(Photo Credit: White House Photostream)
Almost exactly two years ago TWN Publisher Steve Clemons identified on this blog, “The Next Fault Line In Foreign Policy Combat: “The U.S. Matters” Vs. “No, It Really Doesn’t.”
Clemons then posted alternative points of view from Princeton University Professor of Politics and International Affairs G. John Ikenberry (here), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Dean Kishore Mahbubani (here), and current State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter (here) on the trajectory of American power.
Two years later, reversing, in Clemons’ words, “a global profound sense of doubt about America’s ability to achieve the objectives it declares itself committed to” remains one of the Obama administration’s most difficult challenges.
International Relations Scholar Christopher Layne, writing at the American Conservative, is the latest to weigh in on whether we are witnessing America’s decline – or if the war in Iraq and the “Great Recession” will eventually be considered mere blips on the radar screen twenty years hence.
Layne concludes that the United States is indeed in serious trouble and his prescription is for Washington to seek a “Graceful Decline” that involves dramatically reducing its legacy commitments from the Cold War period.
From Layne’s piece:
The United States will be compelled to overhaul its strategy dramatically, and rather than having this adjustment forced upon it suddenly by a major crisis, the U.S. should get ahead of the curve by shifting its position in a gradual, orderly fashion. A new American global posture would involve strategic retrenchment, burden-shifting, and abandonment of the so-called “global counterinsurgency” being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As a first step, the U.S. will need to pull back from its current security commitments to NATO, Japan, and South Korea. This is not isolationism. The United States undertook the defense of these regions under conditions very different from those prevailing today. In the late 1940s, all were threatened by the Soviet Union–in the case of South Korea and Japan, by China as well–and were too weak to defend themselves. The U.S. did the right thing by extending its security umbrella and “drawing a line in the sand” to contain the Soviet Union. But these commitments were never intended to be permanent. They were meant as a temporary shield to enable Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea to build up their own economic and military strength and assume responsibility for defending themselves.
There are several explanations for why the U.S. did not follow through with this policy. Fundamentally, during the Pax Americana there was no need. As the U.S. declines, however, it will be compelled to return to its original intent. If we remember that an eventual pullback was the goal of U.S. policy, strategic retrenchment in the early 21st century looks less like a radical break than a fulfillment of strategic goals adopted in the late 1940s.
Burden-shifting–not burden-sharing–is the obvious corollary of strategic retrenchment. American policy should seek to compel our allies to assume responsibility for their own security and take the lead role in providing security in their regions. To implement this strategic devolution, the U.S. should disengage gradually from its current commitments in order to give an adequate transition period for its allies to step up to the plate. It should facilitate this transition by providing advanced weapons and military technology to friendly states in Europe and Asia.
With respect to Islamic terrorism, we need to keep our priorities straight. Terrorism is not the most pressing national-security threat facing the United States. Great powers can be defeated only by other great powers–not by nonstate terrorists or by minor powers. The U.S. needs to be careful not to pay more attention to Islamic terrorists than to emerging great powers. Here the Obama administration and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are getting it wrong.
You can read Layne’s full piece here.
— Ben Katcher