The Global Cop Retires

Obama announces America's resignation from the world stage.

In the long record of major addresses given to this nation by its leaders, President Obama's prime-time speech about Syria defied description.  Peggy Noonan did the best job possible before he'd even delivered it:

We’ve never had a presidential speech like that!

Indeed.  Presidents - really, leaders at any level - give speeches to persuade people to support their course of action.  Mr. Obama didn't try persuading becuase he didn't appear to have any particular course of action he'd like us to support.

In many ways, that speech was a microcosm of Mr. Obama's entire presidency.  Mr. Obama can eloquently express how great it would be if the world were a better place.  We should all support World Peace!  A world with no hunger!  A world where everyone has a "good" job with a living wage.  A world with no chemical weapons, and in which terrorists can be instantly and clinically dispatched by pushing the launch button on an unmanned cruise missile.  Heck, a world with no weapons at all, except a small truncheon in the safe hands of Patrolman Pat.

Cue the applause, the official bringing forth the tiara and pink sash, and the strains of "There She Is, Miss America."

Alas, Mr. Obama is not running for Miss America.  He's supposed to be the leader of the free world, about as different a role as can be imagined, and one that the entire world - except, of course, America's sycophantic media - now clearly sees that he's incapable of playing.  The man behind the curtain isn't the president of the United States: it's the President of Russia, who not only can bend evil dictators to his will, but has the nerve, verve, imagination and gall to take a victory lap on Mr. Obama's front porch in the pages of the New York Times by doing nothing more than spit Mr. Obama's liberal shibboleths right back at him.

But Mr. Obama just won re-election.  Barring an almost unimaginable chain of events, he's going to occupy the Oval Office for three and a half more years.

You Want a Multipolar World?  You Got It!

Every world leader great and small knows this.  If there was any doubt about America's declining place in the world, that doubt has been removed.  What Mr. Obama's speech said to the world was, "You're on your own - the global policeman is hanging up his badge."

A lot of Americans support this idea.  For sure, the Pax Americana has cost an enormous amount of our blood and treasure, neither of which we really can afford anymore.  Mr. Obama couldn't have been more perfectly clear:

As several people wrote to me, “We should not be the world’s policeman.”

I agree!

But what does it mean for the world not to have a policeman anymore?  Well, what is daily life like when there aren't any policemen - like, say, the Old West before the sheriffs and marshals arrived?  It was a world where every man had to be prepared to defend himself and his loved ones, that's what.

In the geopolitical equivalent, that means that nations like Japan, Israel, Taiwan, and Australia need to look at the threats around them, then look in their own pockets to see if they've got a stick big enough to beat them off.  For decades now they're relied on the American Goliath to back them up, but now they're on their own.  The armies of those nations are already no slouches, but we can count on them getting bigger, badder, and farther reaching.

What about Europe, most of whose countries would rather play chocolate soldier than do any actual fighting?  No, Russia isn't likely to send their tanks roaring across the Fulda Gap like in the old days, but Mr. Obama's trial run of "leading from behind" in Libya clearly showed who has the ability to project power and who doesn't.  Perhaps surprisingly, the French do; to their own befuddlement, the Brits don't, since they don't have an aircraft carrier anymore and ran out of bombs a few days in.  Germany and Italy didn't even register.

For the French, this is a dream come true: America doesn't stride the world like a colossus anymore, and the French have some weight to throw around.  In the grand scheme of things, the French are generally more or less civilized, so that's probably OK.

How well will the world like it when the Chinese, the Russians, or Allah forbid the Iranians decide to have a go?  The results might not be so appealing.

Imagine There's No Cops

What would a true multipolar world be like?  We don't have to look too far back in history to see: the late Victorian world was definitely multipolar, with one notably stronger power (the British Empire) but a whole bunch of others that definitely had the ability to stand up and be counted - the French, the Germans, Imperial Russia and Japan, the United States, even the Ottoman Empire.  Each of these nations had battleships to project power, army divisions to invade their neighbors, marines to invade their not-neighbors, and all the rest of the requisite toys to kill people and break things.

Yes, the time from around 1870 to 1914 was one of tremendous human development in every way from personal wealth to international trade to science and technology.  For most of this time, though, the "balance of power" was just that: a delicate, unstable balance between massive opposing forces.  One bullet from an anarchist in Sarajevo was all it took to blow up the world - and that was before nuclear bombs.

The multipolar, unexceptional-America world that most all our elites seem to want will definitely seem easier on us.  We can bring home our military, cut defense spending, pour even more of our wealth into pointless government programs and nanny-state pettifoggery as we become a bigger, more legalistic Europe.  We can watch crises unfold on our TVs here, there, and everywhere, secure in the knowledge that they're all someone else's problem now.

Then some nutjob will blow up the wrong place at the wrong time and the whole world will go up again - and we'll dearly wish we still had the military power and experience of the last half-century.  The more introspective among us might even wish we'd stayed the global hegemon so as to nip problems in the bud before they got out of hand.

But you don't win elections that way.  Mr. Obama has not merely kept his promise to "fundamentally transform" this country, he's fundamentally transformed the world.  As Sarah Palin put it, "How's that hopey-changey thing working out for you?"

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

In the modern world every man has to be prepared to defend himself. The Wild West to which you referred was a place where personal responsibility was expected.
If the military force of every nation were kept within the borders of that nation for defensive purposes we would have no young men and women in the smelly rectal openings of the world.
Personally, I prefer the responsibility of taking care of myself. If the nations of the world had not come to depend on the United States of America to defend them against the evils of other governments, the whole world would be better off, and certainly the taxpayers of the United States would be better off.
Peace, Robert Walker

September 19, 2013 11:13 AM

Yes - do we or don't we want to be the world cop? It's a really good question. I'm not entirely sure myself. It's nice to have World Peace or something reasonably close to it, but it sure is ruinous for whoever happens to be the world cop. It ultimately crushed the British Empire and looks to do the same to us.

September 19, 2013 11:42 AM

Power comes from a surplus of wealth. You don't build bigger armies/military toys without it. We have the best toys, but no longer have the surplus of wealth to fund them. China and Russia and the oil sheiks do. They cannot easily duplicate the research that build our toys, but that knowledge is for sale if you know the right people. (See our sale of missile technology to the Chinese for political donations to Clinton, or the sale of Japanese machining tools to build silent propeller blades for Russian submarines.) We have a few technologies left that still form a slight wall of defense. Our enemies cannot match the jet engines of our F22 and F35 fighters, and our stealth technology is still a few years ahead of theirs as is our drone and cruse missile technology. But don't expect that to last. Their spies are everywhere trying to pick up those technologies, and our politicians, who don't believe in defending America, need the money for their campaigns.

September 19, 2013 11:45 AM

Patience, The government of this nation has been playing world cop and has been involved in someone else's war since 1946. The idea was to promote and provide stability. We have become more unstable as the decades fly by, and those in the government are too blind to see that.

SparkyVA, If the military might of the United States of America were devoted only to defensive measures, we wouldn't need all of that great and wondrous technology that is being used to spy on us. The fear that gives birth to the technology that can be used to murder and maim would not be necessary if we only defended our own borders and coastlines.

The destruction of our once great Republic is the game. It is coming about at an ever swifter rate. The killing machines that you seem so proud of will be turned against us in short order - perhaps before the 2914 elections. Peace Robert Walker

September 19, 2013 12:42 PM

The world WILL have a policeman, or policemen. If it isn't the United States, it will be someone else, and frankly there's no one else I trust with the job.

True, Pax Americana cost a great deal, but it would not have left us bankrupt had we been paying so many citizens to be indolent and useless.

It also would have cost us less had we intervened a lot less infrequently, and with devastating, furious destruction, prepared to wipe out all before us when we did.

Instead, we pissed around a while here, then pulled out and went over there, and then went over there a while, achieving very little each time, but wasting enormous sums of blood and money, and usually because some jackass politician flapped his gums.

Now, we're broke, and we don't have the stomach or money for anything. The contest last week was between a historically aggressive nation, often unwilling to spare even its own people, with a leader possessing some cojones; versus a nation led by a man who wishes to see his own land diminished. The result should be no surprise, and neither should the fact that the world is now a more dangerous thing than before.

September 22, 2013 9:20 AM
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