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Grand Strategy for a Divided America

Edward Campbell

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I never agree with Rick Salutin, not even when, as in this column, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail, he manages to stumble on to part of the right answer:

Evasion of the body scanners
Security requires talking foreign policy, not airport screening

Rick Salutin

Published on Friday, Jan. 08, 2010

There's an earnest, high-school debating tone to the ubiquitous discussions of airport security. It has many worthy subjects like,Full body scanners: Will they work? High moral concerns such asThe invasion of privacy. There's Human rights versus racial profiling, which would be a better topic if it hadn't already been a reality for males of a certain age and hue since 9/11. There's room for witty replies, like Billy Connolly's, who'd like to say, when asked if he packed his own bags: “No, no, a big Arab guy in a hotel – a nice big man, named Mohammed, who had a flying licence – packed it for me.”

Now add Yemen. The underwear bomber got fitted there. People who couldn't spell it the day before yesterday worry about it. Doesn't Yemen make the airport debate even more urgent? No, it makes it more irrelevant. A mom at her kid's karate class this week said: “They keep applying Band-Aids, but it doesn't stop the bleeding.” Yes! All the security babble amounts to evading the key issue: why this continues and how to reverse the trend line. But that requires talking foreign policy, not airport screening.

This is what's so irritating: The security issue seems to drain scarce public discourse resources from that other topic, foreign policy. You'd think both could be talked about at once but apparently not. We hear more on security and less on the sources of the problem. Why are they angry in Yemen? Because U.S. drones invaded their space and menaced innocent people, once in 2002 and again (shhh, it's supposed to be secret) last month. They didn't like the 2003 invasion of Iraq either. The first attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen came right after that, long before the one planned recently.

It's not an obscure subject. The U.S.'s 9/11 commission said chief planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was motivated by American Mideast policy. Osama bin Laden said he reached his decision to strike the U.S. while watching its ships bombard Beirut in 1983. The supply of terror will remain endless if you keep replenishing it with invasion, war and other such policies.

This hostile reaction isn't inherently religious, although it may go in that direction. Iraq was a secular Muslim country before the 2003 U.S. invasion. The same dynamic applies to “homegrown terror threats.” France is about to ban the burka, which is worn, according to report in this paper, by just 367 women in the whole land. If I were a young, secular Muslim woman there, I'd be tempted to put one on. As Paul Scott wrote in The Raj Quartet, “Hit a man in the face long enough and he turns to his racial memory and his tribal gods.“

But instead of this discussion on policies, we get ever more reports and debates about air travel. This week, Transport Minister John Baird, recommending another batch of screening techniques, said, “The reality of our generation is the fact we have to deal with terrorism.” Would that he'd felt as urgently about global warming when he was environment minister. It amounts to the old Cold War dualism in shabbier garb. At least the commie menace had an ideology that could be identified. The war against terror is so vague it can't be defined, and therefore may never end.

The sane approach would be to deal with the problem by dismantling and rebuilding Western policy toward the Muslim world. Well, that's unlikely. Why? Partly due to vested interests: oil companies, arms-makers, body-scanner builders. But it seems to go deeper, as if there's a human need for a permanent enemy to explain why your life didn't go quite right or your heroes didn't pan out or whatever woke you up in the middle of last night.

And if it did happen, would some people miss their fears? Probably. You might need a parallel campaign to persuade them to live without deep, irrational enemies: a sort of war on fear, to replace the war on terror.

Now, Salutin is right to suggest that the solution to our counter-terrorism problem is to revise our foreign policy, even as we take all necessary and prudent security precautions. Where he is, almost certainly, off the rails is to suggest that Muslims are not the enemy; not all Muslims are our enemies – not by a long shot – but a whole lot of our real enemies are Muslims.

The problem is not with Islam, it is with how Islam is interpreted by an intellectually and socially stunted, even retarded Arab/Persian/West Asian culture. What that Arab/Persian/West Asian culture and its ‘established’ religion need is a thoroughgoing reformation, à la 16th century Europe, and the sort of enlightenment that Europe enjoyed in the 17th and 18th centuries and South and East Asia managed more than 2,000 years ago.

Our (the American led West’s) foreign policy aims (our grand strategy) need to be, simultaneously:

1. To contain the further spread of radical, jihadist Islam;

2. To provoke a (maybe several) reformation and enlightenment movement(s);

3. Restore the unity, cultural strength and spiritualnot religious – pride of the West: many of the dead white men had important things to teach us;

4. Preach and practice free and fair trade – globally – to allow all nations to see and understand that our ‘system’ is, at least, as good and possibly better than any other. Which leads back to 2.

Edward Campbell

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Jeffrey Simpson, the Good Grey Globe’s domestic political expert turns his less than well informed attention once again to counter-insurgency and foreign policy in this column, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail. He’s read another book and has seized upon yet another excuse to preach isolationism and moral relativity:

The ‘accidental guerrilla' is the latest jihadi threat
The key to breaking the al-Qaeda cycle is winning the support of local populations

Jeffrey Simpson

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010

Al-Qaeda and its network of friends must be delighted these days. One foiled attack aboard an airliner and new layers of costly and inconvenient security arrangements are added. Suddenly, Yemen, a place many Americans have never heard of, has become the terror country du jour.

About 30,000 more U.S. soldiers are heading for Afghanistan, their costs all paid for with borrowed money – the U.S. being in hock way over its head, and Barack Obama having fallen for his presidential predecessor's vocabulary, describing his country's fight as a “war.”

What do the United States and its friends face almost a decade after 9/11 and the start of the “war on terror”?

At least four trends are animating the jihadi threat: a backlash against globalization, whose modernity and worldliness threaten traditional, conservative cultures; an insurgency that, because of the tools of global communications, is a global one; a civil war within Islam that takes many forms, such as conflicts between Shia and Sunni and anger by Muslim ultra-fundamentalists against regimes in Muslim countries they detest; and asymmetric warfare that renders an overwhelming U.S. military power of surprisingly limited use.

The confluence of these (and other) factors has led to the creation of “the accidental guerrilla” many times over, according to terrorism specialist David Kilcullen, an Australian who's studied insurgencies up close in many countries and whose services were used by many high-ranking U.S. military and civilian officials. His book, The Accidental Guerrilla, is as good a guide to what we are facing and how to combat it (and how not to) as is likely available.

The “accidental guerrilla” arises from a four-stage strategy of al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. First, al-Qaeda moves into a remote, ungoverned or turbulent area (border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, parts of north-central Africa). Second, it uses this haven to spread violence and ideology. Third, outside forces (read U.S. and its allies) intervene to deal with al-Qaeda. Fourth, the local population becomes an “accidental guerrilla” by rejecting the outsiders' intervention and siding with al-Qaeda, especially if it's believed that al-Qaeda might eventually win the fight.

Al-Qaeda counts on its adversaries' overreaction to win “accidental guerrillas” and, over time, to disillusion Western publics who spend all this money and treasure on a “war,” only to find the conflict(s) dragging on and on.

The key to breaking this cycle is winning the support of local populations: respecting their traditions, bringing them tangible help, ensuring their security, convincing them that al-Qaeda is a threat rather than an ally. Counterinsurgency, therefore, is not about killing al-Qaeda and other “scumbags,” as a Canadian general once said, but of winning the local population. Body counts, in other words, don't count, a lesson conventional militaries struggle to understand.

The “accidental guerrillas,” Mr. Kilcullen writes, are “people who fight us not because they hate the West and seek our overthrow but because we have invaded their space to deal with a small, extremist element that has manipulated and exploited local grievances to gain power in their societies. They fight us not because they seek our destruction but because they believe we seek theirs.”

By treating Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as the No. 1 security threat, by throwing huge resources against them, by invading Muslim countries, and by declaring a “war” to be on offer, we have turned a “mouse into an elephant.”

This reasoning is arguably a bit naive, since Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda do pose mortal threats, both to Western societies through terrorist acts and to Muslim regimes. It's their world view, coupled with the convictions of the religiously righteous, that makes them dangerous, in and of themselves, and as an inspiration for certain people raised in the Muslim faith.

It is estimated that, for every dollar that al-Qaeda spent mounting the 9/11 attacks, terrorists inflicted $544,000 in damage (the cost in human lives and suffering, of course, cannot be measured). In response, the U.S. has spent $1.4-million for every al-Qaeda dollar.

This is not a war in any traditional sense, in which overcommitment, overreaction and misuse of the forms of conventional power risk alienating the very populations on whom the blunting of al-Qaeda and its allies depends.

There is merit in David Kilcullen’s ideas: we do, indeed, alienate more people than necessary and we fail to befriend as many as we might. But what is the alternative? 

The ill named and less than well managed ‘war on terror’ is, in reality, a war for civilization and modernity – our Western (and, increasingly, South and East Asian) view of secular, sophisticated, capitalistic modernity. It is a war on barbarism; it is a war on the forces of theocratic dictatorships; it is a war on going back to the bad old days.

Question: But, what should ‘we’ – the Americans, mainly, but including the American led West - ‘do about’ the Muslim Middle East, Africa and West Asia? After all, ‘they’ attacked ‘us.’

Answer: nothing. No attacks; no invasions; no aid; no trade; no nothing at all. If they want to sell oil ‘we’ will buy it, at fair market prices, FOB destination; but no ‘free trade’ deals, no ‘most favoured nation’ status and so on. Immigration from Africa, the Middle East and West Asia should be stopped. No state visits to and fro. No military exchanges. No foreign military sales deals. Isolation. Let ‘em stew in their own juices. This is quite contrary to my “preach and practice free and fair trade” mantra but it may be a necessary, interim, step to produce the internal upheaval we need in Muslim Africa, the Middle East and West Asia.

The only best solution to ‘our’ problem with the forces of medieval reaction consist of religious reformation(s) and enlightenment. Both must, can only be instigated from within those less than modern societies, cultures. They will occur if we let them. We can do a bit of provocation by using our tremendous soft power against the forces of reaction through, especially, popular culture and popular style. It – propaganda - can be a more potent weapon than bullets and bombs in the war that really matters: the war for the hearts and minds.



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Finding a Grand Strategy means being able to encompass what is going on around you, conceptualizing what it all means and finding what your vital interests are (and how to acheive them) in the mix. This article suggests that sort of thinking is in perilously short supply right about now:


The Washington Monument

Mike Allen’s account* of the grievance meeting between the White House Press Corps and Secretary Robert Gibbs feels like watching a once famous profession in a sad state of decline.  At a 75 minute meeting the White House Correspondents Association begged for crumbs. They complained the administration was going direct to the Internet on everything; as in staff photographers posting Presidential pictures while the Press Corps was denied photo opportunities; of news releases being posted after the business day was closed (“full lid”); of cutbacks in travel pools on Air Force One at a time when news organizations couldn’t afford to charter their own planes. The most pathetic demand of all was for Internet access in situations when they had to file. How important could they be if the pool reporting wasn’t worth a couple of dozen megabytes of uploads? That’s less than a few minute’s action on World of Warcraft.

Where one is on the totem is everything in Washington. The idea of hierarchy permeates every situation. Behavior is a question of knowing your place; when to say ‘thank you’ and never speaking out of turn.  If you can’t understand the rules you’re a rube. Because of the default presumption that you are at Court; it follows that beneath every courteous speech ultimately you want something from the king or the duke or the duchess. And this is where Bill Clinton has got it subtly wrong.

The former President argued that political discourse had gotten so strident that certain individuals on the right have crossed the line between criticizing government officials and “demonizing them.” Things now remind him of the days preceding the Oklahoma City bombing when Clinton’s unpopular actions were unappreciated by an America lucky to have him.

CLINTON: I worry about these threats against the president and the Congress. … I just think we all have to be careful. We ought to remember after Oklahoma City. We learned something about the difference in disagreement and demonization.

TAPPER: You said that this time reminds you of — of that time. Politically does this year remind you of 1994?

CLINTON: A little bit. We passed the bill which reversed trickledown economics by one vote. Close like the healthcare bill. And it led to an enormous flowering of the economy in America. And that bill was responsible for, take is more than 90 percent of the weight of the balanced budget. But people didn’t realize its benefits.

I think the same thing is happening now with the healthcare bill. Where people are still reading into it all manner of dark things. And they haven’t felt the benefits of it yet. But America is a different country now. We are culturally a different country. We are more diverse. We’re more communitarian. That is, we understand we have to solve a lot of these problems together.

