Reasonable people can and do disagree about the purposes of American power in the world. Some are close calls, for example, should we be in Libya today or is it our business what form of government prevails in Egypt? But some of the calls should be rather obvious if the premise is still valid that America has a role to play in the leadership of the free world in the interest of advancing freedom in places where it is absent and protecting it where it is under siege, in particular those places where Americans and their strategic interests are at risk. One such latter place is Syria, which I would number among the two or three regimes most hostile to America and its interests, not to mention the fully documented evidence that it is more than a distant accomplice in the killing of Americans.
So if we can’t proclaim absolute moral clarity in our pronouncements that the Syrian regime should be removed and support this outcome with our military and diplomatic assets, then what is the proper use of American power in the world? Will we succumb to the liberal internationalist guilt trip that a wealthy Western nation shouldn’t have national interests, much less those that it will fight for? Must there always be a well-defined humanitarian purpose for any use of American military power? Or will we return to the paleo-conservative isolationism as promoted by Pat Buchanan, who evidently believes that our entry into World War II wasn’t necessary? Incidentally, could we ever again conduct such a war to the finish?
These are questions that we had better be seriously considering, not to mention some others, such as what do we do when China is forced by its nationalist factions to fully assert its hegemony in what it considers its sphere of influence in the South China Sea? How far will we allow the persecution of Chinese Christians and other dissidents? What will be our response to the next uprising in Tiananmen Square or a conflict with Taiwan? What about Iran, North Korea, etc.?
If we buy into Philip Bobbitt’s thesis in The Shield of Achilles (see TP February and May 2011) that the world is moving from a system of nation states to one of market states, the system of alliances and interests will be transformed as they have not been since the beginning of what he calls The Long War, which began in 1914 and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. I think I do buy into this, but I continue to believe in the need for an exceptional nation to lead the free world. Does America still have a culture with enough confidence in itself to continue in this role with moral clarity? If not us, who?