Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE UNITED STATES AND THE WORLD....A lot of bloggers and mainstream columnists take pleasure in mocking the rest of the world for the sin of being insufficiently enthusiastic supporters of U.S. policy. Each new uproarious jibe is an occasion for much back slapping and high fiving, accompanied in more sober moments by a claim that, in any case, the rest of the world doesn't matter anyway. We are the world's sole superpower, they intone, we don't need anyone's help anymore.

Glenn Reynolds is a prime exponent of this kind of snide and dismissive attitude toward any country that doesn't support our war with Iraq, but yesterday was not a good day for his write-first-then-think brand of foreigner-bashing. First he wrote that a Canadian television interviewer "has blamed 'American Arrogance' for the crash," but today the interviewee wrote to say that the TV anchor was obviously flustered and "didn't mean to be offensive."

Then it was the French: their TV stations weren't giving the Columbia disaster enough coverage. "That's representative," he sniffed, but minutes later was forced to report that "LCI TV (owned by TF1)....has covered this non-stop since the story broke."

(And of course the Columbia tragedy was also good for some cheap shots at liberals: "lately 'left-wing' seems to have become a synonym, in some quarters, for 'opposing everything.'")

Why do I care about this? Aside from the poor taste in using yesterday's tragedy as an excuse to engage in petulant name calling, we are the world's sole superpower. What use do we have for the rest of the world?

But disasters like yesterday's should make us think twice about this. The space shuttle is our primary vehicle for boosting both civilian and military payloads into orbit. Suppose just suppose that sometime in the future we find ourselves temporarily unable to launch a surveillance satellite that's an important part of our campaign against terrorism. And suppose again that the only realistic alternative is the European Arianne launcher. Wouldn't it be nice to be on their good side?

Or how about this from today's Los Angeles Times:

More than 50% of our doctoral engineering students are foreign nationals -- fully 43% come from Asia -- and increasingly these students are choosing to return to their home countries after graduation.

What if they decide to stop coming altogether?

There's more: the United States runs an annual trade deficit of $400 billion that's 4% of GDP. If sentiment in the rest of the world turns against us, and foreign consumers spurn American goods, it could send the U.S. economy into a long and deep recession.

The U.S. dollar is also the reserve currency of the world. It is, for example, the primary currency for all oil transactions in the Middle East. But there is no law that says it has to stay that way, and if the dollar were to lose its position in world markets, the U.S. would lose a considerable amount of influence over the world economy.

Isolationism is no longer a feasible foreign policy, and the United States, powerful as it is, is not big enough to run the world without help. Even a cursory look at the globe should be enough to convince the Europhobes of this.

We can acccomplish our goals a lot more easily within a web of friendships than we can if the world is arrayed against us because it fears U.S. military hegemony. Yes, building and maintaining those friendships takes more time and a greater level of maturity, but in the end it's the only way for us to win the security we seek. It is time to put away our childish things and engage the world as friends and equals once again.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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