The point Bill Clinton is missing is that the danger doesn’t come from right wing ‘anger.’ The anger is just a byproduct. The voices he hears from the Tea Party crowds aren’t threats; they’re warnings. The real peril is coming from somewhere else: the demographic decline in industrial world working populations, the increasing cost of energy and the international movement in the factors of production. A whole generation of failed policy from both parties is coming to a head and it probably means that the welfare state, the European Union and by consequence the Chinese economy are heading for a cliff.

What’s driving the Tea Parties isn’t amorphous hate. It is concrete fear: worry that pensions have been devalued; medical care will become unaffordable; taxes are too high and jobs are gone, never to return. And a look around the world shows there’s no place to hide. When the wave hits it will be global. In the UK membership in political parties is at near historic lows.  In America Congress’s popularity is lower than whales**t. The Eurozone is cracking up under its weight of debt. First Greece, now Portugal are being ripped off the cliff face like a zipper — and all the climbers are roped together. Japan is like a kamikaze sub heading for the depths and tapping out a sayonara. Russia was history long ago. And China, when it has used up its flowering moment, will face the consequences of its one-child policy. And Middle Eastern potentates,  stuck in the same old, same old, are warning about a Summer War.  The Tea Parties aren’t about putting some country club Republican in the White House, though Bill can’t help hearing it like that.

The cheese-paring scene at the White House Press Corps is just as indicative of the coming storm as the Tea Parties. It is yet one more sign that the old institutions are making plans for a future that isn’t there; moving trillions of dollars in projected revenues around a five year plan like Hitler’s fictive armies were moved around a map in 1945. When you hear Gordon Brown describe the billions he’s going to spend to save the world and heal the planet; when you read news about the proposed legislation on “cap and trade”– the issue isn’t the “right wing hate” but where’s the money going to come from? The most telling fact about Bill Clinton’s speech is that 2010 reminds him of 1994. If he — or the political establishment — can’t tell the difference between the decades, that’s your problem right there.

But the average Joe can. His pocketbook talks to him as loud as his cell phone; he has to live in a world where five bucks is a lot of money.  So the man in the street can see things that are invisible from Olympian Washington. Robert McCartney of the Washington Post found to his surprise that once he tuned into the frequency that he could hear it too.

I went to the “tea party” rally at the Washington Monument on Thursday to check out just how reactionary and potentially violent the movement truly was.

Answer: Not very. …

I found that I agreed heartily with the tea partiers on what is perhaps their single biggest concern: that America’s swelling government debt seriously threatens our long-term prosperity.

A lot of people live in 1994. Time to switch the channels.

But  perhaps the most unremarked thing about the Tea Parties is that they’re not calling for a repeal of the Constitution but for its enforcement. They are the complete opposite of what Clinton thinks they are; an affirmation, not a call to create “a different country” that Clinton congratulates himself in attaining.  And that may be an advantage. If the world descends into a prolonged and tectonic crisis, the one clear advantage that America will have going into it is a clear and widely shared sense of the legitimacy of its foundational principles. That may not seem like much, but if a crisis impends a widely shared sense of legitimacy will be among the most precious things in a planet gone awry.

Yet politicians can’t see it. For perfectly natural reasons they fall into the habit of thinking everyone is a supplicant. It’s an understandable outcome of living in a world where someone is constantly asking them for something: photo opportunities, access to news releases, seats on Air Force One or Internet access. Nothing throws them for a loop more than something that doesn’t want anything they can bestow. The Tea Partiers already know the establishment is bankrupt. They don’t want to be the next Botox Queen, the next guest on Oprah or the man with Internet access on Air Force One; they only want their freedom and a chance to meet the crisis with common sense, if that’s not asking too much. It’s a novel idea which will take a little time for politicians to understand. But give them time and eventually someone will take credit for it. Tolkien understood both how power worked and its blindness.

For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.

*I misattributed this to Jake Tapper. This was a grave error on my part for which I sincerely apologize. I’m sorry Jake, sorry Mike.

Edward Campbell

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Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail is a report on the revised US National Security Strategy:

Obama’s new national security plan distances U.S. from Bush-era emphasis on going it alone
Calls for renewing economy, expanding partnerships beyond traditional U.S. allies

Washington — Reuters

Published on Friday, May. 28, 2010

The Obama administration has unveiled a new national security doctrine that would join diplomatic engagement and economic discipline with military power to bolster America’s standing in the world.

Striking a contrast to the Bush-era emphasis on going it alone, President Barack Obama’s strategy calls for expanding partnerships beyond traditional U.S. allies to encompass rising powers such as China and India in order to share the international burden.

Faced with a struggling economy and record deficits, the administration also acknowledged that boosting economic growth and getting the U.S. fiscal house in order must be core national-security priorities.

“At the centre of our efforts is a commitment to renew our economy, which serves as the wellspring of American power,” the wide-ranging policy statement says.

Mr. Obama’s first official declaration of national security goals, pointedly omitted predecessor George W. Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war that alienated some U.S. allies.

Laying out a vision for keeping America safe as it fights wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the document formalized Mr. Obama’s intent to emphasize multilateral diplomacy over military might as he tries to reshape the world order.

The administration even reiterated Mr. Obama’s determination to try to engage with “hostile nations,” but warned nuclear-defiant Iran and North Korea it possessed “multiple means” to isolate them if they ignored international norms.

The National Security Strategy, required by law of every president, is often a dry reaffirmation of existing positions but is considered important because it can influence budgets and legislation and is closely watched internationally.

Mr. Obama, who came to office faced with the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, took a clearer stand than any of his predecessors in drawing the link between America’s economic health at home and its stature overseas.

“We must renew the foundation of America’s strength,” the document says, asserting that the sustained economic growth hinges on putting the country on a “fiscally sustainable path” and also urging reduced dependence on foreign oil sources.

There was no discussion of what has become an emerging consensus in foreign policy circles – that heavy U.S. indebtedness to countries like China poses a security problem.

But the report does reflect Washington’s enigmatic relationship with Beijing, praising it for a more active role in world affairs while insisting it must act responsibly. It also reiterates unease over China’s rapid military buildup.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States’ fiscal problems presented a long-term threat to its diplomatic clout. “We cannot sustain this level of deficit financing and debt without losing our influence, without being constrained about the tough decisions we have to make,” she said in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Mr. Bush used his first policy statement in 2002 to stake out the right to unilateral and pre-emptive military action against countries and terrorist groups deemed threats to the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Mr. Obama’s plan implicitly distanced his administration from what became known as the Bush Doctrine and underpinned the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which lacked UN authorization.

While renewing previous presidents’ commitment to preserve U.S. conventional military superiority, the new doctrine puts an official stamp on Obama’s break from what Mr. Bush’s critics called “cowboy diplomacy.”

“We need to be clear-eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions,” the document says. But it said Washington did not have the option to “walk away.”

“Instead, we must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests such as combatting violent extremism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth, and forging co-operative solutions to the threat of climate change,” it says.

Mr. Obama’s insistence the United States cannot act alone in the world was also a message to current and emerging powers that they must shoulder their share of the global burden.

Mr. Obama already has been widely credited with improving the tone of U.S. foreign policy, but still is struggling with two unfinished wars, nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea and sluggish Middle East peace efforts.

Critics say some of his efforts at diplomatic outreach show U.S. weakness, and they question whether he jeopardizes American interests by relying too heavily on “soft power.”

Reuters News Agency

Obama may (accidentally, I suspect) have stumbled upon a vitally important soft power factor: America’s economic success made its military prowess possible (and, equally, limits it today) and was a key factor in making America the world’s most popular country. People want to emulate their more successful peers; it’s the same with countries. China has not copied America’s system of government but, after careful study, it copies many of America’s economic policies and methods. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The economic situation constrains Obama’s administration. It is unsound policy to borrow too much to support the Pentagon, but, similarly, it is unsound politics to deny the Pentagon its bloated budget.

The critics cited in the last paragraph do not understand the components and nature of strategic power. That’s a common failing of American politicians, officials and military people post Ronald Regan.



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At a time that we are fighting two wars the defense budget is 5% of GDP and we cant get our allies to spend 2%. If the economy implodes it wont be because of defense spending.

Edward Campbell

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It's "fun with numbers time." First we have to agree on what 'defence spending' means:

• Is it the $663 Billion the Congress has appropriated for DoD? or

• Is it the $1.03 Trillion one gets when e.g. NASA (defence related) and Veterans' Affairs and Homeland Security (defence related) are added?

In any event, even at only 5% of GDP (although it may be as much as 7%) it is, still, a very, very large programme.

But it is about 25% of the federal budget (depending upon how much non DoD spending one counts) and, far worse and potentially unsustainably, approaching or even exceeding 30% of tax revenue.

The US national debt is quickly approaching $13 Trillion against a GDP of about $14.5 Trillion (depending on whose data your accept). That is far worse than Canada’s situation when The Wall Street Journal shocked us with the “northern peso” prod.

Americans appear, to me, to be very reluctant to accept new taxes for anything, but many, many Americans still expect governments (federal, state and local) to keep providing the programmes and services they (Americans) want – that includes a strong national defence programme. In that respect they are just as fiscally irresponsible as Canadians.

At some point someone has to reconcile revenues and expenditures. It's not going to be fun.


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Just so that we can keep the numbers in perspective. Total budget was $6.5t for FY2010. Of which .9trillion went to defense and to fight 2 wars. That is right up there with welfare .8t,education and healthcare at $1t.



Edward Campbell

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Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail is an important article about some of America’s top strategists:

Fukuyama keeps up the fight
In the 1990s he declared the ‘End of History.' Then in 2006, he put a rhetorical bullet in the backs of his neo-conservative allies. What remains for a right-wing apostate to do today?

Konrad Yakabuski

Washington — From Saturday's Globe and Mail
Published on Friday, May. 28, 2010

When three American thinkers – an unbowed neo-conservative, a cheeky liberal and neo-conservatism's best-known apostate – gathered in the capital this month to discuss a young French scholar's new “biography” of the neo-con movement, they first had to settle on how to pronounce the author's name.
Francis Fukuyama, the Chicago-born former neo-con, begged the indulgence of Justin Vaïsse for pronouncing his first name à l'américaine.

Liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne nodded to his own family's Quebec roots. “I'm a French Canadian, so I love saying Joos-tin,” he jested, pursing his lips.

As for editor William Kristol, whose Weekly Standard remains a safe house for neo-conservative opinion, he was true to its precepts of U.S. supremacy and unilateralism.

“As a neo-conservative, I have to give him the American pronunciation,” Mr. Kristol quipped, before poking his former brother-in-arms: “I'm a little shocked that Frank bowed to such a hegemonic and almost nativist manner of discourse, but that's okay.”

Emotions, apparently, are still a little raw. In 1992, Prof. Fukuyama's celebrated book The End of History and the Last Man helped provide neo-conservatism's intellectual fuel. His 2004 break with the movement accelerated its descent into foreign-policy purgatory.


Dr. Francis Fukuyama Reuters

As he wraps up his nine-year stint at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies – he's headed to Stanford in the fall – Prof. Fukuyama harbours no regrets about slamming the door on the house he helped to build. But neither has he turned his back on all of neo-conservatism's leading edicts.

The theorist, set to speak Monday in Toronto, still thinks democracy promotion should remain a key tenet of U.S. foreign policy. And he fears Barack Obama – for whom he voted – does far too little of it.


“Although he gave a speech in Cairo almost exactly a year ago about the importance of democracy and accountable government in the Middle East, as far as I can tell he has done almost nothing to actually promote this,” Prof. Fukuyama insists in his bright but cloistered office on Washington's stately Massachusetts Ave. “He occasionally makes a nod towards democracy and human rights, but you don't get the sense that it's central to what he wants to accomplish.”

Not that Mr. Obama would get far if he tried. George W. Bush's go-it-alone “freedom agenda” sullied the name of democracy – and America – in much of the world. Neo-cons justified the use of unilateral military force to “democratize” Iraq based on the conviction, expressed a few years earlier by Mr. Kristol, that “American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality.” The rest of the world could be forgiven if it didn't always see it that way.

By comparison, Mr. Obama has been deferential to multilateralism, noting in his first National Security Strategy, unveiled Thursday: “The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone – indeed our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.”

Prof. Fukuyama supports the multilateral approach, but criticizes the narrowly “realist” foreign policy that appears to be favoured by many in the Obama administration, which is reminiscent of the Cold War détente of the Nixon era. If the neo-cons seem hopelessly utopian, the realists come off as overly cynical.

