Friday, August 19, 2011

With limited power comes limited responsibility

Yglesias, on Syria:
I don’t want to see a military intervention, but I think it would be perverse for the administration not to condemn Assad and his regime in the strongest possible terms. A side consequence of America’s global military posture, however, is that it’s hard for our government to respond in the normal way here... The President of the United States... in light of our bid for global military hegemony risks being made to look foolish if he doesn’t do what it takes to make his various pronouncements come true.
Is this remotely true? There are lots of things that happen in other countries that the US government openly opposes. Every time the administration expresses an international policy preference, is it implicitly backing up that preference with the threat of military force? It's not like a country as large or rich or influential as the United States lacks other means of expressing its disapproval in the international arena, even if ultimately those means are unlikely to unseat Assad. Surely most of the relevant political figures understand this.

For that matter, would the administration even want to convey that all international political developments are conducted under the aegis of the United States? One of the more insidious myths facing the United States, at least from a public diplomacy standpoint, is the idea that everything horrible in the world happened because Americans made it happen. People believe this because they can't imagine that the US could desire an outcome and then lack the capacity to achieve that outcome. The impression of American omnipotence in world affairs has led to a lot of very bad things being pinned on Americans. In the end, I'd rather remind people that the US can be one of the good guys than continue to pretend that the US always gets what it wants.

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