Who Elected America The World’s Leader?

In his Monday column, Brooks lamented what he sees as a turn away from American leadership, and leadership in general, in world affairs:

Political leaders are not at the forefront of history; real power is in the swarm. The ensuing doctrine is certainly not Reaganism — the belief that America should use its power to defeat tyranny and promote democracy. It’s not Kantian, or a belief that the world should be governed by international law. It’s not even realism — the belief that diplomats should play elaborate chess games to balance power and advance national interest. It’s a radical belief that the nature of power — where it comes from and how it can be used — has fundamentally shifted, and the people in the big offices just don’t get it.

It’s frankly naïve to believe that the world’s problems can be conquered through conflict-free cooperation and that the menaces to civilization, whether in the form of Putin or Iran, can be simply not faced. It’s the utopian belief that politics and conflict are optional.

Jesse Walker pounces:

Now, there are several strong arguments to be made against those of us who’d rather see Putin and the mullahs brought down by mass movements of Russians and Iranians rather than by sword-rattling Americans, but You guys think this can be done without conflict is not one of them.

The last big wave of these movements was the Arab Spring, and while people have plenty of complaints about how that went down, I don’t think anyone believes it was conflict-free. Except apparently Brooks, who writes as though conflicts are only conflicts if one side is being directed from the Oval Office.

Chotiner piles on:

Essentially, people today have discarded previous doctrines and theories of global affairs, and now believe in what Brooks calls “naïve” and “conflict free” resolution. You might expect, given the picture Brooks has drawn of foolish utopians running wild, that such lunacy and immaturity would have led to a much more dangerous world. Yet surely Brooks knows that by almost any calculation the world is much, much more peaceful than it was during the 20th century, and certainly during his beloved Cold War.

And Larison delivers the knockout:

If most Americans are more aware of the limits of power generally and U.S. power in particular, I’d say that is a very sensible reaction to more than a decade of overreach and absurd ideological projects, and a very healthy backlash to the delusions of Bush’s Second Inaugural. The U.S. has suffered from an absurd overconfidence in the efficacy of hard power for more than a decade (and really ever since the Gulf War), and Americans have been recoiling from the costs and failures associated with that.

I imagine that many Americans are fatigued by being told constantly how vitally important U.S. “leadership” in the world is, and how imperative it is that the U.S. “act” in response to this or that crisis. That fatigue is bound to be encouraged when Americans justifiably have little confidence in political and media classes that have presided over a series of major debacles since the start of the century. That makes it much easier to dismiss alarmism from politicians and pundits, including overblown claims about “menaces to civilization,” but that is not the same as ignoring real threats.