An America that once waged a global “war on terror” and sought to democratise the Muslim world is turning inwards, if not retrenching
The world that the West built after the attack on Pearl Harbour is cracking, not least because America is lukewarm about preserving it
USS Arizona, a battleship destroyed during Japan’s surprise attack on December 7th 1941; most of the 1,177 sailors who perished on board remain entombed in the wreck. At the other end, theUSS Missourilooms above the tree-line with its imposing 16-inch guns. It was on her deck that General Douglas MacArthur accepted the formal surrender of imperial Japan, ending the war.
“The ships are the book-ends of the war,” notes James Neuman, the official historian of the naval base at Pearl Harbour. “Their legacy is with us every single day.” Families of deceased veterans still come to scatter their ashes in the waters. Some 30 survivors of the attack will attend a ceremony this week to mark its 80th anniversary.
The “date which will live in infamy”, as Franklin Roosevelt called it, transformed America’s place in the world. The country abandoned isolationism and, with “righteous might”, entered the war in the Pacific. Four days later Hitler declared war on America, ensuring that it would join the war in Europe. Victory in the global conflict, hastened by the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, established America as the world’s dominant power, which would go on to defeat the Soviet Union in the cold war. headtopics.com
These days the liberal global order that America and its allies built over decades is breaking down, not least because successive American presidents have lost faith in one or other of its tenets. Barack Obama drew a red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons but declined to enforce it; he withdrew from Iraq in 2011 only to return when jihadists filled the vacuum. Donald Trump embraced dictators, threatened to forsake allies and sought to dismantle the international institutions and norms that America had long fostered. Joe Biden, after proclaiming “America is back”, withdrew chaotically from Afghanistan, barely consulting allies. His “foreign policy for the middle class” is Trump-like in its protectionism. What is more, Mr Trump still dominates the Republican party and may be back in the White House in 2025. An America that once waged a global “war on terror” and sought to democratise the Muslim world is turning inwards, if not retrenching.
Echoes of the interwar years are multiplying. Many countries are suffering from a pandemic, economic malaise and political discontent. Conflicts loom. In Europe a revanchist power, Russia, rather than Nazi Germany, is massing troops and menacing a neighbour—Ukraine. In Asia a rising power, China rather than imperial Japan, is arming for a possible invasion—of Taiwan. It is seeking to displace the United States in the name of Asia for Asians. And the idea of enforcing arms control as a means of preserving the peace is proving as difficult as it did in the 1930s, with Iran and North Korea resisting efforts to rein in their nuclear programmes.
Another reverberation from the past is the emergence of an American school of thought advocating “restraint” in foreign policy. This is not 1930s-style isolationism. Present-day restrainers accept that America was right to fight the Axis powers, but they urge it to stop chasing “global supremacy”.
Admittedly, much is different from eight decades ago. The spread of nuclear weapons makes great-power conflict more terrifying and less likely. The configuration of global alliances has shifted; Japan and Germany are firmly in the American camp; China and Russia are moving closer together. And after decades of globalisation, the world is more interdependent economically. Even so, America’s self-doubt, suspicion of globalisation, hyper-partisan politics and unpredictable policy-making prompt allies to question the reliability of American power. What is America still prepared to fight for? headtopics.com
Troubles in battalionsAs the world’s great power, America ends up having to deal with all its problems, from North Korea to the war in Ethiopia and, more directly, the instability in Latin America that is driving columns of migrants up to the border with Mexico. However, it is the intensifying conflicts with China, Russia and Iran that are likeliest to test Mr Biden’s mettle. It is tempting to see them as signs of America’s decline. Are the trio challenging America’s resolve after his debacle in Afghanistan? A senior White House official rejects the suggestion: all three are acting out of “fundamental dynamics” that predate Mr Biden’s election. China and Russia are motivated by irredentism, fearing that Taiwan and Ukraine respectively are slipping away (largely because of their own bullying). Iran is exploiting the breach Mr Trump created when he abrogated Mr Obama’s nuclear deal in 2018.
