In an interesting Wall Street Journal article last month entitled “Debate on U. S. Role in the World is Wide Open” columnist Gerald F. Seib quotes former deputy secretary of state James Steinberg as follows: “American history has been one of oscillation between two extremes: pulling back from everything or getting involved in everything as if it is our fight”.
Yes, maybe there is a case to be made here, but I have a feeling that “this time it’s different” for at least a couple of reasons. One, as made crystal clear in its implications by Phillip Bobbitt in his book, Terror and Consent, war in the 21st century is a whole new ballgame in the post-Cold War era, and the market state has replaced the nation state as the primary player in the arena, an arena in which non-states like ISIS can be competitive combatants. Second, and most ominously, the United States, under the implied Obama doctrine, has shown a willingness, in fact an objective, of pulling back American power from any engagement, regardless of its implications for American interests, as though the application of this power is a source of the problem. However one feels about the argument over American exceptionalism, this is an abdication of its role as the indispensable world power and does not bode well for world order.
No doubt, as Bobbitt suggests in his book, we need some adjustments in our judicial procedures to accommodate the transformation of 21st century warfare, but our biggest problem is the confusion that has persisted since the fall of the Soviet Union over our proper role in a unipolar world, a problem that, with the possible exception of 19th century Great Britain, is without precedent.