For an employee of Newsweek and a contributor to the New York Review of Books–both publications that typically veer between conventional pabulum and “progressive” zaniness–Christian Caryl displays unexpected wisdom in this essay: “Long Live American Imperialism.”
He argues that, financial crisis or not, American leadership remains indispensable for the world, and that American taxpayers will continue to finance the military might that keeps us (and so many of our friends and allies) safe. After making the expected genuflections in the direction of those who harp on the limits of American power, he writes with bracing clarity:
Yet, on balance, the world would still be a much more dangerous place without America around. In a world of intensifying competition for natural resources, trust is still the rarest commodity of all. U.S. influence will undoubtedly wane as more and more countries build confidence in each other. But that’s going to take a long time.
No question about it, America is overstretched. As economic turbulence hits home, U.S. voters are already less inclined to pay for overseas adventures. Yet to an extent, they don’t have much choice. For the reasons I’ve described above, the world will probably need someone to play the role of arbiter, enforcer, hegemon-call it what you will-for a long while to come. (“Hegemony,” by the way, is a Greek word that means “leadership.”) Americans may not want to play that role, and the rest of the world doesn’t always like the United States when it does. Yet I don’t see anyone around who’s ready to take its place. The European Union? It can’t even forge a common foreign policy, much less a strategy for regional security and defense. China? Many of its neighbors are unlikely to be enthusiastic. Russia? Give me a break.
The upshot is that, whether we like it or not, the U.S. must continue to lead, no matter who is elected tomorrow. I only hope Barack Obama understands that, because, as Bob Kagan noted in the Washington Post, at times his supporters seem to give the impression that his job will be to manage our decline gracefully. That is not the role that the American people expect our president to play, and Obama, if he is elected, would go awry if he tried. With John McCain, there is no such danger: he is cognizant of the limits of American power but embraces it unapologetically as a force for good.