Mr Biden has been trying to quieten things through diplomacy. At a video-conference summit on December 7th, he will warn Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader, against invading Ukraine. Last month, during a similar encounter with Xi Jinping, China’s president, Mr Biden said it was essential to “ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended”. Meanwhile, in Vienna, American and Iranian diplomats have resumed nuclear negotiations after a five-month hiatus.
But America’s ability to jaw-jaw depends, at least to an extent, on its stomach for war-war. Hawkish strategists have long believed that America must be able and willing to use force not just in one conflict at a time but in several at once. But mainstream foreign-policy thinkers increasingly argue that America can no longer try to do everything, everywhere, and must choose where to focus its political attention and finite resources. Restrainers go further: many of them think that none of the three looming crises is worth going to war over, and that any military build-up intended to ward them off might in fact make conflict more likely.
In “Tomorrow, the World”, Stephen Wertheim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank in Washington, argues that a transformation in America’s strategic thinking took place early in the second world war, between the fall of France in June 1940 and the attack on Pearl Harbour. Having previously believed that neutrality was necessary to protect American democracy, and that an open world order could be preserved by international institutions, its policy elite concluded that henceforth these would have to be upheld by American armed might. Mr Wertheim argues that the opposite is now true. Primacy “makes America less safe”, he says. “It makes enemies of people, who then take action against the United States, which then takes action against them.” The Carter doctrine, proclaimed in 1980, is a case in point. It asserted that any attempt by outside powers to gain control of the oil-rich Persian Gulf would be regarded as an assault on American vital interests. America was thereafter drawn into the Middle East’s endless troubles. Too often, Mr Wertheim says, America has done the bidding of Israel and Arab allies. headtopics.com
The prime venue for such thinking is the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think-tank in Washington set up in 2019 with money from both Charles Koch, a generous funder of right-wing causes, and George Soros, a supporter of liberal internationalist groups. Quincy cheered the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “We were very much heartened by Biden’s decision,” says Andrew Bacevich, its president. He urges Mr Biden to leave the Middle East next. He also thinks America should, over time, withdraw from NATO and close many of its 750-odd military bases and depots around the globe. Such ideas have deep roots. George Washington's farewell address in 1796 enjoined the young nation to “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world”. The think-tank takes its name from America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, who declared that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”.
Yet the Quincy recipe is too strong for most Democrats and Republicans. Commentators chastise it for endangering global stability and America’s security, and being soft on Chinese human-rights abuses. Public opinion seems divided. A poll for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last summer found that Americans approved of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but were far from ready to abandon American primacy in the world. For the first time, a majority also favoured defending Taiwan.
Richard Fontaine, head of the Centre for a New American Security, a think-tank whose alumni occupy some prominent positions in the Biden administration, says opinion among foreign-policy experts is broadly split by generation: younger scholars, disillusioned by years of fruitless war in Iraq and Afghanistan, are often sympathetic to the idea of restraint. Any zeal to export democracy has abated. “There is a big disillusionment with the missionary role,” he notes. “They say, ‘after Trump, the Capitol riots and covid, are we really going to tout our model?’” The restrainers’ arguments have been seeping into Washington’s discourse—both among doves who want to reduce America’s commitments globally, and among China hawks who want America to do less in the Middle East and Europe the better to direct attention and resources to Asia and the Pacific.
Biden’ his timeWhat of Mr Biden himself? “On one side, he looks like our kind of guy,” says Mr Bacevich. “On the other, defence spending is going up for no particular reason. And the administration seems to be leaning into the idea of a cold war with China. Right now, Biden is all over the map.”
Several of the Biden administration’s important national-security policies remain in gestation. It has not yet issued a national-security strategy, and its nuclear “posture” is under review. Matters are not helped by the fact that many important jobs in national security and the diplomatic corps remain empty.
