April 29, 2003

Must-Read Nick Denton Colum...

Must-Read Nick Denton Column on the Quandary of American Power: I'll quote liberally; it's much better reading in full.

Up front, I ought to establish that I trust in the inexorable advance of liberal capitalism, hold the United States to be the foo be the foremost force for good, believe multiculturalists to be apologists for backwardness, that I supported the expedition to Iraq, reliably cry at the sight of a fallen statues, and dream of executing every tyrant from Riyadh to Pyongyang. I am, to all intents, a hawk. So why on earth does the prospect of an American Empire bother me? [...]

Most of [the anti-imperialism criticisms] are tired, and empty, but there is a deeper flaw in the American imperial project: moral hazard. A guarantor, whether an insurance company or a central bank, typically encourages perverse behavior. Countries borrow too much, and their banks lend too freely, both in the expectation of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund.

The US, by assuming the role of global guarantor, runs an analogous risk. By guaranteeing the security of Israel, it ensures that no Israeli government will make a territorial settlement with the Palestinians. By guaranteeing the global order, unilaterally, the US encourages the caprice of a country such as France. By supporting the Mubarak regime in Egypt, the US removes the pressure for democratization. With an external power guaranteeing stability, the people of Egypt and other puppet states can never take ownership of their own predicament. As bankers sometimes say, the road to hell is paved with guarantees.

There's much more in there, but I don't want quote the whole thing. Allow me to suggest a new term for the Dentonian policy prescription (one which I generally endorse, with disagreements on details): Wilsonian Isolationism. Or maybe that seeming contradiction indicates the concept's fatal flaw....

Posted by at April 29, 2003 03:30 PM
Comments

Yes, there is a fatal flaw in my mind : there already is a American empire. It’s not a prospect. The US can’t be isolationist anymore. A tired and empty implicit point (in denton’s words) I read too much these days is the all we-saved-the-world-twice-in-the-last-century-and-what-do-we-get-for-our-bucks ? You got an empire. You got a currency that the world uses to buy its oil. You got trade deficit and budget deficit financed at your own conditions by the rest of the world. You got a foreign debt you may choose the rates… The US want to retire from international affairs ? It will have to accept Europe to buy its energy in Euros, it will have to face export taxes, it will face a shortage of international credit. The US spend a lot for its armed forces, so does the rest of the world. It's an investment, not a burden.

On a side note, I’m also quite bored with the self righteous conviction that the US way is so perfect they are naturally entitled to tell the rest of the world how to run their lives. But I guess it makes me a multiculturalist….

Posted by: philippe at April 30, 2003 02:07 AM

Matt, isn’t there another even more likely moral hazard: abuse of power? Left without outside restraints, the awesome power of America will inevitably corrupt her. Self-restraint is always possible, I suppose, but I wouldn’t make any bets that it will survive for long—the temptation to abuse power will be too great for some future administration.

Posted by: Russ Campbell at April 30, 2003 08:06 AM

Philippe -- I don't see things as darkly as all that, as you might expect. For instance, I don't think the U.S. imposes any "conditions" on how people buy our debt (in fact, if the world truly wanted to stick it to us, they'd drive up the premiums on our bonds ... but that ain't gonna happen by diktat).

Russ -- Yes, that's a point I've tried to make several times in the past.

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 30, 2003 10:58 AM

The tone of my comment was somewhat exessive. I was in a bad mood this morning...
That said, and to clear things up, I didn't think of a diktat when I said "conditions". I meant that the US treasure bunds, just like the dollar are de facto economical "standard" for other countries, not by force but because the US debt is the most attractive to buy . It's not a "dark" view actually. It's more of a virtuous circle in my mind. The US involvement in international affairs, the high military spendings, are the "guarantor" of US prosperity. Accordingly, when I wrote "The US spend a lot for its armed forces, so does the rest of the world", I meant just that : the rest of world spend also for the US armed forces.
I don't think the US could retract to isolationism. The cost would be too high.

Posted by: philippe at April 30, 2003 03:52 PM

How odd. Denton attacks liberals, says he's a hawk, and then makes THE classic argument for avoiding empire: letting others develop their own path. Hmmn. All i can surmise is that Denton is a liberal but thinks it's not cool to be a liberal, so he bashes liberals to look tough... In other words, he's repressed!

Posted by: Christopher at May 5, 2003 02:25 AM

Chris -- You *can* be a liberal hawk who wants to avoid empire & finds progressives annoying ... for instance, the man who you named one of your rats after.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 6, 2003 10:05 AM
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mode=red&id=4392">Russ Campbell at April 30, 2003 08:06 AM

Philippe -- I don't see things as darkly as all that, as you might expect. For instance, I don't think the U.S. imposes any "conditions" on how people buy our debt (in fact, if the world truly wanted to stick it to us, they'd drive up the premiums on our bonds ... but that ain't gonna happen by diktat).

Russ -- Yes, that's a point I've tried to make several times in the past.

Posted by: Matt Welch at April 30, 2003 10:58 AM

The tone of my comment was somewhat exessive. I was in a bad mood this morning...
That said, and to clear things up, I didn't think of a diktat when I said "conditions". I meant that the US treasure bunds, just like the dollar are de facto economical "standard" for other countries, not by force but because the US debt is the most attractive to buy . It's not a "dark" view actually. It's more of a virtuous circle in my mind. The US involvement in international affairs, the high military spendings, are the "guarantor" of US prosperity. Accordingly, when I wrote "The US spend a lot for its armed forces, so does the rest of the world", I meant just that : the rest of world spend also for the US armed forces.
I don't think the US could retract to isolationism. The cost would be too high.

Posted by: philippe at April 30, 2003 03:52 PM

How odd. Denton attacks liberals, says he's a hawk, and then makes THE classic argument for avoiding empire: letting others develop their own path. Hmmn. All i can surmise is that Denton is a liberal but thinks it's not cool to be a liberal, so he bashes liberals to look tough... In other words, he's repressed!

Posted by: Christopher at May 5, 2003 02:25 AM

Chris -- You *can* be a liberal hawk who wants to avoid empire & finds progressives annoying ... for instance, the man who you named one of your rats after.

Posted by: Matt Welch at May 6, 2003 10:05 AM
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