Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Terrible Twos

Ivo Daalder writes:

America's power and influence in the previous century was built not just on its military and economic prowess, but especially on the belief of many that it would use its power to the benefit of all rather than of the United States alone. But that view of the United States as a benevolent power is now gone. America's image in the world has been tarnished by launching an unnecessary war of choice, flouting international law, and its appalling abuse of detainees. Polls indicate that large majorities in Europe have an unfavorable opinion of America and, shockingly, that a majority of Europeans now believes the United States poses the greatest threat to international security.

When trust is broken, a commitment to diplomacy can only do so much. When an American secretary of state has to spend an entire week in Europe to argue that the United States does not torture people -- and leave without having convinced anyone that she's speaking the truth -- you know something profound has changed in America's relations with the world. In such circumstances, a willingness to talk, to negotiate, even to compromise is not enough. It will take a new administration, fully committed to restoring trust in an America rededicated to the rule of law, to begin to reverse the damage that has been done.

I've made this basic point a few times. America's post-war power in the world has depended in large part on a perceived benevolence and general idealism. As a nation we had a kind of admirable idealism even if we certainly failed to live up to it at times. One can take a cynical view of those failures, or one can at least believe that the existence of those ideals is important. Sure it requires a bit of ignorance and naivete to say "We're America! We don't DO that kind of thing!" but there's nonetheless something nice about the fact that our own self-perception, if a bit of a whitewash of the facts, embodied that idealism.

But the Bush administration has done away with all of that. Instead of ignoring our imperfections we've proudly made them all official policy. We justify these things by pointing out that there are even worse people in the world than us! Instead of trying to lead the world we've thrown temper tantrums at it.

Time to grow up...