“American foreign policy has to be grounded in certain ideals. It's kind of in the American DNA,” argues Prof. Fukuyama, who, incidentally, was born the same year – 1952 – as Mr. Kristol and Mr. Dionne. “It's something we're hypocritical about a lot of the times because we don't live up to [our ideals].

“But creating an open, democratic world order is something that didn't begin with the Bush administration. It's been there from the beginning in terms of American objectives and the world is, on balance, better off for that.”


The fissure between Prof. Fukuyama and his fellow neo-cons arose over what he describes as their misreading of his celebrated 1992 bestseller. Its irresistible, if much-oversimplified, idea – that the fall of communism at the end of the Cold War marked the triumph of liberal democracy as humankind's political endpoint – underpinned the neo-con argument that the U.S. should use its opportunity as the world's sole superpower to spread democracy abroad, by force if necessary.

Ronald Reagan, neo-cons argued, had proved that intimidation, not détente, was key to eliminating the Soviet threat and freeing the citizenry of the “evil empire” and its satellite states. It was the failure to respond forcefully enough to Islamic terrorist attacks on Bill Clinton's watch, they reasoned, that led to 9/11.

By then, neo-con hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz had assumed pivotal positions in the Bush administration. And the Bush Doctrine – with its emphasis on pre-emptive strikes and unilateralism – became the motor of foreign policy.

“The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack,” the Bush administration asserted in its 2002 National Security Strategy (a document every president must submit to Congress).

The 2003 invasion of Iraq – to topple Saddam Hussein, destroy his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction and install democracy – marked a neo-con high point.

But barely a year later, watching disaster unfold there, Prof. Fukuyama sent America's salon set into fits of chatter by renouncing his peers in what was then their bible, The National Interest. As he would further explain in 2006's America at the Crossroads, he faulted them for egging on the Bush administration to conclude, wrongly, that “history could be accelerated through American agency.”

The neo-cons did not take it lying down. Robert Kagan, who had helped Mr. Kristol pen the blurb about America's “unusually high degree of morality,” shot back in 2008 with the impertinently titled The Return of History and the End of Dreams. China's inexorable rise, Mr. Kagan argued, had shown that “growing national wealth and autocracy [are] compatible, after all.”

But despite robbing the neo-cons of their argument, history's return has only made democracy promotion an even greater imperative. “It may not come to war,” Mr. Kagan asserted, “but the global competition between democratic and autocratic governments will become the dominant feature of the 21st-century world.”

Prof. Fukuyama has not repudiated his own “end of history” thesis, even if he concedes that China's progress has led many thinkers to cast doubt on the inevitability, much less desirability, of democracy as the ultimate form of political organization. Even Russia, which a decade ago might have looked to the West for guidance, would now rather emulate China.

“The problem with that model is that you have to have good authoritarians,” Prof. Fukuyama counters. “They tend to produce them in East Asia for a number of reasons – historical and cultural. But in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, it's pretty hard to find Lee Kuan Yews.” (Mr. Lee is the iron-fisted ex-leader of Singapore, credited with turning his city-state into an Asian Tiger.)

Like the Soviet Union, China has its own internal contradictions, which, in time, are bound to catch up with the regime. “It is extremely hard to govern that large a country in such a top-down manner without any kind of bottom-up accountability,” Prof. Fukuyama adds. “The question I would really raise is whether, in the long run, that part of the model is sustainable.”

History should take care of China, he argues. Modernization “tends to drive demands for political participation.”


The neo-cons are not so patient. And they have a new bounce to their step. The 2007 troop surge in Iraq – which Robert Kagan's younger brother, Frederick, helped devise – worked. Even Prof. Fukuyama concedes Iraqis now have “a reasonable shot” at establishing a workable democracy.

What's more, isolationists such as Kentucky Republican candidate Rand Paul notwithstanding, the party has pretty much surrendered the formulation of its foreign policy to neo-conservatives such as Mr. Kristol, the Kagans and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.

“If Republicans want to oppose Obama on foreign policy to score political points, they naturally tend to gravitate around neoconservative ideas,” Mr. Vaïsse, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes in Why Neoconservatism Still Matters.

Mr. Krauthammer and Robert Kagan “both attack what they consider to be Obama's underlying assumption – America's inevitable decline – as well as his remedy – adapting to a ‘post-American world' by accommodating other great powers (most of them autocracies) at the expense of traditional allies (most of them democracies).”

If Mr. Obama falters – if his attempt to rein in Iran and North Korea by multilateral means fails, if he defers too much to China or Russia – the neo-cons are ready to pounce. Should the Republicans retake Congress this fall or (in their dreams) the White House in 2012, U.S. foreign policy could again come under their thrall.

It would not mark the end of history; just its repetition.

Francis Fukuyama addresses the Grano Salon Speakers Series in Toronto on May 31.

I think Prof. Fukuyama was, mostly, right in both The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and America at the Crossroads (2006) but (there’s always a but isn’t there?) while I agree that democracy is the likely “end state” for our modern, 21st century world it may well be that we have not yet seen the contest between democratic forms. Prof. Fukuyama, like almost all Western thinkers, says “democracy” when he really means “liberal democracy.” There is another form: conservative democracy, which is what we see, full blown, in Singapore and, largely, in Japan.

What’s the difference? Liberal democracies, our kind of democracy, has as its core value: the rights of the individual. Conservative democracies have for their central value: the rights of society. We expect our liberal democratic system to protect each of us, as individuals, from the actions of the collectives: big business, big banks, big labour, organized religion and government itself. People living in a conservative democracy expect the state to protect their fundamental rights (life, liberty, security of the person, etc) but, also, to promote and protect social harmony, possibly at the expense of some individual rights. The explicit “trust” between the citizen and the conservative state is that it will keep you, the individual you, safe, and allow you, in fact enable you, to prosper, but it will do so will maintaining social harmony amongst all citizens.

Consider Singapore: elections are free and fair but many of the rights we take for granted, including freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly are restricted to a degree that some Western observers consider anti-democratic. But every individual’s right to property is protected to a greater degree than in any other country in the world, including the USA – in fact, on matters of property rights, the USA, under either Bush or Obama, looks positively communistic and downright lawless compared to Singapore. Singapore is a full fledged democracy but it is not at all liberal and that’s why many liberals (Westerners, all) think it is some sort of dictatorship.

It is that model, conservative democracy, towards which China is, glacially slowly, moving. The Chinese centre doesn’t want democracy but it understands that the alternatives are either doomed to fail or unworkable or, as yet, invisible. They look with envy at the conservative democracy Lee Kuan Yew crafted for Singapore. They (the Chinese) lack many of the advantages he had, such as deep public trust in the institutions of the state – such as courts and the bureaucracy, legacies of British colonial administration. The Chinese people do not trust their courts or government agencies and the Chinese cannot manage a transition to a conservative democracy until they can lick their HUGE corruption problem. It was, despite a head start, Lee’s biggest challenge in Singapore and it remains a challenge in many, many (indeed most) countries including some liberal democracies and most democracies of the third sort: illiberal democracies.

But, I suspect the battle between East and West will be between conservative and liberal democratic values. I hope the two can coexist and that they can cooperate against the common foe: barbarism.


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This "grand strategy" isn't going to help:


Obama’s National Security Doctrine: Naive — Frighteningly So

The administration releases a document that misidentifies threats and tells our enemies we intend to be weak.
June 2, 2010
- by Barry Rubin
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Yes, children, there is an Obama Doctrine. The administration has now produced a national security strategy. Be afraid, be very afraid. And those who should be afraid are Americans and their friends, not their enemies.

The administration wants to prove, most of all, that it isn’t George W. Bush. But in doing so, it also proves it isn’t the Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Bush I, or even the Clinton administration, either.

It all looks good on paper: America is not a superpower. It is limited, and this circumscribed power requires bringing in lots of partners. Obama writes in the introduction of the strategy released last Thursday:

    The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone. … Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.

Yet that point is missed. You don’t overextend precisely so you can concentrate on what’s important — say, pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq to focus on containing Iran. You don’t reduce commitments in order to abandon the remaining ones.

Much of this worldview is intended to counter what the left hates about George W. Bush. Yet while one can certainly argue Bush did not wisely use the resources of American power, that doesn’t mean American power itself isn’t there. The remedy for excessive unilateralism isn’t excessive multilateralism. And while there might be times or situations where such a response did little harm, the present day — with threats from revolutionary Islamism, an aggressive Iran-led alliance, anti-American leftists, and resurgent Russian and Chinese ambitious powers — makes the Obama Doctrine a very dangerous course indeed. While Obama argues that America faces no real military competitor and global power is increasingly diffuse, these are likely to be temporary conditions. If there’s going to be a vacuum, there are a number of candidates eager to fill it.

Obama’s doctrine calls for bringing these candidates in as partners — hiring the foxes to guard the chicken coop. China and Russia, Iran and Syria, Brazil and Turkey — among others — are naively seen as reliable buddies. Or, in the words of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes:

    We are deeply committed to broadening the circle of responsible actors.

It’s a dangerous idea — the United States cannot make these countries, or any, “responsible actors.” There’s a reason why responsible actors include countries like Britain, France, and Germany. And the fruit of this mistaken policy is the kind of thing we just saw with the Brazilian-Turkish stab in the back over Iran.

We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this.

Why is the Obama administration so concerned with engaging enemies? Because it is precisely, according to the Obama worldview, the “bad boy” powers which must be appeased. If the United States is conceived as weak and overextended, the ones threatening to disrupt everything may be too strong to oppose, and so must be coopted.

Hillary Clinton said:

    We are shifting from mostly direct application and exercise of American power to one of indirection, that requires patience and partners, and gets results more slowly. … In a world like this, American leadership isn’t needed less, it is needed more. And the simple fact is that no global problem can be solved without us.

Clinton, judging from the opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapon project, seems to be at best much too late. How much will you pay your enemies to pretend to be partners? Suppose certain countries don’t want to solve global problems, but merely to take advantage of them — do they still need the United States?

Imagine a town full of outlaws, with a weak sheriff. The sheriff can deputize the criminals in the belief that this would make them “responsible actors.” Of course, as you probably guess, they would use their badges to rob, rape, and murder even more effectively.

If Obama and his colleagues feel the United States is overextended, it is partly because they misidentify the threats and reject the best ways of dealing with them. The doctrine says that nuclear weapons are the main threat to America, followed by climate change, dependence on fossil fuels, and cyber warfare.

This is dangerous claptrap. Without denying a threat posed by any of these, one could point out that there is no big threat from nuclear weapons (especially compared to the 1950-1990 period); that climate change as a threat is not proven nor is the ability of countries to do anything about it given the realistic options they have; that a combination of drilling and technology can deal with the energy problem; and that cyber warfare is still a very speculative threat. Compare that with Iran taking over much of the Middle East; Russia rebuilding its empire; terrorism spreading in scope and intensity; and China gaining hegemony over large parts of Asia. I’m not saying those things are going to happen, but they are much greater threats than Obama’s list.

In a move that qualifies him for a Nobel Prize in chutzpah, Obama warns that the high budget deficit is a major threat to U.S. strategic power. Since his policies have been responsible for creating this problem, and his administration shows no sign of changing them, one can only gasp at such audacity.

There’s a lot more of interest. The paper says:

    While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction.

Sounds great. But how about the use of power politics, threats, leverage, sticks? Once you assert America is weak and overextended, how are you going to convince anyone that they better do what you want? Obama’s posture makes the idea of containing Iran, for example, unthinkable. Once you announce you have no teeth, your enemies will naturally conclude that your bark is worse than your bite:

    Indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power.

Yes, but those adversaries are equally happy to see you voluntarily throw away America’s strength by denying it and hiring them to run the nursing home for what you see as a pitiful, helpless giant. One day there might be another president, neither a Bush nor an Obama, who will stand up straight, get rid of the wheelchair and canes, and decide that reports of America’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).


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The proper use of a "Grand Strategy" is to decide where to apply limited resources:


Superbroke, Superfrugal, Superpower?

In recent years, I have often said to European friends: So, you didn’t like a world of too much American power? See how you like a world of too little American power — because it is coming to a geopolitical theater near you. Yes, America has gone from being the supreme victor of World War II, with guns and butter for all, to one of two superpowers during the cold war, to the indispensable nation after winning the cold war, to “The Frugal Superpower” of today. Get used to it. That’s our new nickname. American pacifists need not worry any more about “wars of choice.” We’re not doing that again. We can’t afford to invade Grenada today.

