Commentary Magazine



David Brooks, in yesterday’s New York Times, explains why nothing is getting done in the world. He chalks it up to “globosclerosis.” Power has been dispersed among many nations, and the result is paralysis. “Everybody feels they have the right to say no, and in a multipolar world, many people have the power to do so,” he writes. “In a de-centered world, all it takes is a few well-placed parochial interests to bring a vast global process tumbling down.”

Brooks describes the malady well. Yet before we can repair the international system, we have to understand how we got into this fix. We can blame Russia and China for obstructionism–and we should–but we have to remember that we helped them grow strong, legitimized their role in the international system, and failed to speak clearly when they acted irresponsibly. At the end of the Cold War they were in no position to cause mischief. So we are largely responsible for letting them bedevil us now. We are only beginning to pay the price for one of history’s larger strategic mistakes.

And now that Moscow and Beijing are more powerful, we are especially reluctant to confront them. As we fail to do so, they become stronger and we become weaker. Hegemons fall quickly once it becomes evident they are unable to accomplish their objectives. Why? No nation wants to associate itself with a power on the way down. In recent weeks, the United States was not able to get Iran to reply to the West’s latest nuclear offer, failed to save the Doha Trade Round, and watched helplessly while the United Nations Security Council supported Sudan’s Bashir, who has been accused of genocide and war crimes. There is little now going right for the most powerful nation in history.

And what is the leader of the free world doing about this predicament? He is continuing his policy of honoring authoritarianism. Instead, he should be publicly telling Russian and Chinese leaders that either they support global norms or they should consider us their adversary. By undermining us, Moscow and Beijing are already making themselves our foes, so there’s nothing to lose by forcing them to declare where they stand.

If President Bush continues accommodationist policies, Brooks’s next column will not be on global sclerosis. He will be writing about the world in collapse.