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Strategy & Policy
The Global Vote of No Confidence in Pax Americana
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  • Ellen

    The power of human stupidity. No one could have summarized the Obama foreign policy in more accurate and succinct terms, Professor Mead. The problem is that you and your thought leader colleagues ALL voted for this fool and his policies. One of his parrots, David Igantius, has called Obama’s hesitant blundering a policy of “strategic patience.” This is just saying in the high sounding words of the academy that he doesn’t have the faintest idea what he is doing, so he is stalling. Donald Trump in his working man’s English would describe this as “choking.” Right.

    • Blackbeard

      “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” Friedrich Schiller

      One of my favorite quotes.

    • adk

      With Obama, stupidity is a big part of it, but that was mostly in execution of policies stemming from the worldview that considers the US as the main culprit in world affairs and Himself elected to right the wrongs. See this for more details.

  • Boritz

    “For 70 years this strategic approach has prevented the outbreak of devastating wars like those of the first half of the twentieth century.”

    Or victimized the world at large for the benefit of the USA acting as a modern Roman Empire. The second point of view is now firmly in charge. In the (near) future we shall see who is right.

    • Frank Natoli

      Which of the two superpowers at the end of World War II made half the continent of Europe a prison, complete with barbed wire, guard towers with automatic weapons, keeping everyone IN and preventing anyone from getting OUT?

      • Tom

        That was his point.

        • Jim__L

          People have forgotten all that. Many Millennials never knew. People who were born after the Berlin Wall fell now have PhDs… and do you think their professors were teaching them about the horrors of communism?

          Communism is being fished out of the recycling bin of history, dusted off, and retried.

          We may or may not see who is right in the near future. The West’s fate may be obvious to us, but those who follow may simply find themselves wringing their hands wailing, “What could possibly have gone wrong?”

          On the other hand, Stanford is reintroducing Western Civ to its curriculum. So there may be hope. =)

          • Tom

            Did the vote go through?

          • Jim__L

            April 7/8

          • vaccinia

            On campuses around the country, the nashing of SJF teeth will be music to my ears!

  • qet

    It is not clear what is cause and what is effect. I am a firm believer in the historical fact of the so-called Pax Americana. One need only look at China, which has grown into the world’s first, or second, or third, largest economy under the American aegis even as their military, which like the Prussian military and unlike the US military is a de facto national estate with independent political power and goals, complain and threaten because there is little for them to do beyond oppressing their own countrymen. The same is true of Russia following the end of the Cold War (that Russian riches have not been equitably shared is beside the point).

    But economic prosperity breeds national pride which cannot be gratified simply by more economic prosperity. As Nietzsche said, man would rather will nothingness than not will. Challenges to the Pax Americana should therefore have been expected even from its greatest beneficiaries, and as these ingrates have grown more bellicose, the cost to the US–not merely economic but diplomatic and reputational–of maintaining the Pax has grown as well. The Pax’s time may have come and gone for historical reasons having nothing to do with the views and policies of Obama or Trump, in which case their actions and proposals may be more correct than a simple “stay the course” would be.

    Also, it must not be forgotten that the USSR was a key component of the Pax Americana, strange as that may seem. The Pax Americana evolved in a bipolar world and is ill suited to the changed environment. The strictly binary competition between the erstwhile “superpowers” imposed practical bounds on regional conflict as well as on the superpowers themselves. During the USSR era, the US would never have invaded Iraq, nor would such a thing as ISIS have developed to the point it has.

  • Frank Natoli

    The world hated America because GWB the “cowboy” acted unilaterally. And now the world has despaired of America because BHO is an empty suit. Can’t seem to please the world, can we?

  • Pete

    Hogwash, Mead.

    The time for putting America first is long overdue.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama is the Worst President in American History. The Power vacuum he has created is encouraging all of America’s enemies, and done serious damage to the trust of America’s allies. If it weren’t for Obama’s weakness, the aggressive military threats of Russia, China, Iran, etc., would not have arisen. It is under Obama’s watch that Russia has attacked Ukraine, that China has invaded the South China sea, and the damage being done by the backward and barbaric Islamic Culture has risen to 32,000 Murdered, and many more people Raped, Robbed, and Enslaved in 2015. If there is anyone to blame for the loss of confidence in the Pax Americana, it is those that voted twice for Obama because of the color of his skin rather than the content of his character.