Ever since the onset of the Great Recession of 2008, it has been clear that the nature of being a leader — political or corporate — was changing in America. During most of the post-World War II era, being a leader meant, on balance, giving things away to people. Today, and for the next decade at least, being a leader in America will mean, on balance, taking things away from people.

And there is simply no way that America’s leaders, as they have to take more things away from their own voters, are not going to look to save money on foreign policy and foreign wars. Foreign and defense policy is a lagging indicator. A lot of other things get cut first. But the cuts are coming — you can already hear the warnings from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. And a frugal American superpower is sure to have ripple effects around the globe.

“The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era” is actually the title of a very timely new book by my tutor and friend Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert. “In 2008,” Mandelbaum notes, “all forms of government-supplied pensions and health care (including Medicaid) constituted about 4 percent of total American output.” At present rates, and with the baby boomers soon starting to draw on Social Security and Medicare, by 2050 “they will account for a full 18 percent of everything the United States produces.”

This — on top of all the costs of bailing ourselves out of this recession — “will fundamentally transform the public life of the United States and therefore the country’s foreign policy.” For the past seven decades, in both foreign affairs and domestic policy, our defining watchword was “more,” argues Mandelbaum. “The defining fact of foreign policy in the second decade of the 21st century and beyond will be ‘less.’ ”

When the world’s only superpower gets weighed down with this much debt — to itself and other nations — everyone will feel it. How? Hard to predict. But all I know is that the most unique and important feature of U.S. foreign policy over the last century has been the degree to which America’s diplomats and naval, air and ground forces provided global public goods — from open seas to open trade and from containment to counterterrorism — that benefited many others besides us. U.S. power has been the key force maintaining global stability, and providing global governance, for the last 70 years. That role will not disappear, but it will almost certainly shrink.

Great powers have retrenched before: Britain for instance. But, as Mandelbaum notes, “When Britain could no longer provide global governance, the United States stepped in to replace it. No country now stands ready to replace the United States, so the loss to international peace and prosperity has the potential to be greater as America pulls back than when Britain did.”

After all, Europe is rich but wimpy. China is rich nationally but still dirt poor on a per capita basis and, therefore, will be compelled to remain focused inwardly and regionally. Russia, drunk on oil, can cause trouble but not project power. “Therefore, the world will be a more disorderly and dangerous place,” Mandelbaum predicts.

How to mitigate this trend? Mandelbaum argues for three things: First, we need to get ourselves back on a sustainable path to economic growth and reindustrialization, with whatever sacrifices, hard work and political consensus that requires. Second, we need to set priorities. We have enjoyed a century in which we could have, in foreign policy terms, both what is vital and what is desirable. For instance, I presume that with infinite men and money we can succeed in Afghanistan. But is it vital? I am sure it is desirable, but vital? Finally, we need to shore up our balance sheet and weaken that of our enemies, and the best way to do that in one move is with a much higher gasoline tax.

America is about to learn a very hard lesson: You can borrow your way to prosperity over the short run but not to geopolitical power over the long run. That requires a real and growing economic engine. And, for us, the short run is now over. There was a time when thinking seriously about American foreign policy did not require thinking seriously about economic policy. That time is also over.

An America in hock will have no hawks — or at least none that anyone will take seriously.

The key prescription is to have a real and growing economic engine. Hobbling the engine with taxes and regulation is counterproductive (the call for a vastly higher fuel tax in the article, for example). Like the man said, politicians will have to operate under the rule of "taking" rather than "giving", so if political leaders are at all serious then a controlled drawdown of programs and benefits will be needed to exit this mess in an orderly fashion.

Edward Campbell

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Here, reproduced in three parts under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act fro,m Foreign Affairs is an interesting caution from Joseph Nye (who always merits a our attention) for those, including me, who are too quick to speculate about America's relative decline:


The Future of American Power
Dominance and Decline in Perspective

By Joseph S. Nye Jr.
November/December 2010

The twenty-first century began with a very unequal distribution of power resources. With five percent of the world's population, the United States accounted for about a quarter of the world's economic output, was responsible for nearly half of global military expenditures, and had the most extensive cultural and educational soft-power resources. All this is still true, but the future of U.S. power is hotly debated. Many observers have interpreted the 2008 global financial crisis as the beginning of American decline. The National Intelligence Council, for example, has projected that in 2025, "the U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished."

Power is the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts. Spain in the sixteenth century took advantage of its control of colonies and gold bullion, the Netherlands in the seventeenth century profited from trade and finance, France in the eighteenth century benefited from its large population and armies, and the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century derived power from its primacy in the Industrial Revolution and its navy. This century is marked by a burgeoning revolution in information technology and globalization, and to understand this revolution, certain pitfalls need to be avoided.

First, one must beware of misleading metaphors of organic decline. Nations are not like humans, with predictable life spans. Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after the peak of its power, and even then it did not succumb to the rise of another state. For all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades, the greater threat may come from modern barbarians and nonstate actors. In an information-based world, power diffusion may pose a bigger danger than power transition. Conventional wisdom holds that the state with the largest army prevails, but in the information age, the state (or the nonstate actor) with the best story may sometimes win.

Power today is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is largely unipolar, and the United States is likely to retain primacy for quite some time. On the middle chessboard, economic power has been multipolar for more than a decade, with the United States, Europe, Japan, and China as the major players and others gaining in importance. The bottom chessboard is the realm of transnational relations. It includes nonstate actors as diverse as bankers who electronically transfer funds, terrorists who traffic weapons, hackers who threaten cybersecurity, and challenges such as pandemics and climate change. On this bottom board, power is widely diffused, and it makes no sense to speak of unipolarity, multipolarity, or hegemony.

In interstate politics, the most important factor will be the continuing return of Asia to the world stage. In 1750, Asia had more than half the world's population and economic output. By 1900, after the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, Asia's share shrank to one-fifth of global economic output. By 2050, Asia will be well on its way back to its historical share. The rise of China and India may create instability, but this is a problem with precedents, and history suggests how policies can affect the outcome.


It is currently fashionable to compare the United States' power to that of the United Kingdom a century ago and to predict a similar hegemonic decline. Some Americans react emotionally to the idea of decline, but it would be counterintuitive and ahistorical to believe that the United States will have a preponderant share of power resources forever. The word "decline" mixes up two different dimensions: absolute decline, in the sense of decay, and relative decline, in which the power resources of other states grow or are used more effectively.

The analogy with British decline is misleading. The United Kingdom had naval supremacy and an empire on which the sun never set, but by World War I, the country ranked only fourth among the great powers in its share of military personnel, fourth in GDP, and third in military spending. With the rise of nationalism, protecting the empire became more of a burden than an asset. For all the talk of an American empire, the United States has more freedom of action than the United Kingdom did. And whereas the United Kingdom faced rising neighbors, Germany and Russia, the United States benefits from being surrounded by two oceans and weaker neighbors.

Despite such differences, Americans are prone to cycles of belief in their own decline. The Founding Fathers worried about comparisons to the Roman republic. Charles Dickens observed a century and a half ago, "If its individual citizens, to a man, are to be believed, [the United States] always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise." In the last half century, belief in American decline rose after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, after President Richard Nixon's economic adjustments and the oil shocks in the 1970s, and after the closing of rust-belt industries and the budget deficits in the Reagan era. Ten years later, Americans believed that the United States was the sole superpower, and now polls show that many believe in decline again.

Pundits lament the inability of Washington to control states such as Afghanistan or Iran, but they allow the golden glow of the past to color their appraisals. The United States' power is not what it used to be, but it also never really was as great as assumed. After World War II, the United States had nuclear weapons and an overwhelming preponderance of economic power but nonetheless was unable to prevent the "loss" of China, to roll back communism in Eastern Europe, to overcome stalemate in the Korean War, to stop the "loss" of North Vietnam, or to dislodge the Castro regime in Cuba. Power measured in resources rarely equals power measured in preferred outcomes, and cycles of belief in decline reveal more about psychology than they do about real shifts in power resources. Unfortunately, mistaken beliefs in decline -- at home and abroad -- can lead to dangerous mistakes in policy.


For more than a decade, many have viewed China as the most likely contender to balance U.S. power or surpass it. Some draw analogies to the challenge that imperial Germany posed to the United Kingdom at the beginning of the last century. A recent book (by Martin Jacques) is even titled When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. Goldman Sachs has projected that the total size of China's economy will surpass that of the United States in 2027.

Yet China has a long way to go to equal the power resources of the United States, and it still faces many obstacles to its development. Even if overall Chinese GDP passed that of the United States around 2030, the two economies, although roughly equivalent in size, would not be equivalent in composition. China would still have a vast underdeveloped countryside, and it would have begun to face demographic problems from the delayed effects of its one-child policy. Per capita income provides a measure of the sophistication of an economy. Assuming a six percent Chinese GDP growth rate and only two percent American GDP growth rate after 2030, China would probably not equal the United States in per capita income until sometime around the middle of the century. In other words, China's impressive economic growth rate and increasing population will likely lead the Chinese economy to pass the U.S. economy in total size in a few decades, but that is not the same as equality.

Moreover, linear projections can be misleading, and growth rates generally slow as economies reach higher levels of development. China's authoritarian political system has shown an impressive capability to harness the country's power, but whether the government can maintain that capability over the longer term is a mystery both to outsiders and to Chinese leaders. Unlike India, which was born with a democratic constitution, China has not yet found a way to solve the problem of demands for political participation (if not democracy) that tend to accompany rising per capita income. Whether China can develop a formula that manages an expanding urban middle class, regional inequality, rural poverty, and resentment among ethnic minorities remains to be seen.

Some have argued that China aims to challenge the United States' position in East Asia and, eventually, the world. Even if this were an accurate assessment of China's current intentions (and even the Chinese themselves cannot know the views of future generations), it is doubtful that China will have the military capability to make this possible anytime soon. Moreover, Chinese leaders will have to contend with the reactions of other countries and the constraints created by China's need for external markets and resources. Too aggressive a Chinese military posture could produce a countervailing coalition among China's neighbors that would weaken both its hard and its soft power.

The rise of Chinese power in Asia is contested by both India and Japan (as well as other states), and that provides a major power advantage to the United States. The U.S.-Japanese alliance and the improvement in U.S.-Indian relations mean that China cannot easily expel the Americans from Asia. From that position of strength, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and others can engage China and provide incentives for it to play a responsible role, while hedging against the possibility of aggressive behavior as China's power grows.

End of Part 1

Edit: format

Edward Campbell

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Part 2


Some argue that the United States suffers from "imperial overstretch," but so far, the facts do not fit that theory. On the contrary, defense and foreign affairs expenditures have declined as a share of GDP over the past several decades. Nonetheless, the United States could decline not because of imperial overstretch but because of domestic underreach. Rome rotted from within, and some observers, noting the sourness of current U.S. politics, project that the United States will lose its ability to influence world events because of domestic battles over culture, the collapse of its political institutions, and economic stagnation. This possibility cannot be ruled out, but the trends are not as clear as the current gloomy mood suggests.

Although the United States has many social problems -- and always has -- they do not seem to be getting worse in any linear manner. Some of these problems are even improving, such as rates of crime, divorce, and teenage pregnancy. Although there are culture wars over issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, polls show an overall increase in tolerance. Civil society is robust, and church attendance is high, at 42 percent. The country's past cultural battles, over immigration, slavery, evolution, temperance, McCarthyism, and civil rights, were arguably more serious than any of today's.

A graver concern would be if the country turned inward and seriously curtailed immigration. With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population, but this could change if xenophobia or reactions to terrorism closed its borders. The percentage of foreign-born residents in the United States reached its twentieth-century peak, 14.7 percent, in 1910. Today, 11.7 percent of U.S. residents are foreign born, but in 2009, 50 percent of Americans favored decreasing immigration, up from 39 percent in 2008. The economic recession has only aggravated the problem.

Although too rapid a rate of immigration can cause social problems, over the long term, immigration strengthens U.S. power. Today, the United States is the world's third most populous country; 50 years from now, it is likely to still be third (after India and China). Not only is this relevant to economic power, but given that nearly all developed countries are aging and face the burden of providing for the older generation, immigration could help reduce the sharpness of the resulting policy problem. In addition, there is a strong correlation between the number of H-1B visas and the number of patents filed in the United States. In 1998, Chinese- and Indian-born engineers were running one-quarter of Silicon Valley's high-tech businesses, and in 2005, immigrants were found to have helped start one of every four American technology start-ups over the previous decade.