Mr Biden’s interim national-security guidance, issued in March, emphasises economic regeneration at home as the foundation of American power abroad. It is long on global menaces. Pandemics, climate change, cyber threats and more are regarded as “profound, and in some cases, existential dangers”. It sees a global contest between democracies and autocracies, led by China (the only power that is seen as capable of displacing America) and Russia (which plays a disruptive role).
Mr Biden has sought to revitalise America’s alliances and partnerships. He also hopes to rally America’s friends to the defence of democracy at a big video summit of some 100 countries on December 9th-10th. His agenda is still vague; action will probably be left to a follow-on gathering next year. Tellingly, the event is being called a summit “for” democracy, not a meeting “of” democracies.
As for hard power, the guidance declares that “the use of military force should be a last resort, not the first; diplomacy, development, and economic statecraft should be the leading instruments of American foreign policy.” Roosevelt gave priority in the war effort to Europe over Asia, even after Pearl Harbour. By contrast, Mr Biden’s priority is Asia, which means that he is eager both to devote less time and effort to Europe and also to get out of the Middle East and its “forever wars”. Yet turning principles into policy can be hard. The Pentagon’s review of military deployments, completed last month, left America’s global footprint largely unchanged. For both restrainers and China hawks, that was a missed opportunity.
Pounding sandFor Mr Biden, however, the unfinished business of the Iranian nuclear programme made it hard to pull out of the Middle East. During his election campaign, Mr Biden had promised to restore and improve the nuclear deal with Iran signed by Mr Obama in 2015 and repudiated by Mr Trump three years later. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it limited Iran’s nuclear programme for a decade or more and subjected it to strong inspections, in return for a partial lifting of sanctions. Mr Biden has maintained sanctions that Mr Trump imposed to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran. But the clerical regime is exerting pressure of its own by accelerating its nuclear programme. Iran’s “breakout time”, the period it would need to make one bomb’s-worth of fissile material, has shortened from about a year to a month or less.
Talks between America and Iran (held indirectly, through European, Chinese and Russian intermediaries) resumed in Vienna in late November. But the process is already faltering as American officials accuse Iran of not negotiating seriously. Mr Biden has vowed that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon on his watch. Officials have warned they will soon pursue “other options”. Would that include military action to destroy nuclear facilities? America has been reluctant to threaten it openly, as Israel has done. “Iran thinks the risks are minimal,” says Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. “There is not much more the US can put under sanctions. Iran has witnessed America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It knows there is no appetite in the US for military entanglement.”
Even if Iran is right to doubt America’s resolve, Israel may yet act alone, potentially dragging America into a war anyway. Mr Biden may want to leave the Middle East to its fate, but in foreign policy foreigners get a vote, too. His hand could be forced by either America's greatest regional enemy or its greatest regional ally.
In Europe, too, the pressure on America as the linchpin of NATO is building, even as Mr Biden would like his allies there to take more responsibility for their own security. Russia has been massing tens of thousands of troops around Ukraine’s borders. A former Soviet republic, Ukraine has already lost part of its territory to Russia (which annexed Crimea in 2014) and its separatist proxies (who run a breakaway chunk of the east). American officials say Mr Putin is preparing to take another bite of Ukraine but may not yet have decided to do so.
At their video meeting this week, Mr Biden will deliver a three-part warning to Mr Putin, a senior White House official says. If Russia invades it is likely to get bogged down in a protracted internal conflict with Ukrainians; America and European countries will impose severe sanctions on Russia; and NATO will be pressed to increase deployments close to Russia’s borders. If he de-escalates, though, America and European allies are willing to offer Mr Putin a broad dialogue about security in Europe, though that may fall short of Mr Putin’s demands, such as an explicit guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO.
Although Mr Biden is extremely unlikely to deploy troops to defend Ukraine, Kurt Volker of the Centre for European Policy Analysis, another think-tank, has no doubt that he would uphold America’s commitment to defend NATO allies in Europe, including the Baltic republics, which like Ukraine were once part of the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, by continuing to torture Ukraine Mr Putin is attempting to weaken NATO by seeding differences among its members about how forcefully to respond. And each fresh Russian provocation increases the feeling of vulnerability among NATO members on Russia’s borders.