  • WigWag

    I’m sorry to break it to you, Professor Mead, but the Pax Americana that you’re celebrating is little more than a “blue model” world order on steroids. It’s hierarchical, it’s hypercentralized, it’s inefficient, it’s expensive, it inhibits innovation and it hinders self-reliance. Most importantly, whether you like it or not, it’s toast.

    And speaking of your favorite topic, has the thought occurred to you that if you’re right, and what what we are really experiencing is blue model sclerosis, then the ability of the United States to finance the Pax Americana might be eroding?

    You are quite eloquent in describing the virtues of the blue model world order that you are so fond of. You’re right, for decades the Pax Americana benefited the United States as much or more than it benefited the rest of the world. And you’re also right when you suggest that it still benefits the United States. What you’re wrong about is your failure to understand that the benefits that accrue to the United States increasingly flow to a small sliver of American society while the disadvantages of the system increasingly accrue to an ever-growing sector of American society.

    Who exactly is it, Professor Mead who bears the brunt of policing the world system that you celebrate? How many sons and daughters of hedge fund executives risk having their limbs blown off in the mostly senseless wars our bipartisan elites have delivered to us? How many sons and daughters of the Bard faculty or Hudson Institute scholars have returned to this country in body bags? It’s not just about the financial costs that you talk about in your post; there’s also a cost in blood and tears the Pax Americana imposes on Americans that you neglect to mention. That cost is borne neither fairly nor equitably.

    You’re a respected member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Mead; you and your fellow experts represent the intellectual elite of the Pax Americana, at least when it comes to international relations. Maybe you can explain to those of us who lack your insight into history and American foreign policy why, despite the fact that we end up in shooting wars every decade or so (or even more often) we never, ever win those wars. Is there something about the confused and indeterminate conclusions to every hot war we’ve fought since the end of World War II that appeals to you? What is it about victory that you find so abhorrent?

    You’re stuck in a Cold War mentality; Professor Mead. Here’s the problem; we won the Cold War with our European and Japanese allies. Both Europe and Japan are facing demographic calamity, enormous economic difficulties and crises of confidence of major proportions. Without wealthy, confident allies willing to participate as junior partners in policing the Pax Americana that you love so much, how exactly are American taxpayers supposed to afford it.

    It’s fine for you to mock those not as well versed in history as you are but perhaps you should remember that the unipolar world we currently enjoy has only been around for about 30 years; it’s the wink of an eye. The idea that the world order that’s been around since 1989 would be sustainable forever can only be called foolish.

    The American nuclear umbrella that shelters Japan and South Korea was implemented before China had a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and before North Korea had ICBMs (soon to be nuclear tipped). At the time we extended that umbrella to our allies, it was cost-free for us to do that. It’s no longer cost-free. We now face the very real prospect that millions of Americans living on the West Coast could be obliterated if we respond to a nuclear attack on Japan or South Korea. In light of this, isn’t Donald Trump right. Given the changed circumstances shouldn’t we at least have a debate on this topic?

    NATO was one of the most important facets of the Pax Americana. I know it may have escaped your notice, Professor Mead, but it’s not just Obama and Trump complaining about free-riding by our NATO allies; it was Bob Gates, Leon Panetta and numerous American Generals. The difference is that all they ever do is complain; there’s a chance at least that Trump might actually do something about it.

    The EU has a population of 500 million and is (collectively) the largest economy in the world. Two EU members (France and the United Kingdom) have their own nuclear arsenals. Is it really too much to ask them to protect themselves from a has-been superpower with no industrial base, an impoverished population, seething and hate-filled minorities and the economy of a small third world country?

    You can rave all you want about the benefits that the Pax Anericana bestows on the United States. The downside can be seen by any traveler flying in and out of La Guardia and in and out of Berlin, Paris or, for that matter, Copenhagen. While we spend our money defending Europe, our erstwhile allies spend their money on infrastructure. I’m sorry to break it to you, Professor Mead, but we’re saps.

    I know you don’t have very much sympathy for the working class stiff watching his life collapse as his job is shipped to Mexico or Asia, but the Pax Americana you love so much isn’t helping him a bit.

    It’s helping to ruin his life and the lives of his children.

    • Anthony

      “It’s little wonder that those of us who earn our keep sitting on our ever-expanding tuchases are fine with the status quo. For those who have to really work for a living and live with the fear that they’re one pink slip away from disaster, Pax Americana may just look a little less pristine.”

      WigWag, your ruminations require honest and frank consideration and though our country and foreign policy has traveled a long way since John Quincy Adams, his formulation remains a sound basis for contemplation of American Geopolitics (Pax Americana).