Equally important are the benefits of immigration for the United States' soft power. Attracted by the upward mobility of American immigrants, people want to come to the United States. The United States is a magnet, and many people can envisage themselves as Americans. Many successful Americans look like people in other countries. Rather than diluting hard and soft power, immigration enhances both. When Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew concludes that China will not surpass the United States as the leading power of the twenty-first century, he cites the ability of the United States to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity. China has a larger population to recruit from domestically, but in his view, its Sinocentric culture will make it less creative than the United States, which can draw on the whole world.

On the other hand, a failure in the performance of the U.S. economy would be a showstopper. Keeping in mind that macroeconomic forecasts (like weather forecasts) are notoriously unreliable, it appears that the United States will experience slower growth in the decade after the 2008 financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund expects U.S. economic growth to average about two percent in 2014. This is lower than the average over the past several decades but roughly the same as the average rate over the past ten years.

In the 1980s, many observers believed that the U.S. economy had run out of steam and that Germany and Japan were overtaking the United States. The country seemed to have lost its competitive edge. Today, however, even after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the World Economic Forum has ranked the United States fourth (after Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore) in global economic competitiveness. (China, in comparison, was ranked 27th.) The U.S. economy leads in many new growth sectors, such as information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. And even though optimists tend to cite the United States' dominance in the production and use of information technology, that is not the only source of U.S. productivity. The United States has seen significant agricultural innovation, too, and its openness to globalization, if it continues, will also drive up productivity. Economic experts project that American productivity growth will be between 1.5 and 2.25 percent in the next decade.

In terms of investment in research and development, the United States was the world leader in 2007, with $369 billion, followed by all of Asia ($338 billon) and the European Union ($263 billion). The United States spent 2.7 percent of its GDP on research and development, nearly double what China spent (but slightly less than the three percent spent by Japan and South Korea). In 2007, American inventors registered about 80,000 patents in the United States, or more than the rest of the world combined. A number of reports have expressed concern about problems such as high corporate tax rates, the flight of human capital, and the growing number of overseas patents, but U.S. venture capital firms invest 70 percent of their money in domestic start-ups. A 2009 survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranked the United States ahead of other countries in opportunities for entrepreneurship because it has a favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.

Other concerns about the future of the U.S. economy focus on the current account deficit (whose current level indicates that Americans are becoming more indebted to foreigners) and the rise in government debt. In the words of the historian Niall Ferguson, "This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion." Not only did the recent bank bailout and Keynesian stimulus package add to U.S. debt, but the rising costs of health care and entitlement programs such as Social Security, along with the rising cost of servicing the debt, will claim large shares of future revenue. Other observers are less alarmist. The United States, they claim, is not like Greece.

The Congressional Budget Office calculates that total government debt will reach 100 percent of GDP by 2023, and many economists begin to worry when debt levels in rich countries exceed 90 percent. But as The Economist pointed out last June, "America has two huge advantages over other countries that have allowed it to face its debt with relative equanimity: possessing both the world's reserve currency and its most liquid asset market, in Treasury bonds." And contrary to fears of a collapse of confidence in the dollar, during the financial crisis, the dollar rose and bond yields fell. A sudden crisis of confidence is less the problem than that a gradual increase in the cost of servicing the debt could affect the long-term health of the economy.

It is in this sense that the debt problem is important, and studies suggest that interest rates rise 0.03 percent for every one percent increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio over the long term. Higher interest rates mean lower private-sector investment and slower growth. These effects can be mitigated by good policies or exacerbated by bad ones. Increasing debt need not lead to the United States' decline, but it certainly raises the long-term risk.

A well-educated labor force is another key to economic success in the information age. At first glance, the United States does well in this regard. It spends twice as much on higher education as a percentage of GDP as do France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The London-based Times Higher Education's 2009 list of the top ten universities includes six in the United States, and a 2010 study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University places 17 U.S. universities -- and no Chinese universities -- among its top 20. Americans win more Nobel Prizes and publish more scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals -- three times as many as the Chinese -- than do the citizens of any other country. These accomplishments enhance both the country's economic power and its soft power.

American education at its best -- many universities and the top slice of the secondary education system -- meets or sets the global standard. But American education at its worst -- too many primary and secondary schools, especially in less affluent districts -- lags badly behind. This means that the quality of the labor force will not keep up with the rising standards needed in an information-driven economy. There is no convincing evidence that students are performing worse than in the past, but the United States' educational advantage is eroding because other countries are doing better than ever. Improvement in the country's K-12 education system will be necessary if the country is to meet the standards needed in an information-based economy.

End of Part 2

Edit: format

Edward Campbell

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Part 3


Despite these problems and uncertainties, it seems probable that with the right policies, the U.S. economy can continue to produce hard power for the country. But what about U.S. institutions? The journalist James Fallows, who spent years in China, came home worried less about the United States' economic performance than the gridlock in its political system. In his view, "America still has the means to address nearly any of its structural weaknesses. . . . That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world's talent and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke." Although political gridlock in a period of recession looks bad, it is difficult to ascertain whether the situation today is much worse than in the past.

Power conversion -- translating power resources into desired outcomes -- is a long-standing problem for the United States. The U.S. Constitution is based on the eighteenth-century liberal view that power is best controlled by fragmentation and countervailing checks and balances. In foreign policy, the Constitution has always invited the president and Congress to compete for control. Strong economic and ethnic pressure groups struggle for their self-interested definitions of the national interest, and Congress is designed to pay attention to squeaky wheels.

Another cause for concern is the decline of public confidence in government institutions. In 2010, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of respondents thought the United States was in decline, and only 19 percent trusted the government to do what is right most of the time. In 1964, by contrast, three-quarters of the American public said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. The numbers have varied somewhat over time, rising after 9/11 before gradually declining again.

The United States was founded in part on a mistrust of government, and its constitution was designed to resist centralized power. Moreover, when asked not about day-to-day government but about the underlying constitutional framework, Americans are very positive. If asked where the best place to live is, the overwhelming majority of them say the United States. If asked whether they like their democratic system of government, nearly everyone says yes. Few people feel the system is rotten and must be overthrown.

Some aspects of the current mood probably represent discontent with the bickering and deadlock in the political process. Compared with the recent past, party politics has become more polarized, but nasty politics is nothing new -- as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson could attest. Part of the problem with assessing the current atmosphere is that trust in government became abnormally high among the generation that survived the Depression and won World War II. Over the long view of U.S. history, that generation may be the anomaly. Much of the evidence for a loss of trust in government comes from modern polling data, and responses are sensitive to the way questions are asked. The sharpest decline occurred more than four decades ago, during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

This does not mean that there are no problems with declining confidence in government. If the public became unwilling to pay taxes or comply with laws, or if bright young people refused to go into public service, the government's capacity would be impaired, and people would become more dissatisfied with the government. Moreover, a climate of distrust can trigger extreme actions by deviant members of the population, such as the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City. Such results could diminish the United States' hard and soft power.

As yet, however, these fears do not seem to have materialized. The Internal Revenue Service has seen no increase in tax cheating. By many accounts, government officials have become less corrupt than in earlier decades, and the World Bank gives the United States a high score (above the 90th percentile) on "control of corruption." The voluntary return of census forms increased to 67 percent in 2000 and was slightly higher in 2010, reversing a 30-year decline. Voting rates fell from 62 percent to 50 percent over the four decades after 1960, but the decline stopped in 2000 and returned to 58 percent in 2008. In other words, the public's behavior has not changed as dramatically as its responses to poll questions indicates.

How serious are changes in social capital when it comes to the effectiveness of American institutions? The political scientist Robert Putnam notes that community bonds have not weakened steadily over the last century. On the contrary, U.S. history, carefully examined, is a story of ups and downs in civic engagement. Three-quarters of Americans, according to the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, feel connected to their communities and say that the quality of life there is excellent or good. Another of the group's polls found that 111 million Americans had volunteered their time to help solve problems in their communities in the past 12 months and that 60 million volunteer on a regular basis. Forty percent said working together with others in their community was the most important thing they could do.

In recent years, U.S. politics and political institutions have become more polarized than the actual distribution of public opinion would suggest. The situation has been exacerbated by the recent economic downturn. As The Economist noted, "America's political system was designed to make legislation at the federal level difficult, not easy. . . . So the basic system works; but that is no excuse for ignoring areas where it could be reformed." Some important reforms -- such as changing the gerrymandered safe seats in the House of Representatives or altering Senate rules about filibusters -- would not require any constitutional amendment. Whether the U.S. political system can reform itself and cope with the problems described above remains to be seen, but it is not as broken as implied by critics who draw analogies to the domestic decay of Rome or other empires.


Any net assessment of American power in the coming decades will remain uncertain, but analysis is not helped by misleading metaphors of decline. Declinists should be chastened by remembering how wildly exaggerated U.S. estimates of Soviet power in the 1970s and of Japanese power in the 1980s were. Equally misguided were those prophets of unipolarity who argued a decade ago that the United States was so powerful that it could do as it wished and others had no choice but to follow. Today, some confidently predict that the twenty-first century will see China replace the United States as the world's leading state, whereas others argue with equal confidence that the twenty-first century will be the American century. But unforeseen events often confound such projections. There is always a range of possible futures, not one.

As for the United States' power relative to China's, much will depend on the uncertainties of future political change in China. Barring any political upheaval, China's size and high rate of economic growth will almost certainly increase its relative strength vis-à-vis the United States. This will bring China closer to the United States in power resources, but it does not necessarily mean that China will surpass the United States as the most powerful country -- even if China suffers no major domestic political setbacks. Projections based on GDP growth alone are one-dimensional. They ignore U.S. advantages in military and soft power, as well as China's geopolitical disadvantages in the Asian balance of power.

Among the range of possible futures, the more likely are those in which China gives the United States a run for its money but does not surpass it in overall power in the first half of this century. Looking back at history, the British strategist Lawrence Freedman has noted that the United States has "two features which distinguish it from the dominant great powers of the past: American power is based on alliances rather than colonies and is associated with an ideology that is flexible. . . . Together they provide a core of relationships and values to which America can return even after it has overextended itself." And looking to the future, the scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter has argued that the United States' culture of openness and innovation will keep it central in a world where networks supplement, if not fully replace, hierarchical power.

The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies. Given Japanese concerns about the rise of Chinese power, Japan is more likely to seek U.S. support to preserve its independence than ally with China. This enhances the United States' position. Unless Americans act foolishly with regard to Japan, an allied East Asia is not a plausible candidate to displace the United States. It matters that the two entities in the world with per capita incomes and sophisticated economies similar to those of the United States -- the European Union and Japan -- both are U.S. allies. In traditional realist terms of balances of power resources, that makes a large difference for the net position of U.S. power. And in a more positive-sum view of power -- that of holding power with, rather than over, other countries -- Europe and Japan provide the largest pools of resources for dealing with common transnational problems. Although their interests are not identical to those of the United States, they share overlapping social and governmental networks with it that provide opportunities for cooperation.

On the question of absolute, rather than relative, American decline, the United States faces serious problems in areas such as debt, secondary education, and political gridlock. But they are only part of the picture. Of the multiple possible futures, stronger cases can be made for the positive ones than the negative ones. But among the negative futures, the most plausible is one in which the United States overreacts to terrorist attacks by turning inward and thus cuts itself off from the strength it obtains from openness. Barring such mistaken strategies, however, there are solutions to the major American problems of today. (Long-term debt, for example, could be solved by putting in place, after the economy recovers, spending cuts and consumption taxes that could pay for entitlements.) Of course, such solutions may forever remain out of reach. But it is important to distinguish hopeless situations for which there are no solutions from those that could in principle be solved. After all, the bipartisan reforms of the Progressive era a century ago rejuvenated a badly troubled country.


It is time for a new narrative about the future of U.S. power. Describing power transition in the twenty-first century as a traditional case of hegemonic decline is inaccurate, and it can lead to dangerous policy implications if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the United States to overreact out of fear. The United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is a reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any single state in the coming decades.

At the same time, the country will certainly face a rise in the power resources of many others -- both states and nonstate actors. Because globalization will spread technological capabilities and information technology will allow more people to communicate, U.S. culture and the U.S. economy will become less globally dominant than they were at the start of this century. Yet it is unlikely that the United States will decay like ancient Rome, or even that it will be surpassed by another state, including China.

