The new consensus has been confirmed since Obama’s victory. His inaugural address announced the end of a decade of war and the start of a process of national reinvention meant to address challenges on the home front. However sensible this new consensus may be, it suffers from a major flaw: its profound vulnerability.
If you think the past week or so has not gone well for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, then what to say about the U.S. position in the Middle East? Washington’s attempt to remake or at least manage the region has suffered a string of blows that suggests the end is nigh.
One reason for the U.S. failure in the Middle East seems obvious. The Bush administration embraced empire long after empire’s expiration date had passed. The American project faced potent opposition in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be contained only by making deals with shrewd collaborators with their own interests to serve. The international hostility to the Iraq invasion was intense, and even in the United States the Iraq adventure fell into disfavor.
Panetta’s formal comments and casual remarks reveal little interest in this rich past, no insights that would be instructive, and some generalizations that are distinctly misleading if not wrongheaded.
Turning our backs on the grim prospects for Afghanistan is part of a long tradition. We drew a veil over the struggle against insurgents in the Philippines. A combination of amnesia and speculative might-have-beens disposed of the Korean stalemate and the Vietnam defeat, and it seems likely the Iraq invasion and occupation will suffer the same fate.
What is China going to do? Now that our Middle East wars are winding down, this question has fixated the U.S. policy community and policy commentators. Even aspirants for high political office feel compelled to have an answer. A substantial historical literature offers solidly grounded insight on how Chinese officials and commentators have viewed the United States from the nineteenth century to the 1970s. Let me suggest three conclusions drawn from my reading of that literature. Each is pertinent to any attempt to interpret recent developments and predict the future.
Regional issues continue to tie politicians in knots. Michael Hunt responds to the GOP debate on foreign policy, as both an historian and as a citizen.
U.S. politics threatens to become an endless, self-defeating round of missions impossible with each failure pushing public frustration ever higher. Yet for the historian, there is hope.
Polanyi’s classic suggests we should ignore the profoundly false choice between markets and the state.
Revisiting Henry Luce’s essay on American ascendancy, Michael H. Hunt considers the current era of American decline.
The notion of isolationism belongs to a time of U.S. dominance now passed.