      Adams: “The world’s nations, their different characters and concerns would be kept peacefully at arm’s length and would be interesting in proportion to their proximity to our borders. Americans would not interfere in other peoples’ business and make very sure that they did not interfere in ours.”

      Now, certainly in 21st century (2016…) said formula requires moderation but the paradigm of three rules (identity and interests, confine troublesome forces, and what’s nearest is dearest) ties into your overall critique in my estimation. More poignantly, you infer that the Cold War’s biggest legacy is the class who imagines themselves entitled by expertise to conduct America’s business of war and peace (Pax Americana) injecting the costs on other Americans with little regard for their interest – there you’re definitely on to an National Security Establishment trait.

      As some wise fellow opines: “What is our business?”

    • Anthony

      Something for your eyes:’s-wisdom-donald-trump

    • Gene

      Hell, let’s go full America First; no more military spending, shut down trade, put Bernie in charge. What could possibly go wrong? Think you’re gonna get the world you want out of that?

      Wigwag, you’re one of the smartest commenters here & I usually agree with you but I think you’ve let bitterness sway you too much today.

      • WigWag

        Gene, there’s plenty of middle ground between “full America first” and the situation we face today where the United States is being taken advantage of by almost all of our erstwhile allies.

        Probably the most important advantage of the Pax Americana is the status of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency. That status has put the United States in the position of being able to wrack up enormous debt with virtually no threat of default or a collapse in the value of our currency. Of course a significant proportion of that debt is spent on the enormous costs of policing the world.

        What our country needs is a better deal. We need to do what other countries do; look out for the interests of our workers. The situation has evolved where the benefits of the Pax Americans for American workers has collapsed while the benefits to the greedy elite who run America continue unabated.

        It may not be time to abandon the Pax Americana, but it’s long past time to renegotiate its terms.

        Ironically, love him or hate him, the only presidential candidate to put this issue on the table is Donald Trump. His willingness to do so has so infuriated American elites that they’ve gone off the deep end. Thsts why commentators like Walter Russell Mead can only lob invectives Trump’s way. They don’t want to address the legitimate issues that only he is bringing up because they fear that addressing those issues legitimizes the debate.

        Let me mention one analogy. The black underclass represents a major problem not only to the unfortunate members of that class but also to society at large. One possible reason for this is white racism. But there are other possible causes, many of which have been outlined by black conservatives. The left would rather not engage in a debate about the causes of black poverty so they shut off debate by accusing anyone who brings up the conservative critique of racism. That’s what political correctness is all about.

        During this presidential season American elites including many of the academic and journalistic elites who write for this magazine are taking a page from the politically correct handbook. They desperately want to avoid a debate about whether the Pax Americana is still viable. The idea that decades after the end of the Cold War NATO may need to be rethought is horrifying to them. The idea that Japan and South Korea might be as responsible if they had nuclear weapons as Pakistan is a thought they can’t abide. So what’s their solution? They hope that if they throw everything including the kitchen sink at Trump as his “low-information” supporters that they can avoid a debate about the status quo that they cling to with all the passion of an angry two year-old clinging to his security blanket.

        Cruz, Clinton and Kasich are all status quo candidates. Sanders is a moron; he’s a one hit wonder. If you like the status quo, pick one.

        By the way, thank you for the nice words you said about me.

        • vaccinia

          Now Trumps platforms do have serious issues, of this I have no doubt. But, as you mentioned, he is the only candidate willing to take a fresh look (on issues that are not so fresh as well) at a wide variety of sacred cows. His FU to the social justice fascists who are attempting to institute Newspeak is an added bonus…..

        • toumanbeg

          That vitriol is fear based. They fear losing control. They fear facing the reality that they are not and never have been in control. That reality also includes losing the war of ideas. For 100 years, America has been governed by “progressive” ideas. Such as a central bank, standing army, progressive taxes, etc.
          When compared to the period between 1816 and 1916, it is easy to see that America has declined during the period between 1916 and 2016. Some people have profited greatly. There are more Billionaires today then there were millionaires in 1916. But the average American citizen is MUCH worse off today then 100 years ago.
          We cannot turn back the clock, but we can get a new clock, which is why America needs an article V convention.

  • Jim__L

    Did we win WWII alone?

    Like-minded allies who are willing to sacrifice to maintain peace and liberty are essential. As of today, they have been spending far less. Our own will to spend is not what I’d like it to be, and while it’s good that you’re spreading the good word to change that, it is what it is. Having allies pick up the slack, so long as our strategic picture remains unified, is no bad thing.