The problem of American power in the twenty-first century, then, is not one of decline but what to do in light of the realization that even the largest country cannot achieve the outcomes it wants without the help of others. An increasing number of challenges will require the United States to exercise power with others as much as power over others. This, in turn, will require a deeper understanding of power, how it is changing, and how to construct "smart power" strategies that combine hard- and soft-power resources in an information age. The country's capacity to maintain alliances and create networks will be an important dimension of its hard and soft power.

Power is not good or bad per se. It is like calories in a diet: more is not always better. If a country has too few power resources, it is less likely to obtain its preferred outcomes. But too much power (in terms of resources) has often proved to be a curse when it leads to overconfidence and inappropriate strategies. David slew Goliath because Goliath's superior power resources led him to pursue an inferior strategy, which in turn led to his defeat and death. A smart-power narrative for the twenty-first century is not about maximizing power or preserving hegemony. It is about finding ways to combine resources in successful strategies in the new context of power diffusion and "the rise of the rest."

As the largest power, the United States will remain important in global affairs, but the twentieth-century narrative about an American century and American primacy -- as well as narratives of American decline -- is misleading when it is used as a guide to the type of strategy that will be necessary in the twenty-first century. The coming decades are not likely to see a post-American world, but the United States will need a smart strategy that combines hard- and soft-power resources -- and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.

In my own defence, whenever I forecast the end of this unipolar world based on American hyperpuissance I always (at least usually) caution readers to “not count America out.”

The biggest strategic danger facing America is, as Nye says, economic. America can and might spend itself ito real strategic trouble where it, like China, will have to put domestic tranquillity (social harmony) ahead of all other interests, and that may mean borrowing recklessly without enough attention to the payback.


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A new book which claims the true reason for American decline is they "ate the low hanging fruit". While the argument seems to have some surface merit, I will disagree based on the argument of culture; the Native people, French and Spanish settlers in the Americas had access to the same "low hanging fruit" of land, labour and resources yet were not able to capitalize to anywhere the same extent as the British/Americans did (and as the lineal descendants of the "British", we certainly never capitalized on our advantages to the same level as the Americans).

How we are organized, how we relate to each other, how we define and exercise our rights is far more important than what resources are at hand; Ancient Athens, Republican Venice or modern Japan had (or have) powerful economies and the ability to influence events far beyond what might be predicted on their available resources and manpower. American political culture changed through the 20th century, and the culmination of these changes took effect in the late 1960's (LBJ's "Great Society" programs), leading to today.


America is in disarray and our economy is failing us. We have been through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, unemployment remains stubbornly high, and talk of a double-dip recession persists. Americans are not pulling the world economy out of its sluggish state -- if anything we are looking to Asia to drive a recovery.Median wages have risen only slowly since the 1970s, and this multi-decade stagnation is not yet over. By contrast, the living standards of earlier generations would double every few decades. The Democratic Party seeks to expand government spending even when the middle class feels squeezed, the public sector doesn’t always perform well, and we have no good plan for paying for forthcoming entitlement spending. To the extent Republicans have a consistent platform, it consists of unrealistic claims about how tax cuts will raise revenue and stimulate economic growth. The Republicans, when they hold power, are often a bigger fiscal disaster than the Democrats. How did we get into this mess?Imagine a tropical island where the citrus and bananas hang from the trees. Low-hanging literal fruit -- you don’t even have to cook the stuff.In a figurative sense, the American economy has enjoyed lots of low-hanging fruit since at least the seventeenth century: free land; immigrant labor; and powerful new technologies. Yet during the last forty years, that low-hanging fruit started disappearing and we started pretending it was still there. We have failed to recognize that we are at a technological plateau and the trees are barer than we would like to think. That’s it. That is what has gone wrong.The problem won’t be solved overnight, but there are reasons to be optimistic. We simply have to recognize the underlying causes of our past prosperity—low hanging fruit—and how we will come upon more of it.


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Going back to basics. This is an exerpt from a much longer post (well worth reading) about how Thucydides saw how the world was organized, and what that meant for understanding the hows and whys of events:


Reading Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War this semester I’ve been reminded rather forcefully that ‘realist’ is one of those words in common discourse without any consistent or secure definition attached to it. Thucydides is often invoked as the father of realism in foreign policy, but his approach to the way the world works has little to do with the way this term is frequently used by political scientists today. . . . For Thucydides, the internal politics of a state are crucial to understanding and anticipating the policies of that state. Sparta has a set of interests that are not dictated by the nature of the international system so much as by the structure of Spartan society. The need to keep the Spartan population on a constant military footing and the need to keep the armies close at home derive from the need to keep the Helots under control. Another kind of city standing where Sparta stood, and with exactly the same powers and great powers around it, might well have had a completely different set of interests and adopted a completely different set of policies. . . . Theoretical realism would strike Thucydides as barking nonsense — the kind of idea that could only appeal to people with little experience of actual affairs. Thucydides was not a realist in this sense; he was something much smarter. He was realistic.

In the world Thucydides writes about, interests matter. State interests, personal ambition, family and clan interests, the perceived interests of piety and religion, party and factional interests, economic interests: they all matter. But Thucydides seems more agnostic about which of these matter most at any given time.


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The economy and the seeming decline of the US is a direct result of Obama's policies. For example gas prices are on the rise because of the middle east,but Obama's anti-fossil fuels policies prevent the US from even tapping its own resources,as a result we will be at the mercy of the middle east for quite some time. Increasingly on the foreign affairs front Obama gets no respect from anywhere[not that he deserves respect].Pakistan holds a US citizen with a diplomatic passport and despite threats to force his release the man remains in a Pakistani jail. I wonder if Obama threatened Pakistan's foreign aid payments maybe they would deport the CIA contract employee.Meanwhile every day in Pakistani custody the contractor is at risk.


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A positive assessment. In the long run, I think this is the correct assessment (remember the Reagan Administration turned things around quite quickly after the Carter administration). The issue is culture:


Long live the American dream
There are many reasons why India and China have nothing on us

Americans, hit first by outsourcing and then a recession, are becoming deeply pessimistic about their country’s ability to maintain its economic leadership. America’s Aristophanes, Jon Stewart, commented during a recent interview with the author of "India Calling," Anand Giridhardas: "The American dream is still alive — it’s just alive in India." Likewise, 20 percent of Americans in a December National Journal poll believed the U.S. economy was no longer the strongest. Nearly half picked China instead.

But there are at least five reasons why neither India nor China will knock America off its economic perch anytime soon, at least not by the only measure that matters: Offering the best life to the most people.

America wastes no talent

Conventional wisdom holds that America’s global competitiveness is driven by geniuses flocking to its shores and producing breathtaking inventions. But America’s real genius lies not in tapping just genius — but every scrap of talent up and down the scale.

A 2005 World Bank study found that the bulk of a people’s wealth comes not from tangible capital like raw resources and infrastructure. It comes from intangible wealth: effective government, secure property rights, a functioning judiciary. Such intangible factors put the equivalent of $418,000 at the disposal of every American resident. In India and China, it's $3,738 and $4,208, respectively.

America’s vast intangible wealth makes everyone more productive and successful. Personal attributes — talent, looks, smarts — matter only on the margins. Having witnessed the life trajectory of many Indian immigrants, what’s striking to me is that, with some exceptions, it doesn’t matter whether they are the best or mediocre in their profession in India: They all end up with similar standards of living here.

America does not have India’s infrastructure deficit or China’s civil society deficit

India’s gap with America extends not just to intangible capital but tangible capital as well. Basic facilities in India — roads, water, sewage — remain primitive. For example, a 2010 McKinsey Global Institute report found that India treats 30 percent of raw sewage, whereas the international norm is 100 percent. It needs to spend twice the slated expenditures over the next 10 years to deliver basic services.

China, meanwhile, has a major civil society problem. Its one-child policy has decimated the natural safety net that old people rely on in traditional societies. And China offers no public safety net to the vast majority born in villages. Worse, many Chinese have invested their nest eggs is various asset bubbles that will wipe out their only means of subsistence if they burst.

America does not have grinding poverty

Despite all the recent hoopla about China becoming the world’s second-biggest economy and India hoping to follow suit, the reality is that the per-capita GDP — even measured by purchasing power parity — in both is pathetic. America’s is about $47,000, China’s $7,500 and India’s $3,290.

Worse, both still harbor medieval levels of poverty, with 300 million people in each living on less than $1.25 a day. India’s IT boom gets big press, but it — along with all the tertiary industries it has spawned — employs 2.3 million people, or 0.2 percent of the population.

American education is vastly superior to India’s or China’s

President Obama claims America is in an "education arms race" with India and China. Rubbish.

Despite all the horror stories about American kids underperforming on standardized tests, things are worse in India and China. India’s literacy rate is 66 percent. China puts its at 93 percent, but between 2000 and 2005, China’s illiterate population grew by 30 million. The same may happen in India, thanks to last year’s Right to Education Act, the regulations of which will cripple India’s private school market. The fundamental problem is that both countries put their resources into educating elite kids — and ignoring the rest.

Unless more Indian and Chinese kids get access to a quality education, their countries won’t be able to actualize their human potential, precisely what America does so well.

America doesn’t have a culture of hype

An important reason U.S. gloom-and-doom is unjustified is that there is so much gloom-and-doom. Indians and Chinese, by contrast, have drunk their own Kool-Aid. Their moribund economies have barely kicked into action and they are entertaining dreams of being the next economic superpowers. That bespeaks a profound megalomania. There is not a culture of hope in these countries, as Giridhardas told Stewart, but a culture of hype.

By contrast, when America’s government responds ineffectually to the recession, Americans go into panic mode. Grassroots movements like the Tea Party emerge to rein in the government. Pay Pal founder Peter Theil has even given $850,000 to the Seasteading Institute to establish new countries on the sea to experiment with government. This might be wacky, but it puts an outside limit on how out-of-whack Americans will let their institutions get before they start fixing them.

This, ultimately, is the biggest reason to believe that the American dream is and will stay alive — in America.

Edward Campbell

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Redeye said:
...  In the case of many of the "Tea Party" I've tried to get from them a cogent, coherent argument of what specifically they want in terms of policy directions in the United States, and I have come to realize that a good portion of them (though I have no basis to claim any specific proportion) have pretty much no idea ...

The above, from another, different Army.ca page, is a common complaint. In this article, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs, distinguished historian and foreign policy analyst Walter Russell Mead tries to answer the question, at last in so far as it pertains to foreign policy:

The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy
What Populism Means for Globalism

By Walter Russell Mead
March/April 2011

During the night of December 16, 1773, somewhere between 30 and 130 men, a few disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three merchant ships in Boston Harbor and destroyed 342 chests of tea to protest duties imposed by the British parliament. Samuel Adams was widely considered to be the ringleader of the demonstration. The historical record is ambiguous; he disclaimed all responsibility while doing everything possible to publicize the event. The next year, a more decorous tea party occurred in Edenton, North Carolina, when Mrs. Penelope Barker convened 51 women to support the colony's resistance to British taxation. Tea was neither destroyed nor consumed, but something even more momentous happened that day: Barker's gathering is believed to have been the first women's political meeting in British North America.

Both tea parties stirred British opinion. Although prominent Whigs, such as John Wilkes and Edmund Burke, supported the Americans against King George III and his handpicked government, the lawlessness of Boston and the unheard-of political activism of the women of Edenton seemed proof to many in the mother country that the colonials were violent and barbaric. The idea of a women's political meeting was shocking enough to merit coverage in the London press, where the resolutions taken by the Edenton activists were reprinted in full. The British writer Samuel Johnson published a pamphlet denouncing the colonials' tea parties and their arguments against imperial taxation, writing, "These antipatriotic prejudices are the abortions of folly impregnated by faction."

Today, tea parties have returned, and Johnson's objections still resonate. The modern Tea Party movement began in February 2009 as an on-air rant by a CNBC financial reporter who, from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, called for a Chicago tea party to protest the taxpayer-financed bailout of mortgage defaulters. Objecting to what they saw as the undue growth of government spending and government power under President Barack Obama, Republicans and like-minded independents (backed by wealthy sympathizers) soon built a network of organizations across the United States. Energized to some degree by persistently favorable coverage on Fox News (and perhaps equally energized by less sympathetic treatment in what the Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin has dubbed "the lamestream media"), Tea Party activists rapidly shook up American politics and contributed to the wave of anti-big-government sentiment that made the 2010 elections a significant Democratic defeat.

