Will America Surrender?

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All The Economist's vices of Big Picture skylarking and blast-the-poxy-details bloviation are on display in this essay from editor Bill Emmott. But his examination of America's future as the world's policeperson is worth reading, if only because Emmott has a pretty impressive record as a prognosticator. (Back in 1989 he was prescient about Japan's cloudy future, while the best and brightest were still exercised about the menace of the Rising Sun.) Here, Emmott lays out a compelling case that our "load-bearing capacity," and "extraordinary capacity for innovation and reinvention" make the future bright:

There is a crucial peculiarity about the American economy compared with those of other countries which makes the prospects look good: its relative lack of concern about the ills of what critics call "unregulated market capitalism" and fans just call "capitalism" … First, ordinary Americans show no sign, for now, of rejecting this form of capitalism that some Europeans consider unacceptably brutal. Second, there is a continuing supply of would-be Americans seeking to join this bracing environment. Third, inequality is tolerated—even welcomed—in America because of its association with economic mobility and meritocracy.

Where Emmott falls down (and of course I define "falls down" to mean "disagrees with me") is in his assumption that you need a single global power to ensure the future of capitalism—part of The Economist's creepy habit of urging America to chin up and accept the imperial mantle. The United States already goes to immense lengths to make sure potential regional powers have no ability or incentive to police their own neighborhoods. Emmott notes that since in most cases local governments agree to or even request that heavy American role (and in the cases of Germany and Japan, greatly benefit from it), we can't really be called an empire. But I still haven't seen a compelling explanation of why various security concerns around the world wouldn't be handled more efficiently by regional players whose economic and political interests largely coincide with our own. In particular, since Japan and the EU get almost 100 percent of their oil from the Gulf, why do we, who get only a quarter of our oil from the Gulf, do 100 percent of the work to safeguard the supply? Ultimately, I guess we differ because I don't define a low-key foreign policy as a "surrender."

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  1. “But I still haven’t seen a compelling explanation of why various security concerns around the world wouldn’t be handled more efficiently by regional players whose economic and political interests largely coincide with our own. In particular, since Japan and the EU get almost 100 percent of their oil from the Gulf, why do we, who get only a quarter of our oil from the Gulf, do 100 percent of the work to safeguard the supply?”

    Maybe because this is a war about freedom and not oil.

  2. DB: “Maybe because this is a war about freedom and not oil.”

    Surely you jest!!!!!

    Or

    Maybe because we, humans, especially Americans, see what we want to see!!!

  3. This is a war about freedom? Are you shitting me?

  4. All wars are about freedom — the freedom of one group to make another do what it wants.

  5. Methinks David Barnes has been reading too much Sean Hannity propaganda. Dude, there’s better reading to spend your time and money on — like Hustler magazine, or the Backstreet Boys Illustrated Story, or books on urine therapy.

  6. yes the war is only about oil, sherrl crow says it so it must be true!

  7. Thanks for commenting on the essay. I’d just like to point out that the piece was not really an essay but rather an extract from my new book, assembled not by me but by The Sunday Times of London–and, in fact, assembled from parts of three different chapters. So the “blast the poxy details” character is a result of that, while the book (“20:21 Vision” does have a few details, as well as stuff about regional policemen versus global ones, and all that. Here endeth the self-promotion.

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