Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to Carter’s America?: Warning Flashes of Little Americanism

In the last post, I mentioned an interesting blog post, affiliated with Foreign Policy, that raises a concern over growing isolationism in the United States, surging to the highest level in 40 years. This is based on a poll by the Council on Foreign Relations and Pew Research Center (“U.S. isolationism at a 40-year high”; FP Passport; December 3, 2009).

According to the poll, the rate of Americans, who believe that the United States focus more on domestic issues rather than global problems has risen precipitously (See Chart Ⅰ). Also, an increasing number of American public see the leadership role of the United States less important (See Chart Ⅱ). Quite interestingly, the percentage of skeptics on the American hegemony is rising in recent few years. Seen from this chart, Obama’s America looks like Carter’s America. The American public is less confident in America in both eras. There is no wonder why notoriously apologetic speeches in Prague and Cairo are accepted so warmly in a Carterian America.

                    Chart Ⅰ

                    Chart Ⅱ

Regarding the surge in Afghanistan, the public is less supportive of it than the members of the Council on Foreign Relations (See Chart Ⅲ). This illustrates it is isolationist trend that hampers the vital goal of defeating terrorists there, and defend the United States and its allies. As I quoted in a previous post, a former Japanese journalist Yoshiki Hidaka said that American voters chose Barack Obama because they saw the United States did not face critical threats, and national and global security was not a big issue in the presidential election. Had voters regarded foreign and security affairs as the key issue in the election, they would have chosen John McCain, says Hidaka.

                    Chart Ⅲ 

Quite alarmingly, such isolationism seems to be bipartisan. Even though President Obama’s approval rate drops, conservatives focus almost entirely on domestic issues. They need to show visions for American leadership in the world. Some opinion leaders launch movements like Keep America Safe and the Foreign Policy Initiative to reverse isolationist trend among the public.

China is one of the key points in this survey. In the Singapore Speech at the APEC Summit, President Obama declared that the United States would accept the rise of China. Surprisingly enough, CFR members see China more important future allies to the United States than Britain, the EU, and Japan (See Chart Ⅳ). Why CFR members are so lenient to the growth of potential threat to a liberal world order since Pax Britannica? According to the theory of hegemonic stability, when a hegemonic superpower provides the global public goods of free trade and liberalist ideology, a peaceful world order of will be maintained. Remember, when Britain had to choose democratic America and authoritarian Germany from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, America was chosen. The transition of hegemony from Britain to the United States was relatively smooth. However, China is neither prepared nor qualified to share the burden of securing a liberal world order, which is an anchor of world peace and stability.

                    Chart Ⅳ

Regarding major threats to the United States, while the public sees China, North Korea, and Russia critical, CFR members regard transnational issues such as climate change and financial crisis as important (See Chart Ⅴ). This implies that CFR members are more liberal, non-hegemonic, and cooperation-oriented beyond ideology (“U.S. Seen as Less Important, China as More Powerful”; Pew Research Center Publication; December 3, 2009).

Chart Ⅴ

The problem is, neither the public nor CFR experts are reluctant to assume imperial mission of American predominance in the world. It is not only the Obama administration, but also the public opinion in current United States is dangerously Carterian.

Global public opinion may prefer calm and conciliatory diplomacy by the Obama administration to high handed moralistic approach by the Bush administration. However, none of other great powers are willing to share the burden of a global policeman (“The Quiet American”; Economist; November 26, 2009).

It seems that global political economy with Obama’s America is moving toward a Carterian world. The cost of blaming a Strong America will be enormous. Illiberal powers like Russia and China will exert more negative influence to undermine a liberal world order. Global public will be more tolerant to rogue regimes and terrorists. As shown in speeches in Prague, Cairo, and Singapore can a less confident America under President Obama manage the world? If no, everything is gloomy.