The rise of the Tea Party movement has been the most controversial and dramatic development in U.S. politics in many years. Supporters have hailed it as a return to core American values; opponents have seen it as a racist, reactionary, and ultimately futile protest against the emerging reality of a multicultural, multiracial United States and a new era of government activism.

The Tea Party itself may disappear, but the populist energy that powers it will not go away soon.

To some degree, this controversy is impossible to resolve. The Tea Party movement is an amorphous collection of individuals and groups that range from center right to the far fringes of American political life. It lacks a central hierarchy that can direct the movement or even declare who belongs to it and who does not. As the Tea Party label became better known, all kinds of people sought to hitch their wagons to this rising star. Affluent suburban libertarians, rural fundamentalists, ambitious pundits, unreconstructed racists, and fiscally conservative housewives all can and do claim to be Tea Party supporters.

The Fox News host Glenn Beck may be the most visible spokesperson for the Tea Party, but his religious views (extremely strong and very Mormon) hardly typify the movement, in which libertarians are often more active than social conservatives and Ayn Rand is a more influential prophet than Brigham Young. There is little evidence that the reading lists and history lessons that Beck offers on his nightly program appeal to more than a small percentage of the movement's supporters. (In a March 2010 public opinion poll, 37 percent of respondents expressed support for the Tea Party, suggesting that about 115 million Americans sympathize at least partly with the movement; Beck's audience on Fox averages 2.6 million.)

Other prominent political figures associated with the Tea Party also send a contradictory mix of messages. The Texas congressman Ron Paul and his (somewhat less doctrinaire) son, the newly elected Kentucky senator Rand Paul, come close to resurrecting isolationism. The conservative commentator Pat Buchanan echoes criticisms of the U.S.-Israeli alliance made by such scholars as John Mearsheimer. Palin, on the other hand, is a full-throated supporter of the "war on terror" and, as governor of Alaska, kept an Israeli flag in her office.

If the movement resists easy definition, its impact on the November 2010 midterm elections is also hard to state with precision. On the one hand, the excitement that Tea Party figures such as Palin brought to the Republican campaign clearly helped the party attract candidates, raise money, and get voters to the polls in an off-year election. The GOP victory in the House of Representatives, the largest gain by either major party since 1938, would likely have been much less dramatic without the energy generated by the Tea Party. On the other hand, public doubts about some Tea Party candidates, such as Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, who felt it necessary to buy advertising time to tell voters, "I am not a witch," probably cost Republicans between two and four seats in the Senate, ending any chance for a GOP takeover of that chamber.

In Alaska, Palin and the Tea Party leaders endorsed the senatorial candidate Joe Miller, who defeated the incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary. Miller went on to lose the general election, however, after Murkowski organized the first successful write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate since Strom Thurmond was elected from South Carolina in 1954. If libertarian Alaska rejects a Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidate, then there are reasons to doubt the movement's long-term ability to dominate politics across the rest of the country.

But with all its ambiguities and its uneven political record, the Tea Party movement has clearly struck a nerve in American politics, and students of American foreign policy need to think through the consequences of this populist and nationalist political insurgency. That is particularly true because the U.S. constitutional system allows minorities to block appointments and important legislation through filibusters and block the ratification of treaties with only one-third of the Senate. For a movement of "No!" like the Tea Party, those are powerful legislative tools. As is so often the case in the United States, to understand the present and future of American politics, one must begin by coming to grips with the past. The Tea Party movement taps deep roots in U.S. history, and past episodes of populist rebellion can help one think intelligently about the trajectory of the movement today.


The historian Jill Lepore's book The Whites of Their Eyes makes the point that many Tea Party activists have a crude understanding of the politics of the American Revolution. Yet however unsophisticated the Tea Party's reading of the past may be, the movement's appeal to Colonial history makes sense. From Colonial times, resentment of the well-bred, the well-connected, and the well-paid has merged with suspicion about the motives and methods of government insiders to produce populist rebellions against the established political order. This form of American populism is often called "Jacksonianism" after Andrew Jackson, the president who tapped this populist energy in the 1830s to remake the United States' party system and introduce mass electoral politics into the country for good.

Antiestablishment populism has been responsible for some of the brightest, as well as some of the darkest, moments in U.S. history. The populists who rallied to Jackson established universal white male suffrage in the United States -- and saddled the country with a crash-prone financial system for 80 years by destroying the Second Bank of the United States. Later generations of populists would rein in monopolistic corporations and legislate basic protections for workers while opposing federal protection of minorities threatened with lynching. The demand of Jacksonian America for cheap or, better, free land in the nineteenth century led to the Homestead Act, which allowed millions of immigrants and urban workers to start family farms. It also led to the systematic and sometimes genocidal removal of Native Americans from their traditional hunting grounds and a massively subsidized "farm bubble" that helped bring about the Great Depression. Populist hunger for land in the twentieth century paved the way for an era of federally subsidized home mortgages and the devastating burst of the housing bubble.

Jacksonian populism does not always have a clear-cut program. In the nineteenth century, the Jacksonians combined a strong aversion to government debt with demands that the government's most valuable asset (title to the vast public lands of the West) be transferred to homesteaders at no cost. Today's Jacksonians want the budget balanced -- but are much less enthusiastic about cutting middle-class entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Ron Paul looks for ways to avoid contact with the world, whereas Sarah Palin would rather win than withdraw.

Intellectually, Jacksonian ideas are rooted in the commonsense tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment. This philosophy -- that moral, scientific, political, and religious truths can be ascertained by the average person -- is more than an intellectual conviction in the United States; it is a cultural force. Jacksonians regard supposed experts with suspicion, believing that the credentialed and the connected are trying to advance their own class agenda. These political, economic, scientific, or cultural elites often want to assert truths that run counter to the commonsense reasoning of Jacksonian America. That federal deficits produce economic growth and that free trade with low-wage countries raises Americans' living standards are the kind of propositions that clash with the common sense of many Americans. In the not too distant past, so did the assertion that people of different races deserved equal treatment before the law.

Sometimes those elites are right, and sometimes they are wrong, but their ability to win voter approval for policies that seem counterintuitive is a critical factor in the American political system. In times like the present, when a surge of populist political energy coincides with a significant loss of popular confidence in establishment institutions -- ranging from the mainstream media and the foreign policy and intellectual establishments to the financial and corporate leadership and the government itself -- Jacksonian sentiment diminishes the ability of elite institutions and their members to shape national debates and policy. The rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change is one of many examples of populist revolt against expert consensus in the United States today.

The Tea Party movement is best understood as a contemporary revolt of Jacksonian common sense against elites perceived as both misguided and corrupt. And although the movement itself may splinter and even disappear, the populist energy that powers it will not go away soon. Jacksonianism is always an important force in American politics; at times of social and economic stress and change, like the present, its importance tends to grow. Even though it is by no means likely that the new Jacksonians will gain full control of the government anytime soon (or perhaps ever), the influence of the populist revolt against mainstream politics has become so significant that students of U.S. foreign policy must consider its consequences.

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Edward Campbell

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In foreign policy, Jacksonians embrace a set of strongly nationalist ideas. They combine a firm belief in American exceptionalism and an American world mission with deep skepticism about the United States' ability to create a liberal world order. They draw a sharp contrast between the Lockean political order that prevails at home with what they see as a Hobbesian international system: in a competitive world, each sovereign state must place its own interests first. They intuitively accept a Westphalian view of international relations: what states do domestically may earn one's contempt, but a country should only react when states violate their international obligations or attack it. When the United States is attacked, they believe in total war leading to the unconditional surrender of the enemy. They are prepared to support wholesale violence against enemy civilians in the interest of victory; they do not like limited wars for limited goals. Although they value allies and believe that the United States must honor its word, they do not believe in institutional constraints on the United States' freedom to act, unilaterally if necessary, in self-defense. Historically, Jacksonians have never liked international economic agreements or systems that limit the U.S. government's ability to pursue loose credit policies at home.

Finding populist support for U.S. foreign policy has been the central domestic challenge for policymakers ever since President Franklin Roosevelt struggled to build domestic support for an increasingly interventionist policy vis-à-vis the Axis powers. The Japanese solved Roosevelt's problem by attacking Pearl Harbor, but his sensitivity to Jacksonian opinion did not end with the United States' entry into World War II. From his embrace of unconditional surrender as a war objective to his internment of Japanese Americans, Roosevelt always had a careful eye out for the concerns of this constituency. If he had thought Jacksonian America would have accepted the indefinite stationing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops abroad, he might have taken a harder line with the Soviet Union on the future of Eastern Europe.

The need to attract and hold populist support also influenced Harry Truman's foreign policy, particularly his approach to Soviet expansionism and larger questions of world order. Key policymakers in the Truman administration, such as Secretary of State Dean Acheson, believed that the collapse of the United Kingdom as a world power had left a vacuum that the United States had no choice but to fill. The United Kingdom had historically served as the gyroscope of world order, managing the international economic system, keeping the sea-lanes open, and protecting the balance of power in the chief geostrategic theaters of the world. Truman administration officials agreed that the Great Depression and World War II could in large part be blamed on the United States' failure to take up the burden of global leadership as the United Kingdom declined. The Soviet disruption of the balance of power in Europe and the Middle East after World War II was, they believed, exactly the kind of challenge to world order that the United States now had to meet.

The problem, as policymakers saw it, was that Jacksonian opinion was not interested in assuming the mantle of the United Kingdom. The Jacksonians were ready to act against definite military threats and, after two world wars, were prepared to support a more active security policy overseas in the 1940s than they were in the 1920s. But to enlist their support for a far-reaching foreign policy, Truman and Acheson believed that it was necessary to define U.S. foreign policy in terms of opposing the Soviet Union and its communist ideology rather than as an effort to secure a liberal world order. Acheson's decision to be "clearer than truth" when discussing the threat of communism and Truman's decision to take Senator Arthur Vandenberg's advice and "scare [the] hell out of the country" ignited populist fears about the Soviet Union, which helped the administration get congressional support for aid to Greece and Turkey and the Marshall Plan. Political leaders at the time concluded that without such appeals, Congress would not have provided the requested support, and historians generally agree.

But having roused the sleeping dogs of anticommunism, the Truman administration would spend the rest of its time in office trying (and sometimes failing) to cope with the forces it had unleashed. Once convinced that communism was an immediate threat to national security, the Jacksonians wanted a more hawkish policy than Acheson and his planning chief, George Kennan, thought was wise. The success of Mao Zedong's revolution in China -- and the seeming indifference of the Truman administration to the fate of the world's most populous country and its network of missionary institutions and Christian converts -- inflamed Jacksonian opinion and set the stage for Senator Joseph McCarthy's politics of paranoia in the 1950s.

Communism was in many ways a perfect enemy for Jacksonian America, and for the next 40 years, public opinion sustained the high defense budgets and foreign military commitments required to fight it. The priorities of the Cold War from a Jacksonian perspective -- above all, the military containment of communism wherever communists, or left-wing nationalists willing to ally with them, were active -- did not always fit comfortably with the Hamiltonian (commercial and realist) and Wilsonian (idealist and generally multilateral) priorities held by many U.S. policymakers. But in general, the mix of policies necessary to promote a liberal world order was close enough to what was needed to wage a struggle against the Soviets that the liberal-world-order builders were able to attract enough Jacksonian support for their project. The need to compete with the Soviets provided a rationale for a whole series of U.S. initiatives -- the development of a liberal trading system under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Marshall Plan aid tied to the promotion of European economic integration, development assistance in Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- that also had the effect of building a new international system encompassing the noncommunist world.

Bobby Jindal is in every way a better governor of Louisiana than Huey Long.

This approach enabled the United States to win the Cold War and build a flexible, dynamic, and reasonably stable international system that, after 1989, gradually and for the most part peacefully absorbed the majority of the former communist states. It did, however, leave a political vulnerability at the core of the U.S. foreign policy debate, a vulnerability that threatens to become much more serious going forward: today's Jacksonians are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to defend the United States, but they do not believe that U.S. interests are best served by the creation of a liberal and cosmopolitan world order.


After the Soviet Union disobligingly collapsed in 1991, the United States endeavored to maintain and extend its efforts to build a liberal world order. On the one hand, these projects no longer faced the opposition of a single determined enemy; on the other hand, American leaders had to find domestic support for complex, risky, and expensive foreign initiatives without invoking the Soviet threat.

