It’s rather easy these days to find commentary on the international scene that heralds the decline of the power of the United States. Indeed the current U.S. president had continued his seemingly permanent election campaign theme that the best policy for the United States was to cease its distinctive role as the world’s superpower and accept being merely “one among many” global leaders. This was true until Obama was ensnared by the reality of having to face history and Osama bin Laden’s fate.
It’s a convenient rhetorical device to attack the United States as a “flash in the pan” in the historical chapters of world dominance. With the now non-existence of the Soviet Union and its efforts to use the specious theories of Marx and Lenin to bolster the ambition of Moscow to impose Russian imperialism, it is a small step to denigrate America’s belief in itself and its exceptional role in the world.
Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, was quoted in 2007: “The U.S. has had its unipolar moment for about 15 years (representing the period since the fall of the USSR), but is beginning to realize it isn’t getting the things done it wants.” This theme has been well explored by liberal writers in the U.S. and abroad seeking to diminish the perception of American accomplishment.
The administration of George W. Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became the focal point of the “discovery” of the reduced power of the United States. More importantly, America was now seen to carry its imperial ambitions to new heights through the killing of thousands of civilians and torturing of prisoners. In the seeming blink of an historical eye the United States inherited all the characteristics of both Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia. This was all placed under the new opprobrium of “unilateralism.”
If President Obama had wanted to prove the U.S. remains the lynchpin of political military affairs globally, the marginal role he has chosen for the U.S. armed forces in Libya inadvertently has been all that was necessary. Without the U.S. to wield the “big stick,” dictators such as Qaddafi just run roughshod. But that’s a reality that doesn’t fit in with the America-phobia that permeates today’s anti-exceptionalist polity. Wimping about the corridors of the United Nations in yet again another round of appeasement of Iran is considered the preferred counter to the clear threat of eventual Persian military dominance of the oil production of the Middle East.
Henry Kissinger along with George Shultz were quoted several years ago as believing that the great powers such as the United States, Russia, and China should join together against nuclear proliferation and that would control the spread of global nuclear weapon capability. How this new version of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is supposed to work is a mystery when essentially the same group can’t even get a starving and self-destructive North Korea to agree to abandon its nuclear weapon program.
The very pragmatic North Koreans know far better then anyone else that the real arbiter of their future is the United States of America. Pyongyang does not whine about American power; it reacts to it. The North Koreans want to negotiate directly with “the big dog.” They want a deal from Washington. They recognize and respect America’s ability to wage war — and peace. The leadership in Pyongyang has no illusions as to who will be the most reliable partner.
Lord Douglas Hurd, a former British foreign minister in the middle 1990s, argued later for multilateralism and dialogue as being the key to solving problems posed by Iran and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He referred to unilateral actions as “imperialistic” and not worthy of Europe or the United States. The trouble with this highly laudable goal of multilateral approaches is that they don’t seem to work as anything but diplomatic cover at best — when they work at all. The strength of America is its ability to maintain the world’s perception that this one nation on its own can thwart the ambitions of aggressors –though it is reassuring to have the assistance when necessary of its traditional allies.
While vilified for invading Iraq to force its brutal dictatorship to relinquish control, the United States, with only the direct military participation of Great Britain, was forced to go it alone. This is the source of the charges of unilateralism. Somehow defending the defenseless has gone out of fashion.
Multilateralism generally does not work as a forceful instrument unless time is not a factor and effective military intervention is not required. As a peacekeeping device it only works in the form of “showing the flag,” as United Nations’ experiences have for the most part proven in the Middle East and Africa.
It may not be politically correct to say, but without the U.S. as a committed champion, the world is vulnerable to every murderous and domineering country/group that seeks to impose its will on its neighborhood near and far. It’s not America’s job to be the world’s police force, but when we perceive that international criminal actions could, would, or have endangered the United States or its interests (and only then), the U.S. has every right to move unilaterally to block and remove those dangers. A multinational approach might assist in such an objective, but it certainly should not be allowed to impede the effort.
Barack H. Obama realized he had no other choice but to prove he really was an American president. If what he ordered was imperialism, so be it!
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