Awaiting the big wave in HawaiiUnnerving as the trouble in Ukraine may be, the question of Taiwan and America’s “intense competition” with China is widely seen as the defining foreign-policy challenge of the age. It is the one issue on which Democrats and Republicans can agree, more or less. At any rate, Mr Biden has retained most of Mr Trump’s sanctions and tariffs on China.
Near the hill above Pearl Harbour that is home to America’s Indo-Pacific Command the scene appears relaxing, even soothing. The admirals and generals overseeing military operations across half of the world’s surface, from the coast of California to the Maldives, look out over a tourist paradise. F-22 stealth jets streak into the sky behind airliners bringing holidaymakers to Honolulu; silhouettes of destroyers at sea form the backdrop for surfers waiting for the next big wave on Waikiki.
But the speeches and reports by successive commanders paint a darkening picture. China, they say, is arming faster than most had predicted and has more ships than the American navy. It is developing the wherewithal to invade Taiwan, which it regards as its own territory, and to fend off any American forces that might come to its defence. At their summit, Mr Xi warned Mr Biden about meddling in Taiwan: “Whoever plays with fire will get burnt.” Chinese aircraft frequently challenge Taiwan’s air-defences. Satellites have spotted Chinese mock-ups of American aircraft carriers (pictured) moved on rails in the Taklamakan desert, apparently used for target practice. The latest Pentagon report on China’s military power, issued last month, estimated that China will roughly quintuple its stockpile of nuclear weapons, to more than 1,000 warheads, by the end of the decade (America and Russia have about 4,000 warheads each). China’s testing of long-distance hypersonic weapons is also worrying American generals.
Military types tend to assume that Mr Xi has already taken the decision to recover Taiwan by force, but does not yet feel China is strong enough to act. On this measure, there is a sense of time running out: China may feel it has the firepower to risk a war in the second half of this decade. Analysts of Chinese politics, however, tend to believe the Chinese leader will be more cautious. They assume he will not want to endanger either his domestic reforms or his own power by launching a highly risky amphibious operation. “If Xi tries and fails to take Taiwan, he is history,” says Eric Sayers of the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank. In his summit with Mr Biden Mr Xi said that China would be “patient” on Taiwan.
America’s stance, too, is uncertain. Since it initiated diplomatic relations with mainland China in 1979, it has followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity”, whereby it refuses to say whether it would come to Taiwan’s defence in the event of a Chinese invasion. The intention is both to discourage China from invading and Taiwan from formally declaring itself independent, which China would see as a provocation.
Mr Biden, however, has sounded more hawkish of late. On one recent occasion he declared that America had a “commitment” to defend Taiwan; on another he said the island was “independent”. Each time, officials have clarified that there was no change of policy. “Biden’s statements could not be better. It’s perfect. It’s ambiguous,” says David Stilwell, who worked on China policy in the Trump administration. A more explicit commitment to defend Taiwan, as some now advocate, would be counter-productive, he argues. “If you draw red lines the Chinese will test them. Red lines are good only if the threat to respond and impose costs is credible.”
Taiwan is a model democracy, a vital producer of advanced semiconductors and an important link in the “first island chain”, running from Japan to Indonesia, that girdles the Chinese mainland. Most pundits and officials think that, if Taiwan is attacked, Mr Biden will defend it. Because of this, many assume the Chinese will prefer tactics short of a full invasion—anything from cyberattacks, to seizing outlying islands, to a naval blockade. That would put America in a quandary over whether to escalate, and risk a war that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.
“The assumption is that it’s in America’s interest to have a forward presence and a shaping influence in Asia,” says Denny Roy of the East-West Centre, “But it’s going to be more expensive and more risky to sustain. We should at least ask the question: what would be the cost of retrenching?”