    The world is best off if we lead — perhaps with deliberate pauses before being pulled into action, but then leading from the front.

    The world is best off if we spend the most. But the world is not a worse place for a 1% bump in everyone else’s defense spending.

    Come back when you can write “the rest of the world’s defense spending jumped by an average of 1% of GDP”, and I’ll be worried.

    • Fat_Man

      I would like to see the US to return to 6%, and for anyone who wants to be an ally to put up at least 4%.

  • Fat_Man

    WRM: Nostalgia is not a policy. The US cannot be the only adult in the room. With the exception of Israel, and the UK, our so called allies have not put forth any more than a very minimal effort to defend themselves. They have, however, felt free to advise us about our errors and sins.

    The American people will not shoulder the load to defend people who cannot be bothered to defend themselves, like Germany.

    Furthermore, how many Americans care about what happens to Bulgaria or Romania? Really? Do you think you could get Congress to approve an all out war to defend them? Do you really think we would notice any difference in our lives at all if those two countries became Russian provinces?

    I think we need to restructure our alliances to protect our interests. But, not every sparrow that falls can be our problem. Yes, the South China sea is important and is a real issue, and we should form alliances to respond to Chinese aggression there.

    On the other hand there a huge swathes of the world that make no never mind to the US. The Balkans and Turkey are one of them.

    We can’t go back, we must go forward, and it must be on a realistic and equitable basis.

  • afhack62

    You’re leaving out that almost every friendly nation we deal with much prefers to see US troops in the front lines of their country’s defense rather than their own citizens. This is what Trump is talking about when he refers to the cost of US defense generosity.

  • mf

    rare, sensible commentary on the right wing.

  • Zapedowski

    This article is full of crap. The U.S., surrounded as it is on three sides by two oceans and Canadians, is a nation ideally situated for isolationism and ignoring whether the rest of the unfortunate world has any security framework. All it would need is a yuge wall on its southern border and it can basically tell the world that it’s taking its ball home and leaving.

    This is not to say that’s necessarily the best choice.

  • bscook111

    A very cogent argument for the continuing slow and sure American socioeconomic demise under the status quo. The world is going to war with or without America. We are overextended and unprepared economically and civically. We have failed to follow Sun Tzu’s maxim of having the backing of our populous in our foreign hot conflict adventures. Failed repeatedly. We the people people see our leadership, including those like this author, as self-serving and contemptuous of ourselves. Don’t talk to us about the importance of this international BS anymore, we know it to be untrue in the grand scheme. Let’s do right at home and we’ll re-engage in two decades. If we have to go to big war sooner, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Meanwhile, enough of these CS, ego-boosting, bleed us white, conflicts for the benefit of others. To hell with all that!

    • vaccinia

      I ask myself, would I be willing to send my children to fight in the mideast for the people who live there? I come to the identical conclusion as you…… the hell with that! Most of them are running away (except the Kurds and the Jihadis) so why would we want to fight for a people who have no interest in their own countries?

  • justin bristow

    The Pax Americana became utterly useless to America after it could not be used to smite Islamists. It is a vestigial structure of the Cold War face off. It never grew to more than that. It is an alliance designed to counter the spread of specifically the Soviet Union and has little utility for doing anything else America requires.
    Most of what we have done we do ourselves, without much meaningful help from our allies. Even those flags that accompany us on our missions are actually paid for _by our own budget_.
    Some allies have pulled their weight, they should be rewarded. But most of them have not. I am thinking chiefly of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. We should sever diplomatic ties with these countries the way they have treated us, not maintain the “pax Americana” with them.

  • Mr Lizard

    WTFever just explain to Russia and China that they can’t launch nukes or we’re all dead. Everything else is fair game.

    The new war will be youtube’d

    • toumanbeg

      No, you nuke them first. Both states are run by despots. Cut the head off the snake and that is that. At midnight (D.C. time,GMT -5)of inuagural a B2 drops a 400 Kton bomb on the Kremlin and the Zhongnanthai. That is it, despotism never survives the death of the despot. With both sites reduced to glowing craters, there will be no return launch. Nobody to give the launch orders or codes. The guys at the ICBM sites cannot launch without the codes. Both Russia and China go into civil war as the various local governors fight for national control. Yes, we can watch on you tube;

  • toumanbeg

    The struggle to make the world safe for democracy has been going on for 70 years now. Those nations that want democracy have democracy. Since democracy cannot be forced on a people by bayonets, our job is done. Time to turn in our badge and hang up our guns.
    There are those too old to change and those who are getting rich off the effort. Of course those people have no desire to change. Tough titty, change is here. Like it or not, mo more politicians seeking to wage war on 3rd world mudholes will be elected. Like it or not, America is returning to it’s ‘natural’ position of isolationism.