This did not look difficult at first. In the heady aftermath of the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, it seemed to many as if the task would be so easy and so cheap that U.S. policymakers could cut defense and foreign aid budgets while a liberal world order largely constructed itself. No powerful states or ideologies opposed the principles of the American world order, and both the economic agenda of liberalizing trade and finance and the Wilsonian agenda of extending democracy were believed to be popular at home and abroad.

Clear domestic constraints on U.S. foreign policy began to appear during the 1990s. The Clinton administration devoted intense efforts to cultivating obstructionist legislators, such as Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, but it was increasingly unable to get the resources and support needed to carry out what it believed were important elements of the United States' agenda abroad. Congress balked at paying the country's UN dues in a timely fashion and, after the GOP congressional takeover in 1994, opposed a range of proposed and actual military interventions. The Senate recoiled from treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol and refused to join the International Criminal Court. The relentless decline in support for free trade after the bitter fights over the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement and U.S. entry into the new World Trade Organization in the early 1990s left U.S. diplomats negotiating within a tightening range of constraints, which soon led to a steady deceleration in the construction of a liberal global trading regime.

September 11, 2001, changed this. The high level of perceived threat after the attacks put U.S. foreign policy back to the position it had enjoyed in 1947-48: convinced that an external threat was immediate and real, the public was ready to support enormous expenditures of treasure and blood to counter it. Jacksonians cared about foreign policy again, and the George W. Bush administration had an opportunity to repeat the accomplishment of the Truman administration by using public concern about a genuine security threat to energize public support for a far-reaching program of building a liberal world order.

Historians will be discussing for years to come why the Bush administration missed this opportunity. It may be that in the years after 9/11, the administration was so determined to satisfy domestic Jacksonian opinion that it constructed a response to terrorism -- the kind of no-holds-barred total war preferred by Jacksonians -- that would inevitably undercut its ability to engage with key partners at home and abroad. In any case, by January 2009, the United States was engaged in two wars and a variety of counterterrorism activities around the world but lacked anything like a domestic consensus on even the broadest outlines of foreign policy.

The Obama administration came into office believing that the Bush administration had been too Jacksonian and that its resulting policy choices were chaotic, incoherent, and self-defeating. Uncritically pro-Israel, unilateralist, indifferent to the requirements of international law, too quick to respond with force, contemptuous of international institutions and norms, blind to the importance of non-terrorism-related threats such as climate change, and addicted to polarizing, us-against-them rhetoric, the Bush administration was, the incoming Democrats believed, a textbook case of Jacksonianism run wild. Recognizing the enduring power of Jacksonians in U.S. politics but convinced that their ideas were wrong-headed and outdated, the Obama administration decided that it would make what it believed were the minimum necessary concessions to Jacksonian sentiments while committing itself to a set of policies intended to build a world order on a largely Wilsonian basis. Rather than embracing the "global war on terror" as an overarching strategic umbrella under which it could position a range of aid, trade, and institution-building initiatives, it has repositioned the terrorism threat as one among many threats the United States faces and has separated its world-order-building activities from its vigorous work to combat terrorism.

It is much too early to predict how this will turn out, but it is already clear that the Obama administration faces serious challenges in building support for its foreign policy in a polarized, and to some degree traumatized, domestic environment. The administration is trying to steer U.S. foreign policy away from Jacksonian approaches just as a confluence of foreign and domestic developments are creating a new Jacksonian moment in U.S. politics. The United States faces a continuing threat of terrorism involving domestic as well as foreign extremists, a threat from China that includes both international security challenges in Asia and a type of economic rivalry that Jacksonians associate with the economic woes of the middle class, and a looming federal debt crisis that endangers both the prosperity and the security of the country. The combination of these threats with the perceived cultural and social conflict between "arrogant" elites with counterintuitive ideas and "average" Americans relying on common sense creates the ideal conditions for a major Jacksonian storm in U.S. politics. The importance of the Jacksonian resurgence goes beyond the political problems of the Obama administration; the development of foreign policy strategies that can satisfy Jacksonian requirements at home while also working effectively in the international arena is likely to be the greatest single challenge facing U.S. administrations for some time to come.

End of Part 2 of 3

Edward Campbell

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Forecasting how this newly energized populist movement will influence foreign policy is difficult. Public opinion is responsive to events; a terrorist attack inside U.S. borders or a crisis in East Asia or the Middle East could transform the politics of U.S. foreign policy overnight. A further worsening of the global economic situation could further polarize the politics of both domestic and foreign policy in the United States.

Nevertheless, some trends seem clear. The first is that the contest in the Tea Party between what might be called its Palinite and its Paulite wings will likely end in a victory for the Palinites. Ron Paul represents an inward-looking, neo-isolationist approach to foreign policy that has more in common with classic Jeffersonian ideas than with assertive Jacksonian nationalism. Although both wings share, for example, a visceral hostility to anything that smacks of "world government," Paul and his followers look for ways to avoid contact with the world, whereas such contemporary Jacksonians as Sarah Palin and the Fox News host Bill O'Reilly would rather win than withdraw. "We don't need to be the world's policeman," says Paul. Palin might say something similar, but she would be quick to add that we also do not want to give the bad guys any room.

Similarly, the Palinite wing of the Tea Party wants a vigorous, proactive approach to the problem of terrorism in the Middle East, one that rests on a close alliance between the United States and Israel. The Paulite wing would rather distance the United States from Israel as part of a general reduction of the United States' profile in a part of the world from which little good can be expected. The Paulites are likely to lose this contest because the commonsense reasoning of the American people now generally takes as axiomatic something that seemed much more controversial in the 1930s: that security at home cannot be protected without substantial engagement overseas. The rise of China and the sullen presence of the threat of terrorism reinforce this perception, and the more dangerous the world feels, the more Jacksonian America sees a need to prepare, to seek reliable allies, and to act. A period like that between 1989 and 2001, when Jacksonian America did not identify any serious threats from abroad, is unlikely to arise anytime soon; the great mass of Tea Party America does not seem headed toward a new isolationism.

Jacksonian support for Israel will also be a factor. Sympathetic to Israel and concerned about both energy security and terrorism, Jacksonians are likely to accept and even demand continued U.S. diplomatic, political, and military engagement in the Middle East. Not all American Jacksonians back Israel, but in general, rising Jacksonian political influence in the United States will lead to stronger support in Washington for the Jewish state. This support does not proceed simply from evangelical Christian influence. Many Jacksonians are not particularly religious, and many of the pro-Jacksonian "Reagan Democrats" are Roman Catholics. But Jacksonians admire Israeli courage and self-reliance -- and they do not believe that Arab governments are trustworthy or reliable allies. They are generally untroubled by Israeli responses to terrorist attacks, which many observers deem "disproportionate." Jacksonian common sense does not give much weight to the concept of disproportionate force, believing that if you are attacked, you have the right and even the duty to respond with overwhelming force until the enemy surrenders. That may or may not be a viable strategy in the modern Middle East, but Jacksonians generally accept Israel's right to defend itself in whatever way it chooses. They are more likely to criticize Israel for failing to act firmly in Gaza and southern Lebanon than to criticize it for overreacting to terrorist attacks. Jacksonians still believe that the use of nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945 was justified; they argue that military strength is there to be used.

Any increase in Jacksonian political strength makes a military response to the Iranian nuclear program more likely. Although the public's reaction to the progress of North Korea's nuclear program has been relatively mild, recent polls show that up to 64 percent of the U.S. public favors military strikes to end the Iranian nuclear program. Deep public concerns over oil and Israel, combined with memories of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis among older Americans, put Iran's nuclear program in Jacksonians' cross hairs. Polls show that more than 50 percent of the public believes the United States should defend Israel against Iran -- even if Israel sets off hostilities by launching the first strike. Many U.S. presidents have been dragged into war reluctantly by aroused public opinion; to the degree that Congress and the public are influenced by Jacksonian ideas, a president who allows Iran to get nuclear weapons without using military action to try to prevent it would face political trouble. (Future presidents should, however, take care. Military engagements undertaken without a clear strategy for victory can backfire disastrously. Lyndon Johnson committed himself to war in Southeast Asia because he believed, probably correctly, that Jacksonian fury at a communist victory in Vietnam would undermine his domestic goals. The story did not end well.)

On other issues, Paulites and Palinites are united in their dislike for liberal internationalism -- the attempt to conduct international relations through multilateral institutions under an ever-tightening web of international laws and treaties. From climate change to the International Criminal Court to the treatment of enemy combatants captured in unconventional conflicts, both wings of the Tea Party reject liberal internationalist ideas and will continue to do so. The U.S. Senate, in which each state is allotted two senators regardless of the state's population, heavily favors the less populated states, where Jacksonian sentiment is often strongest. The United States is unlikely to ratify many new treaties written in the spirit of liberal internationalism for some time to come.

The new era in U.S. politics could see foreign policy elites struggling to receive a hearing for their ideas from a skeptical public. "The Council on Foreign Relations," the pundit Beck said in January 2010, "was a progressive idea of, let's take media and eggheads and figure out what the idea is, what the solution is, then teach it to the media, and they'll let the masses know what should be done." Tea Partiers intend to be vigilant to insure that elites with what the movement calls their "one-world government" ideas and bureaucratic agendas of class privilege do not dominate foreign policy debates. The United States may return to a time when prominent political leaders found it helpful to avoid too public an association with institutions and ideas perceived as distant from, and even hostile to, the interests and values of Jacksonian America.

Concern about China has been growing for some time in American opinion, and the Jacksonian surge makes it more likely that the simmering anger and resentment will come to a boil. Free trade is an issue that has historically divided populists in the United States (agrarians have tended to like it; manufacturing workers have not); even though Jacksonians like to buy cheap goods at Walmart, common sense largely leads them to believe that the first job of trade negotiators ought to be to preserve U.S. jobs rather than embrace visionary "win-win" global schemes.


More broadly, across a range of issues, both wings of the Tea Party will seek to reopen the discussion about whether U.S. foreign policy should be nationalist or cosmopolitan. The Paulite wing would ideally like to end any kind of American participation in the construction of a liberal world order. The Palinite wing leans toward a more moderate position of wanting to ensure that what world-order building Washington does clearly proceeds from a consideration of specific national interests rather than the world's reliance on the United States as a kind of disinterested promoter of the global good. Acheson, no friend of grandiose institutional schemes, might find something to sympathize with here; in any event, foreign-policy makers should welcome the opportunity to hold a serious discussion on the relationship of specific U.S. interests to the requirements of a liberal world order.

There is much in the Tea Party movement to give foreign policy thinkers pause, but effective foreign policy must always begin with a realistic assessment of the facts on the ground. Today's Jacksonians are unlikely to disappear. Americans should rejoice that in many ways the Tea Party movement, warts and all, is a significantly more capable and reliable partner for the United States' world-order-building tasks than were the isolationists of 60 years ago. Compared to the Jacksonians during the Truman administration, today's are less racist, less antifeminist, less homophobic, and more open to an appreciation of other cultures and worldviews. Their starting point, that national security requires international engagement, is considerably more auspicious than the knee-jerk isolationism that Truman and Acheson faced. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was no public support for the equivalent of the internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, nor has there been anything like the anticommunist hysteria of the McCarthy era. Today's southern Republican populists are far more sympathetic to core liberal capitalist concepts than were the populist supporters of William Jennings Bryan a century ago. Bobby Jindal is in every way a better governor of Louisiana than Huey Long was -- and there is simply no comparison between Senator Jim DeMint, of South Carolina, and "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman.

Foreign policy mandarins often wish the public would leave them alone so that they can get on with the serious business of statecraft. That is not going to happen in the United States. If the Tea Party movement fades away, other voices of populist protest will take its place. American policymakers and their counterparts overseas simply cannot do their jobs well without a deep understanding of what is one of the principal forces in American political life.

Now, it helps to understand the constant references to e.g. Jacksonians if one has read Mead’s Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, but I think his broad analysis is both accurate and coherent.

The “Tea Partiers’ are not totally in the thrall of Glenn Beck et al but they are, as Mead says, ”an amorphous collection of individuals and groups that range from center right to the far fringes of American political life. [The Tea Party] lacks a central hierarchy that can direct the movement or even declare who belongs to it and who does not. As the Tea Party label became better known, all kinds of people sought to hitch their wagons to this rising star. Affluent suburban libertarians, rural fundamentalists, ambitious pundits, unreconstructed racists, and fiscally conservative housewives all can and do claim to be Tea Party supporters.” Mead gives them a voice and puts some flesh on the skeletons in their thinking.