Friday, November 30, 2007

The View From Their Window

Once you get past the poor translation, this People's Daily op-ed on America's "capabilities of overseas interference" is pretty encouraging for anyone who takes a bearish view of America's influence in the world. According to Liu Weidong, a researcher at China's Institute of American Studies, a number of factors do in fact contribute to a relative decline in our global influence. Primary among them are the changes wrought by globalization. All roads no longer necessarily lead to Rome; bi-lateral and multi-lateral ties are increasingly being forged independently of the major powers. Beyond that, our soft power has taken a hit in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle. And finally, the folks most associated with interventionism (the so-called vulcans) "...have gone downhill...", to use the author's formulation.

But a relative decline is not the same thing as bottoming out. Here's Liu, rotten translation and all:

Nnevertheless, the primary factor for the successful intervention of global affairs is the hard power. In term of hard power or strength, the United States still ranks first. Its intervention capacity via the combination of economic means with coordinated military threat and remote or distance strikes remains very powerful and formidable...

Moreover, from a long-term point of view, the U.S. does not have a matching foe in a relatively long period to come. Although some regional powers have grown in strength, they do not intend to challenge its status and so they neither firmly support nor stay in a vehemently opposition to the intervention actions of the United States. This point is indicated distinctly by recent postures of the new French and German leaders to amend their ties with the U.S. respectively.

Liu minimizes the difference between the interventionist reflex of Republicans and Democrats, distinguishing them instead by their areas of interest and preferred methods (or as he puts it, "...What different is nothing but their focuses of attention and ways of solution they are good at.") Here's how he concludes:

...Global stability in the years ahead is, to a great extent, decided by how the American people relard or look upon international disputes, and whether or not they are able to contain and how to contain their government.

I think those of us horrified at the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy in the aftermath of 9/11 have a tendency to paint a very alarmist picture about how far our standing in the world has fallen. I know I'm guilty of it from time to time. I'm flagging this not because I think Liu's analyses is especially original or authoritative, but more to remind us all that regardless of how glum our own perception of America's standing in the world might be, the rest of the world still has a pretty healthy respect for American power, even if it's only our ability to screw things up even more. Despite everything we've squandered in blood, treasure and prestige over the past six years, we remain the pre-dominant world power, and perhaps the only one really capable of seriously considering the type of unilateral interventionism we've pursued during that time.

It will take a lot of work and effort, but should we decide both to elect a reasonable president and to contain the inevitable urge to excess that comes with such incommensurate capabilities, there's no reason to believe we can't rehabilitate our standing to reflect the true power we still possess.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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