    The merchants of death will fight that but they will lose. Taxpayers outnumber them, which matters in a democracy.
    As far as your assumptions, none have proven out.

    #1 fails a cost benefit analysis.
    #2 is an outright lie. Proving yet again that while figures never lie, liars do figure. The fact you are hiding is that the USA is #1 in defense spending, spending more then #’s 2,3, and 4 COMBINED. When is too much enough? That wouldn’t be so bad except the money is wasted because it is spent on tools and techniques for fighting the last war again.
    #3 is a bed wetters fantasy. Cowards taking council of their fears.

    • Tom

      If something keeps cropping up, dismissing it as cowards taking counsel of their fears is folly.

      • toumanbeg

        Name that something and list the events you fear. There is no there there.

    • vaccinia

      There is, of course, a more judicious middle ground to isolationism or being the Neocon global police. We can go back to reacting to sovereign threats (as in afghanistan and al qaeda) killing who needs to be killed and getting out. As well as staying out of 3rd world mudholes. A bit of judicious force projection goes a long way, as long as the right scum die.

      • toumanbeg

        There was no “sovereign threats” in Afghanistan nor from Al Qaeda. Waaaayyyy more Americans die every year in traffic accidents then AQ kills. Many times more. So does that make motor vehicles a sovereign threat?
        I’m all in favor of killing scum, but the way to do that is with long range weapons. Giving them a chance to fight back by putting citizens within their reach is stoooooopid.
        The real problem is the lack of testicles on the part of our politicians. If Bush had nuked Osama a week after 9-11, there would be no Islamic terrorism today, at least not against America. We knew where he was, we just could not get anyone within rifle range of him. In the sort of war the USA is fighting today targets are hard to find and impossible to keep locked up. When that fleeting moment comes and the cross hairs are on the target, you cannot hesitate.
        When you live in a rough neighborhood, you mind your own business and the first time you are harassed, kill them. The rest will leave you alone.

        • vaccinia

          Absolutely, cars are a sovereign threat! In my state there is a huge campaign to reduce traffic deaths. We don’t stand idly by while people are killed in car accidents, we try to mitigate the carnage. And so we should with those foreign threats as well. But your nuke them all, let god sort them out diplomacy, is unrealistic. Perhaps you have never seen what Afghanistan looks like but long range weapons are not particularly effective there……it takes too long to locate a target for immediate threat elimination.

  • dmreiter

    Can the US continue to pay for its military and universal health care?

  • Oddstar7

    Two points. One, the sheer size of our defense budget is misleading, for multiple reasons. First of all, we spend very inefficiently. Our military has been getting smaller and smaller even when the budget was going up after Sept. 11, 2001, a period when we were fighting wars where we really needed more manpower, not more firepower. We waste huge amounts of money on weapons we do not need and that do not work very well, such as the F-35. At the rate things are going, there will come a time in the not too distant future when the US Air Force’s entire budget will go to a single super-advanced plane that cannot fly. Second, even if we spent more efficiently, we would still have to spend a lot on power projection. If we are going to be involved in Europe and Asia, we are going to have to spend a lot to be able to support forces across vast oceans. That logistical burden consumes a lot of resources. A single dollar of American military spending will never produce as much military capability in the Western Pacific as the same dollar of Chinese military spending.

    The second point is this: America’s national interests have changed. First of all, we no longer have the same interest in blocking Russia in Europe. Keeping the Soviets out of West Germany, with all its industrial might, was a vital interest of the US. Keeping Russia out of Eastern Ukraine just does not matter to the US; there is no significant national interest at stake there. In the Middle East, the US for decades was a net oil importer, so we had an important interest in protecting the countries of the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. Now the US is once again an oil exporter; as such, we benefit from higher oil prices, so chaos and war in the Middle East are in our interest. In the Western Pacific, China is something of a threat, but not that much of one. The only really vital interest we have in the Western Pacific is protecting Japan, but Japan is very hard to invade.

    Given all this, it just makes sense for the US to withdraw and let the rest of the world solve their own problems. We just don’t have the same interest we had in the past.

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