• Alex de Ramon & Bobby Zitzmann

Should we Ditch American Exceptionalism?

A MATTER OF OPINION: Alex de Ramon and Bobby Zitzmann debate whether the United States should draw back its ubiquitous role in world affairs. Alex says yes. Bobby says no.

I begin this series in the context of a recent column by Alex entitled "Towards a New Foreign Policy." For a full understanding of Alex's position, readers should definitely look to that article. Alex's article essentially argues that we should rethink, and ultimately lessen, our reliance on American exceptionalism as an axiom of foreign policy. I disagree.

But before I detail why, what exactly is American exceptionalism? Alex defined it as such in his previous article: "American Exceptionalism is a broad concept, but it can essentially be boiled down to the idea that America is a special and unique nation that is a force for good in the world." This is a good definition under which to operate. Further, I think it is factually true. As far as world powers go, America has been exceptional, and our sustained presence is international affairs is a positive for the world. This is why we need to maintain our role.

Let's deconstruct Alex's definition. Is America "special and unique?" When we look to its history, especially with regards to international relations, the answer is a clear "yes."

To start, the United States was born out of the world's first democratic revolution. A strong case can be made that America is the first modern democracy. Although the history of political rights and equality in America is riddled with injustice, starting the modern democratic movement is something that America should be proud of.

But now there are plenty of liberal democracies, and I am not defending Australian exceptionalism or Botswanan exceptionalism. What exactly is special about America? The reason why America remains unique, and why its place as a world leader is justified, is how America acted once it gained control over the international order. Basically stated, America is special because of how it exercised power.

Many countries have held immense power at one point or another. The British Empire and the Soviet Union held comparable global power to the United States. China, Japan, Germany, and numerous other states have exercised immense regional power. These countries' hegemony were all characterized by self-serving extraction. Colonization and spheres of influence were the norm.

And while the US has also engaged in horrible wars and subjugation, this is not the defining characteristic of America's period of leadership. Rather, whereas other powers only plundered the world for their own benefit, the United States created a rules-based international order after World War II, dedicated to establishing democracy and markets as the norm. Whereas the imperial systems established by other powers have the sole effect of serving that state, our current rules-based order serves the interests of all. All countries benefit from freedom of the seas and freedom of trade. All countries benefit from the expansion of democracy. All countries benefit from the lack of great power war. The UN, NATO, the IMF, the World Bank, and the various other post-war institutions all underpin the current liberal order, and they were all spearheaded by the United States.

The order that we established is the reason why the United States is unique, the first prong of Alex's definition. And the results of that order satisfy the second prong, why American action is a force for good in the world. The fact of the matter is that the current order has ushered in the most peaceful and prosperous century in human history. War deaths are at an all-time low. There has never been less global poverty. Indeed, the share of people worldwide living in absolute poverty has decreased from 40% to 10% sine 1990 alone. Simply put, now is the best time to ever live.

And this peace and prosperity did not just happen. The successes of the past few years are the result of the political and economic conditions imposed by the United States post-1945. We have defended and supported fledgling democracies, allowing them to overcome the period of instability that characterizes democratization. True, we have meddled with democracy in places like Chile and Iran, but, especially since the end of the Cold War, this sort of illiberal behavior has been the exception, not the rule. America has taken concrete action to support democracy, but the bulk of our impact has come simply from our position as a democratic superpower. Countries can look to the success of the United States and its allies and recognize that they can have better relations with our government if their government is democratic. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, we lead the world not just with the example of our power, but with the power of our example.

And we have also ensured an open economic system by insisting that there be freedom of the seas, an expansion of markets over state communism, and an increase in free trade. Even the opponents of American activity in the world generally recognize this as the case.

Both of these factors, democracy and an open economy, compound to create the peace and prosperity that we see today. Democracies don't go to war against each other. Trading partners don't go to war with each other. Trade leads to economic development. And economic development leads to democracy. A liberal world order is the ultimate virtuous circle.

But the post-War order created by the United States cannot survive on its own. Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution explained in his book The World America Made that: "International order is not an evolution; it is an imposition. It is the domination of one vision over others- in this case, the domination of liberal principles of economics, domestic politics, and international relations over other, nonliberal principles. It will last only as long as those who imposed it retain the capacity to defend it."

If the United States draws back from its ubiquitous international involvement, that vacuum will be filled. China may stand ready in a few years to exert truly global influence and rival the United States. The world's preeminent illiberal power, China is not interested in defending our current open world order. Even more troublesome, if the United States draws back from Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, we are practically inviting Russia to continue its anti-democratic march against international law and sovereignty norms. In his article, Alex bemoans the fact that President Trump has "embolden[ed] China and Russia to gain greater influence on the world." The way to combat this, Alex, is to maintain the doctrine of American exceptionalism. The liberal order, and the doctrine of American exceptionalism that colors it, are the linchpin holding this whole thing together. It is far to valuable to let go.

(February 24, 2017)

I’ll make my rebuttals to Bobby’s points in order that he made them to make my argument clearer. I think he makes some good arguments, but there are many assertions on which I disagree.

Bobby states that America should be proud of its history in “starting the modern democratic movement”. I agree. However, patriotism and personal feelings of pride are a completely different thing from determining foreign policy. Policy, whether a reaction to a foreign crisis or a longstanding approach to certain regions or countries, should be determined by the interests that America has in the region. Choosing which policy option to pursue should be, as much as possible, a rational discussion of costs and benefits. Feelings of pride can create dangerous bravado and overconfidence for policymakers.

