Tuesday, December 18, 2007
From Thermodynamics To Simple Mechanics
Justin Logan is right. If there's one positive result of the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy, it's that it has sparked a renewed interest in reconsidering America's role in the world. His comparison is noteworthy, since he says we haven't witnessed such a fundamental identity crisis since 1991 and the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. But whereas the last paradigm shift involved the disappearance of a global power and the resulting power vacuum that needed to be somehow filled, the current paradigm shift involves the appearance of new poles of power and the resulting demand for room to be made at the table.
The difference explains why the possible combinations have gotten so complicated, and why the first instinct of those proposing a major course correction seems to be towards restraint. But restraint taken to an extreme can result in isolation, and the prospect of a disengaged America is as worrisome as an overly assertive one.
My own feeling is that a move towards restraint is welcome if it implies a more intelligent approach to using our influence when necessary, as opposed to an unwillingness to do so. Specifically, instead of trying to solve problems, we need to start identifying and supporting regional players who can do the job for us. That means piggybacking our own regional interests onto those of carefully chosen tactical allies to the extent that it's possible.
In such a fluid and dynamic geopolitical landscape, the goal should be to find the points of leverage that, in combination with American influence, can achieve workable solutions. In so doing we can contribute to the formation of stable power blocs integrated into a realist multi-lateral order, as opposed to the utopian one proposed last time around.