The restraint school is divided on the question. Some think Taiwan is not worth fighting for. Others favour retaining a military presence in the Indo-Pacific to “balance” China. Michael Swaine of the Quincy Institute says the cost of war would be enormous. America’s best hope of maintaining stability is not to embark on an arms race with China, but to reduce tensions and seek an accommodation based on an American commitment not to allow Taiwanese independence. “You cannot have deterrence without some degree of reassurance,” he says.
For all the talk of a new cold war, the contest with China lacks the intense ideological competition that marked the rivalry with the Soviet Union. In another way the competition is more difficult: China is a more powerful economic challenger than the Soviet Union. Many countries that want to align with America on security matters are reluctant to forsake their trade with China.
On a hopeful day senior American officials foresee that Mr Biden’s investment in America’s infrastructure and technology, and China’s internal problems of debt and ageing, will begin to shift the balance of power in, say, five years’ time. They also dream of one day breaking Russia away from China, in a mirror-image of Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, which helped to prise it away from the Soviet Union. But for now Mr Putin seems to need America more as an enemy than as a friend.
In need of friendsIn grappling with a fast-changing world, Mr Biden is surely right in thinking that part of America’s strength rests on its network of friends, partners and allies. Officials argue that Mr Biden’s diplomatic outreach has already placed America in a better position than it was under Mr Trump. Echoing Roosevelt, they note that America has become the world’s “vaccine arsenal”, pledging more than a billion covid-19 doses with no strings attached. A global minimum tax on corporations has been agreed on. And America has helped push for progress in the fight to curb climate change.
In Europe trade rows with the EU have mostly been set aside. In June NATO leaders said China’s behaviour presented “systemic challenges” to the alliance. The EU has launched a strategy calling for “a free and open Indo-Pacific”. This month it unveiled a plan to finance global infrastructure, as America has, too, in an admittedly underwhelming attempt to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In Asia a deal known as AUKUS will provide American and British nuclear-propulsion submarine technology to Australia, which in turn is making it clear that it would help America in any war over Taiwan. Japan, despite its history of pacifism, has signalled that it would join in, too. The three countries, plus India, make up a “Quad” that is gaining geopolitical muscle.
But managing alliances is awkward, even for an administration that believes in internationalism. The AUKUS deal infuriated France, whose contract to supply conventional submarines was cancelled. Cack-handed diplomacy added insult to injury. Mr Biden admitted, “I, honest to God, did not know” that France had not been informed.
Separately, many of America’s closest allies, from NATO to Japan and South Korea, are unnerved by the Biden administration’s “nuclear posture review”, which is intended to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. Mr Biden has in the past said that the “sole purpose” of America’s nukes should be to deter, or retaliate against, nuclear attack. Allies argue that, if adopted, the shift would undermine America’s “extended deterrence”, which places allies under its nuclear umbrella and protects them from superior conventional forces. Nuclear-armed allies such as Britain and France worry they will be compelled to adopt a similarly narrow doctrine; non-nuclear ones may be driven to seek their own nukes.
An enduring problem is Mr Biden’s aversion to free trade, notably the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an 11-country accord negotiated by Mr Obama and abandoned by Mr Trump. By refusing to re-enter the pact, Mr Biden is depriving America of a vital economic lever in its contest with China.Read more: The Economist »
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The right to fully expose, divide & exploit 0p]+] nation of dumbed down woke folk. . America has put forth against itself the deadly combo equation of (Jihad+China+Russia+other Authoritarianism)! And it's fall is certain from where it was...! Muslim world democracy was always unattainable. research the Quran well, it tells all about what will happen in the world, human beings are servants of Allah, fear Allah
Allah says in the Quran that even if they don't want it, Allah will complete his light. Islam will dominate the world USA is the slut of Israhell. They'll fight for oil, they'll fight to force foreign countries to open markets for US profiteering, they'll overthrow the democratically elected government to secure corporate interests, and they'll fight to clean up messes they themselves created. That's about it.
'Democratize the Muslim world' is a terrible goal to begin with. The focus on a 'rival' to American religious extremists must have worsened our internal democracy considerably. this is terrible news 'sought to democratise the Muslim world' is doing a lot of lying for you there
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