Tuesday, June 10, 2008

All the King's Horses

It's an interesting paradox that American power is so vast, yet so ineffectual. We could destroy every person on the face of the Earth with a gallon of Q Fever or our massive nuclear arsenal, but even our formidable military might cannot convince people that the United States should rule the world.

One scholar who sees serious differences within the Democratic Party is Edward A. Kolodziej, a political scientist who directs the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Kolodziej argues that both Bush-style neoconservatives and Clintonesque liberal internationalists hold vastly exaggerated senses of America's ability to shape the world. Our overwhelming military dominance, Kolodziej says, does not mean that we can snap our fingers and persuade allies and adversaries to do as we please.

In From Superpower to Besieged Global Power: Restoring World Order After the Failure of the Bush Doctrine (University of Georgia Press, May), which Kolodziej edited with Roger E. Kanet, 15 political scientists argue that President Bush's foreign policy has been so hubristic and self-defeating that it has failed to advance American interests in even a single region of the world.

Of the presidential race, Kolodziej says he is cautiously hopeful that Obama would bring to the White House a "mature" sense of the nature and limits of American power — a maturity that Kolodziej also sees in Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Christopher J. Dodd but not in McCain or Clinton.

In Kolodziej's view, with the exception of Biden, Dodd, and Obama, most of the Democratic Party since 1989 has been wedded to a naïve and triumphalist liberal internationalism that is not very different from the Republican framework.
Robert Kagan, a prominent Iraq hawk and McCain adviser, appears to agree with Kolodziej that there is no great gulf between conservative and liberal American foreign-policy ambitions. In the spring issue of World Affairs, Kagan, a senior associate at the Car-negie Endowment for International Peace, emphasizes the similarities between Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's approaches to Iraq, and he writes that this fall American voters will "choose between two variations of the same worldview."

But where Kagan is comfortable with a United States that acts as a hegemonic, "indispensable" power, Kolodziej argues that to regain its strength, America must repair the multilateral alliances that thrived during the cold war.

"What emerged from the cold war was not an American super-power so much as a constellation of open, market-oriented societies as the principal power-constellation of the modern world system," Kolodziej says. "The Bush doctrine was marked by the undermining of that coalition, and an attempted break in American strategic doctrine and diplomatic policy. That all failed."|Foreign Policy: A Campaign Primer – Chronicle of Higher Ed|(emphasis added)
I don't want to get too optimistic about Obama... but given the alternatives, at least he gives me some hope.

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