Richard Cohen may be showing early signs of senility. But at least he is showing some of his core beliefs. For Cohen, policy is unimportant. What matters is whether the rest of the world bows down to American hegemony, right or wrong. Should the Palestinian Authority come to some unity arrangement with Hamas? Not if Congress threatens to cut off their funding as a result. Does the administration have the right policy towards Egypt? Well, if so, why is Egypt threatening to prosecute 19 Americans. Is our embassy in Baghdad needlessly big and offensive to Iraqi sensibilities? How dare we downsize it? What should we do about Syria? All that matters is that Russia and China aren’t playing ball. Is our Iran policy working? All that matters is that Russia and China aren’t playing ball. We’re weak because Pakistan is complicated. Did we do the right thing in Libya? No, because we didn’t do it all by ourselves. Should Israel stop building in the Occupied Territories? All that matters is that Netanyahu gave us the shrug-off.
Cohen’s premise is that all of these things demonstrate that America is in decline, which would seem to be something beyond a president’s control. Yet, the column is constructed as a rebuke of the president and his policies. No thought is given to the president’s many accomplishments. Vladimir Putin is cast as opposing us on every front, but no mention is made of the New StART treaty or Russia’s reluctant cooperation in our Libyan intervention. No credit is given for the way the administration managed to pull Europe, the Arab League, and the United Nations together to authorize our actions in Libya. No credit is given for how the administration got Europe to impose oil sanctions on Iran. No kudos are on offer for the end of the war in Iraq. No mention is made of Obama’s willingness to ignore Pakistan’s sovereignty to go get bin-Laden and kill most of al-Qaeda’s leadership. Cohen obviously doesn’t think our free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama constitute foreign policy successes. What about this observation from Fareed Zakaria:
If the war against al Qaeda is the most visible and dramatic success story, the most significant long-term success might be in Asia, where Obama has pivoted. Asia is the new arena of global wealth, power, and power politics, and Obama decided to expand American presence in the region with a flurry of diplomatic moves over the last six months.
He did so carefully and skillfully so that Asia countries saw it as a response to their requests rather than an unilateral assertion of American power. When historians write about an Obama Doctrine, they might point to his new Asian strategy – his declaration that America is a “Pacific Power” that is here to stay.
I guess our new US Marine Task Force in Australia isn’t a projection of power.
America is plenty powerful. We’ll know that we’re in decline when the people of our country force our political elites to vastly scale back our foreign commitments and reduce of military capabilities. And that won’t happen until we are in severe economic pain. The Great Recession obviously wash’t enough.
Personally, I don’t agree with many of the ways Obama has projected US strength in the world. I think we’re over-committed and we’re not drawing back quickly enough. I support a robust lead-role for America in maintaining the international system of collective security, but I want us to intelligently and gradually work to pass off more of the responsibilities for peacekeeping, humanitarian work, and even military intervention. We need to encourage allies to devote more resources to developing capabilities for this type of work, even though it would represent less freedom of action in US foreign policy. I view it like teaching a toddler to ride a bike. In 1945, the world wasn’t ready to police itself or to use a system of collective security to avoid warfare and crimes against humanity. Today, the world doesn’t need us to spot them anymore. We built the post-war system to make the world safe in a nuclear age. We shouldn’t pervert its purpose so that it only serves to perpetuate our hegemony. My progressive vision for U.S. foreign policy is that we commit to making the UN stronger than ever, and ever-less reliant on our resources and leadership. I don’t see this as a decline, but as the fulfillment of our mission.