Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Obama’s ‘policing’ problem is still in America

Partisan conservatives complain that Obama is “light-footed” when it comes to policing violence abroad, especially in the Middle East, while at the same time being suspiciously hawkish about the use of guns and capitalist "animal spirits" at home.

Up until now, he’s shrugged off questions about his machismo by winning elections and keeping his biggest promises to Americans.

Bombing Syria to honor a one-liner about chemical weapons, however, could undo his historic campaign to economize on the use of US military power and to restore respect for the competence of liberals in international affairs.

Obama and John Kerry worry that if the US doesn’t punish Assad for his conduct in his country’s civil war, America’s credibility will shrink and the taboo against the use of chemical weapons will diminish globally. Stunningly, they have put new life into the idea that the US has been the “policeman of the world” since 1945.

Under the Financial Time’s overblown headline “The World Would Miss the American Policeman," Gideon Rachman repeats the myths about what imperial Britain was doing in the 19th century and America in the last half of the 20th, and closes with the Cold War’s sloppy obsessions with dominoes and respect:  

“For better or worse, Mr Obama drew such a red line over Syria. As he suggested over the weekend, America’s adversaries will draw conclusions if the US fails to act over Syria, and the same would be true of its allies. The governments of Japan, Israel and Poland – to name just a few – will all feel less secure if Congress votes against military action in Syria. The world relies on the American policeman more than it realises.”

Not all her allies are democracies, but all democracies are friends of the United States. For the foreseeable future, therefore, she is democracy and consensual problem-solving’s indispensable ally. Nevertheless, America has never had the resources nor the appetite to be everyone’s policeman.

Policemen are expected to show up. The US hasn’t taken up arms in support of righteous causes in Africa, Eastern Europe, and throughout most of Asia. Its intrusiveness in the Americas has receded and originally was hatched up to keep the world, i.e. European empires, at bay. 

America has been an unreliable cop and a highly credible senior ally. It now maintains its credibility as an ally, in part, by not pretending to police the world.

Japan, Israel, and Western Europe didn’t lose confidence in the US when it left Vietnam and won’t now if it stays out of Syria. 

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