out swinging against the idea that Mexico might be more important to the US or that Canada might ever be a ‘threat’ to the US (which I never meant to imply btw). One even argued that Canada is more politically stable than the US. Hah! … oh, wait, that’s probably true… Sad smile. Generally, I think Canada kinda gets screwed by being our neighbor – they get stuck with every bad idea we come up with and chain-ganged into it whether they like it or not. So, thanks, Canada, sticking with us even after we elected W. Yes, we’re kind of embarrassed about that now. Enjoy that vid above.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

Quarter-Baked Idea: The Post-Cold War Concert System

This is the first in what may become an occasional series. Over the last year or two, I’ve drifted out of regular blogging. The usual excuses apply: too much work and not enough energy. I am so badly behind on a number of book chapters, manuscript revisions, and the like that the simple act of writing this explanation feels like a misuse of my time. Well, anyway, so my notion is this: write short posts designed to provoke discussion of various issues in international relations and international-relations theory. We’ll see if it works.

For the last decade or more, unipolarity has been the basic framework in security studies for understanding contemporary international order. We’ve debated about the general stability of unipolarity. We’ve argued about whether the character of American leadership impacts that stability. And we’ve spent–and continue to spend–an enormous amount of time contemplating the power-transition dynamics associated with the rise of China.

I wonder, though, if our unipolarity fixation obscures some important aspects of post-Cold War security order. In the early 1990s another image of world politics seemed plausible: that of a new great-power concert. After all, the United Nations was constructed with an embedded concert architecture via the United Nations Security Council, and the 1991 Gulf War suggested a reinvigoration of that latent aspect of international order.

The standard story is that those hopes were dashed by retreat from Somalia, the Rwanda debacle, NATO expansion, NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, and so forth. Renewed optimism–at least those who favored such an arrangement, including Moscow–after 9/11 quickly gave way to talk of “American Empire” as the Bush Administration mobilized to invade Iraq. Thus, most recent discussions of a great-power concert have been forwarded looking. In essence, foreign-policy pundits debate whether the US should pursue some kind of new capital-c Concert  as the fundamental component of a post-Iraq grand strategy. Sometimes the Concert in question is supposed to be composed of democratic states, and other times not.
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A Reminder

The United States is currently fighting wars in lands that, while distant to us, are not so distant to their inhabitants and US soldiers.

I am tempted to carry on about the “new normal,” or compare the experience of peripheral wars to that of imperial Britain, France, and Russia. But the fact is that US forces have been engaged in some form of conflict–whether directly or indirectly–pretty much continuously since the start of World War II. And that’s a conservative timeline.

Still, the most striking thing of the US wars of the twenty-first century is how incidental they’ve been to most people living in the metropole. David Remnick wrote a fantastic piece about this on the tenth anniversary of September 11. Indeed, during the year I spent in the US government a constant refrain was how everyone needed to be reminded that the US was at war.

I was working in the Department of Defense.

Cutting Through the Chaff on US Declne

Phil Arena does it very effectively.

Personally, I don’t see how the claim that the US is not in decline follows logically from the observation of changes in Australian policy, Japanese policy, and Burmese policy. What is the logic behind assuming that the US would be less likely to push for all the changes highlighted by Mead if the US was not in relative decline? Is it not at least plausible that states try harder to assemble counter-balancing coalitions in the face of a rising threat?

Read the rest.

My quick take: There’s simply no question that the US is in relative decline on at least some dimensions used to measure national power. But such decline leaves the United States in an extremely strong position. It is hard to understate the degree to which the arguments tend to jump from the observation that China (or India, or Brazil) are rising, or that China’s economy is on target to become larger than that of the United States, to the idea that the US will soon be a frail, weak, and impotent shadow of its former self.* The only way that makes sense is if we radically overestimate US military and economic power at the start of the decade or radically underestimate the implications of being a close number two in PPP adjusted terms.

Things seem bad in the US right now. The unemployment situation is grave. Growth is less robust than anyone would like. But that shouldn’t color our judgments about the US international position. By the same token, framing the question of decline in stark terms skews it in unproductive ways.

*Never mind that the size of the EU’s market has been neck-and-neck with the US for years (sometimes smaller, sometimes larger). Sure, that doesn’t translate into the ability to run a coordinated foreign policy, but its still calls into question important parts of the “doom-and-gloom decline” scenario.

Hegemony and Influence

Dave Noon Erik Loomis relates two anecdotes about the workings of US power. Both are a bit extreme. The US-Haiti relationship, in particular, is about as unequal as you can get in contemporary world politics.

Still, Loomis’ stories illustrate why some of us leave short-term stints in government with the impression that Washington is both much more powerful and much weaker than US academics often assume.

US officials find themselves significantly constrained by America’s web of alliances and economic interdependencies, but that web also privileges their voices in day-to-day interactions throughout the globe.

Exercises in Futility

Four days ago I suggested that time is running out in Libya. With news that Brega has now fallen to pro-Gaddafi forces, it seems more likely than not that the end is nigh for the rebels. And yet France and the UK are still trying to build support for a no-fly zone, now with a major assist by the Arab League.

The problem: a no-fly zone isn’t going to save the rebellion. An air campaign against Libyan forces, combined with indirect assistance to the rebels might be enough. But that would be a heck of a lots less “sanitary” than advocates of a no-fly zone are hoping for.

This makes all of the “big picture” questions surrounding external intervention rather urgent. It also throws a continuing reality of the contemporary world order into stark relief: the US is still the only player in town when it comes to world-wide power projection. If anything, Europe’s defense cutbacks have exacerbated its dependency on US security provision.

Consider that the United States is currently engaged in two major military operations and yet it has significant forces converging on the Libyan coast and on Japan. Puts John Quiggin’s insistence that the US is now one of a number of major powers into perspective, but not necessary in a way that speaks well of current US budget priorities.

The new Global Views survey is here! The new Global Views survey is here!

I admit it, I usually look forward to the release of US and international public opinion data. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released this year’s Global Views survey aptly titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities. Only a quick look so far, but a couple of things jump out on first glance:

First, these views strike me as far more rational (in the Page and Shapiro sense) than the general tenor of elite and media discourse. In the past decade, the US has spent roughly half of the world’s expenditures on defense (i.e., slightly more than every other country in the world combined). Despite that, most Americans appear to believe that US influence and power in the world has dropped precipitously in the same time period. Apparently, not enough bang for the buck. As a result, the public wants to be more “selective” in engaging the world. No surprise here.

But, consistent with data over the past twenty years, this isn’t a call for isolationism. The attitudes continue to show support for the US to “do its share” to solve the worlds’ problems and include a lot of support for maintaining American military bases abroad coupled with a desire to see more multilateral burden-sharing. Seems to be a call for smarter international engagement with more diplomacy and less reliance on US military as the cornerstone of US policy.

Second, the public has far less faith in the utility of military power than it did in the months after 9/11. Again, given the fiascos in Iraq and and Afghanistan, no real surprise here. But contrary to the increasing chorus of “bomb Iran” or “let Israel bomb Iran” voices, these attitudes also carry over to assessments of US obligations to Israel in its feud with Iran. According to the Executive Summary:

“A majority of Americans (56%) think that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran.

Fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel against an attack by its neighbors.”

The report does not reveal the saliency of these particular attitudes and the views could well change if we move from hypothetical survey questions to real world events. But, it is clear the American public is wary of yet another escalating conflict and war. And, while there is a long history of robust US public support for Israel, these views do strike me as carrying very real and additional risks for the Israelis.

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