I do believe that most great powers, after rising to global or regional prominence, attempt to create tributary states, colonies, spheres of influence, etc. and exploit them economically. This truth holds from ancient China to imperial Britain and France. However, many of these countries told themselves that they were benefiting their controlled territories. The French saw themselves as undertaking a “civilizing mission” and the British invented the concept of the “white man’s burden”. As the realist IR scholar Stephen Walt argues in the article linked above, America is simply “the latest nation to sing a familiar old song”. There is not such a clear-cut distinction between the American-led order and every other great powers’ behavior as Bobby makes there to be.

Yes, the post-war order established by America has been a good one. Bobby correctly notes that major plagues such as war and poverty have markedly decreased. But the causes of these phenomena are too complex to simply attribute it to American leadership. Bobby says nothing of the tremendous advances in science, medicine, and technology that were the actual direct causes of many these advancements.

While war has markedly decreased since America established its liberal world order, Bobby ignores that this order was established after two of the most devastating wars that the world has ever seen. Isn’t a period of peace somewhat expected when much of the world lies in rubble? The Cold War was also an extremely dangerous time when nuclear annihilation came alarmingly close to reality several times. Yes, death became less common, but the world came perilously close to disaster on a completely unprecedented scale.

Furthermore, Bobby speaks in platitudes. I do think that countries benefit from free trade in general. However, the idea of free trade is under a tremendous amount of assault from the West itself, which created this idea in the first place. What does Bobby have to say about this? Politics is a game of perception. Once a large enough number of people perceive free trade as damaging to the “average Joe” middle-class worker and only benefiting Wall Street and multinational corporations, the damage is already done, even if this perception is misleading or untrue. That is why Hillary Clinton, who began the process of negotiating the TPP, was forced to come out against it during her campaign. Does anyone really believe that she changed her position out of principle? No, she was forced to by our new political reality.

And do all countries really benefit from democracy? Sure, but they do not benefit when the United States forces it upon them. Remember when top policymakers thought that Iraq could become a shining example of democracy in the Middle East as a result of our intervention? Ask an Iraqi how that “grand experiment” went. Transitions to democracy are long and ugly. Look at the Arab Spring! Even the United States’ first attempt at a constitution was a mess. Trying to force a quick change that is also favorable to US interests is a folly. If a country is not ready to be a democracy, we cannot ignore local political thought and domestic challenges. Foreign intervention destabilizes the entire political spectrum and provides easy rhetoric for anti-democratic and nationalist leaders.

I think Bobby’s argument suffers mostly because it looks at the past, while my argument looks at the future. I do think the post-war order was beneficial in promoting free markets and economic growth. I also think moves such as the establishment of the UN and NATO were positive influences that helped the world feel more secure in the initial decades after the war. But all great powers eventually decline. Countries such as India and China have been rising for decades and we cannot pretend to be a sole supreme world superpower. I think Bobby needs to take a cold and hard look at the present. Yes, democracies and trading partners do not go to war with each other. But the US is in real danger of no longer being a true democracy. Additionally, if the US and Europe continue to go down a protectionist path, conflict will become increasingly likely. Trump is also antagonizing China, and the so-called “power behind the throne” of Steve Bannon has openly advocated for war in the South China Sea. In fact, most Americans think Trump will get us into a major war. Bobby is defending a liberal world order that, yes, is mostly beneficial to the world. But he ignores that the US under Trump is about to abdicate its role in this order. Bobby uses a great quote from Robert Kagan, who argues that the liberal order “will only last as long as those who imposed it retain the capacity to defend it”. I don’t think he ever considered that American voters would elect a dangerous, unqualified businessman who quite clearly thinks that the US has gotten a bad deal from its alliances. Trump himself has no interest in maintaining the liberal world order as it currently exists. I argue that to maintain some semblance of order, while addressing the very real forces that swept Trump and other populists into power, we must rethink our role in the word, along with American Exceptionalism.

Bobby states that China is “not interested in defending our current open world order”. I would counter that economically, China is interested in defending free trade and many of the economic precepts that the US has promoted. Look at what Xi Jinping just said in Davos. True, China is not interested in promoting democracy; I would counter that the US no longer has the political will or the credibility to do so anymore either.

In terms of Bobby’s comments on Russia, I’m not sure why he mentions Central Asia. Our foreign policy gives it little importance as it is essentially a Russian sphere of influence. Also, the Middle East is already a shambles. Yes, Obama’s decision to step back on Syria invited a vacuum for Putin’s intervention. But does anyone really think that a US intervention would have gone well in Syria? Would all of those “moderate” rebels really be winning in a two-way fight against Assad and ISIS?

Russia is dangerous and Putin cares little for the US-led world order. But its economy is weak and there is only so much foreign meddling that Putin can do. If Putin had truly wanted to overrun Ukraine, he easily could have. But he is not about to risk major conflict with the West, unless we turn inward. But no one is arguing that the US should withdraw from Europe, except perhaps elements of Trump’s team.

Bobby states that “the liberal order” is far too dangerous to let go. He assumes that the United States faces a clear choice over its role in the world. In reality, the liberal order is crumbling before our very eyes. Was America a force for good in the immediate post-war period? Yes, without a doubt, but this was seventy years ago. Was it a force for good in the Cold War? Arguably, although we propped up many dictators from South Korea to Latin America and destabilized many countries unilaterally to try and halt the spread of communism. Has it been a force for good in the last few decades? No. Rather than a realistic and pragmatic defense of the world order, US leaders decided to go all in to expand our leadership and police the world. There is a reason why discussion of US foreign policy has focused so much on recent failures: Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, