Friday, June 06, 2014

The perils of leaning forward

By Fareed Zakaria, WashPost, Published: June 5

The controversy over Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has largely obscured what should have been an important initiative by the Obama administration. The president’s trip to Poland was one more step in what is going to be the central task of U.S. foreign policy over the next decade: deterring a great power challenge. The world today — for most countries, one that is stable, peaceful and open — rests on an order built by the United States that, since 1989, has not been challenged by any other major player. How to ensure that these conditions continue, even as new powers — such as China — rise and old ones — such as Russia — flex their muscles?

Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a serious challenge, and President Obama has responded seriously, enacting sanctions, rallying support in Western Europe and reassuring Eastern Europe. The president’s critics in Washington feel that this isn’t enough, that he is showing a dangerous weakness.

In a spirited essay in the New Republic, conservative writer Robert Kagan (who writes a monthly column for The Post) argues that Obama is forgetting the chief lesson of modern U.S. foreign policy. Instead of “leaning back,” he says, Washington needs a “pervasive forward involvement in the affairs of the world.”

One might think that a country with almost 60 treaty allies, hundreds of thousands of troops stationed around the world on dozens of bases and ongoing military operations against a variety of terrorist groups would fit this description. But it is not enough. Kagan’s model of a successful U.S. strategy is the Roosevelt-Truman administration as World War II ended. Even when new threats were unformed, it maintained massive military power and talked and acted tough. But he then notes what followed within a year or two — the Soviet Union challenged the United States around the globe, China turned communist and deeply anti-American, and North Korea invaded South Korea. All of the things that “leaning forward” was meant to deter happened anyway. Kagan’s main example undermines his central logic.

(More here.)

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