Friday, February 28, 2014

Zakaria: America Not in Decline

Fareed Zakaria debunks the punditocracy's claim of American foreign policy decline in The Washington Post.

The world is not in great disorder. It is mostly at peace with one zone of instability, the greater Middle East, an area that has been unstable for four decades at least — think of the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, the Sudanese civil war, the Afghan wars and now the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration has not magically stopped this trail of tumult.

It is ironic that Ferguson, a distinguished economic historian, does not even mention the Obama administration’s ambitious trade projects in Asia and Europe — certainly the most important trade initiative to come out of Washington in two decades and one that could have a powerful stabilizing effect in Asia. But in this respect, he reflects the views of most commentators who believe that U.S. leadership consists of muscular rhetoric and military action; if only Obama would bomb someone somewhere, the world would settle down and stop changing.

The fact that people can make these pleas for more intervention right after a decade of aggressive (and costly) American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is surprising. On the other hand, think back to the 1950s. A few years after the long, bloody stalemate in Korea, cries for U.S. intervention popped up everywhere. The French pleaded for support in Vietnam; the French and the British begged for intervention during the Suez crisis; Washington’s staunch allies the Taiwanese twice requested U.S. support as tensions rose in the Taiwan Strait. In all these crises, senior military leaders wanted to intervene, even, by some accounts in the Taiwanese case, using nuclear missiles. Commentators warned that the danger of U.S. inaction would be chaos, communist advances and freedom’s retreat.

President Dwight Eisenhower turned down every plea, refusing to inject U.S. troops into complex conflicts without clear missions and paths to victory. Imagine if a different president, less able to exercise courage, wisdom and restraint, had listened to the armchair interventionists and the United States had jumped into all those conflicts. Imagine the disorder abroad and the erosion of American power at home.

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