From Policeman To Pollyanna

Gary Varvel

Whenever I hear someone utter the cliche, “America can’t be the world’s policeman,” I say, “Well, do you have anyone else in mind for the job?”

Of course, the implication of the “world’s policeman” remark, a favorite of the left, is that the world doesn’t really need a policeman, and that America has assumed that role as a cover for its nefarious, imperialistic intentions. But I suspect that most Americans would be thrilled to let someone else take the job; however, I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate, as it were.

After World War II, the Europeans and Japanese went out of the self-defense business and outsourced their defense to America. And given the holy mess the Europeans and Asians made of the 20th century, the U.S. figured that those folks needed some adult supervision and thus reluctantly assumed the responsibility.

In keeping with the view that, except for Republicans, there really are no bad people in the world, only people whose grievances have not yet been accommodated, Barry has done his best to transform American foreign policy from the world’s policeman into the world’s pollyanna, as Bret Stephens notes:

…Last week, Mr. Obama was so resoundingly rebuffed by other leaders at the G-20 summit in Seoul that even the New York Times noticed: Mr. Obama, the paper wrote, faced “stiff challenges . . . from the leaders of China, Britain, Germany and Brazil.” His administration has now been chastised or belittled by everyone from the Supreme Leader of Iran to the finance minister of Germany to the president of France to the dictator of Syria. What does it mean for global order when the world figures out that the U.S. president is someone who’s willing to take no for an answer?

The answer is that the United States becomes Europe. Except on a handful of topics, like trade and foreign aid, the foreign policy of the European Union, and that of most of its constituent states, amounts to a kind of diplomatic air guitar: furious motion, considerable imagination, but neither sound nor effect. When a European leader issues a stern demarche toward, say, Burma or Russia, nobody notices. And nobody cares.

If the U.S. were to become another Europe—not out of diminished power, but out of a diminished will to assert its power—there would surely never be another Iraq war. That prospect would probably delight some readers of this column. It would also probably mean more fondness for the U.S. in some quarters where it is now often suspected. Vancouver, say, or the Parisian left bank. And that would gladden hearts from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side.

But it would mean other things, too. The small and distant abuses of power, would grow bolder and more frequent. America’s exhortations for restraint or decency would seem cheaper. Multipolarity is a theory that, inevitably, leads to old-fashioned spheres of influence. It has little regard for small states: Taiwan, Mongolia, Israel, Georgia, Latvia, Costa Rica. The romance of the balance of power might have made sense when one empire was, more or less, as despotic as the next. It is less morally compelling when the choice is between democracy and Putinism, as it is today for Ukraine.

We are now at risk of entering a period—perhaps a decade, perhaps a half-century—of global disorder, brought about by a combination of weaker U.S. might and even weaker U.S. will. The last time we saw something like it was exactly a century ago. Winston Churchill wrote a book about it: “The World Crisis, 1911-1918.” Available in paperback. Worth reading today.

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