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Thursday, March 11, 2004


I've got to go to Lexington this afternoon to give a talk on American primacy and empire. It's for a "Worldview" conference, co-sponsored by the Rotary and University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

President Bush says the US is not pursuing empire:
We have no territorial ambitions, we don't seek an empire. Our nation is committed to freedom for ourselves and for others. We and our allies have fought evil regimes and left in their place self-governing and prosperous nations.

And in every conflict, the character of our nation has been demonstrated in the conduct of the United States military. Where they have served, America's veterans are remembered by civilians with affection, not fear.

One veteran recalls the closing days of the second world war. In the spring of 1945, he said, "around the world, the sight of a 12-man squad of teenage boys armed in uniform brought terror to people's hearts. But there was an exception: a squad of GIs, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever saw to people's lips, and joy to their hearts. GIs meant candy and cigarettes, C-rations and freedom." "America," he said, "has sent the best of her young men around the world, not to conquer, but to liberate; not to terrorize, but to help."
I plan to take the President seriously and argue against the idea even of American primacy. The US should work with its allies to resolve common problems, whether they are nuclear proliferation, global terror or global warming.

Apparently, I speak right after Tom Donnelly, a neo-conservative from the American Enterprise Institute. He recently wrote an op-ed piece on American primacy, but part of it is heavily dependent upon a piece written by someone I've known since we both spent a year at Stanford back in 1987-88, Bill Wohlforth.

In any case, Donnelly argues that September 11 awakened a sleeping giant, American primacy contributes to the creation of a durable peace, and coalitions among states are of limited utility. Since the Bush adminstration apparently recognizes these facts, Donnelly reckons this is all good news for democracy (in places like the Middle East) and bad news for China, which has long been a neo-con concern:
Still, the decision to remove Saddam Hussein and to build something more decent and democratic in the regime's place does mark a new, third epoch in the "unipolar era." Moreover, this break has been reinforced by President Bush's recent speeches vowing to "transform" the politics of the greater Middle East and questioning the United States' previous willingness to tolerate a variety of autocratic local allies in the name of narrow "stability" or Cold War, balance-of-power habit. What has begun is the real test of the Pax Americana-the active employment of American power to promulgate liberal political principles and thereby fashion an enduring peace...

This final point seems as obvious today as in 1999; yes, Chinese economic and military strength has continued to grow. And, especially in the particular case of a decapitating strike on Taiwan, the People's Liberation Army can make a U.S. response very challenging. But the overall strategic balance between the United States and China is probably shifting away from Beijing. In a "globalized" world, the distinction between regional and global power is increasingly illusory, making it difficult for Beijing to maintain its own private sphere of influence independent from the overarching Pax Americana.
More on my response when I get back.

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