From time to time Cernig of The Newshoggers and I bicker about the U. S. role in the world. Recently, for example, Cernig asked:
Is a single cop who bullies with a big stick, plays favorites when applying the law and takes bribes really so much better than no cop at all or a bunch of crooked cops with balancing competing interests?
My general answers are Yes and si monumentum requiris circumspice.
This morning I’ve received a little support from Moisés Naím, editor in chief of Foreign Policy, writing in the Washington Post:
Consider what happened last March, when President Bush traveled to Latin America, a region he has largely ignored. To many, it seemed that the trip was bound to be inconsequential, as Bush had nothing concrete to offer. Yet all the Latin American presidents who were asked to host this lame-duck, empty-handed and politically radioactive guest agreed to do so; some even lobbied not to be left off his itinerary. What was in it for them? The hope of getting the superpower to do something for them. Leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, for example, a personal friend and staunch supporter of Bush’s nemesis Hugo Chávez, wanted help with his country’s ethanol industry.
In Turkey, much like in Brazil, the population is deeply critical of the United States. Yet, much like his Brazilian counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly courted the Bush administration. The Turkish prime minister knows that the United States is his country’s best ally in the effort to get Turkey into the European Union.
Lula and Erdogan are just two in a long list of world leaders who understand that while the United States may sometimes use a heavy hand, the alternatives are much worse. Few want to see the world’s stage led by autocratic regimes such as those in Russia or China.
Even if the cop on the beat is fat, lazy, sometimes unfair, and even occasionally corrupt, he’s better than turning the city over to the criminals.
As for the many cops that Cernig longs for I don’t think there’s anything standing in the way of France, Germany, and Britain stepping up to the plate other than the French, Germans, and Britons who, prudently, are quite willing to spend their money on something other than their militaries as long as we’re willing to spend ours on our own. I’ve advocated the European in particular taking responsibility of pounding their own beat for decades and changes in U. S. policies to encourage them to do so. We’re sufficiently insecure and they’re sufficiently venal that it hasn’t happened.
Naim also writes:
Of course, the America that the world wants back is not the one that preemptively invades potential enemies, bullies allies or disdains international law. The demand is for an America that rallies other nations prone to sitting on the fence while international crises are boiling out of control; for a superpower that comes up with innovative initiatives to tackle the great challenges of the day, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and violent Islamist fundamentalism. The demand is for an America that enforces the rules that facilitate international commerce and works effectively to stabilize an accident-prone global economy. Naturally, the world also wants a superpower willing to foot the bill with a largess that no other nation can match.
Me, too, except, perhaps, for that last bit. Unfortunately for all of us, we must learn to deal with the superpower we have, warts and all, rather than the superpower we might want. No superpower at all or a bipolar or tripolar world are not improvements and if you want evidence for it just look back to the world of 1978. Was it really better than today?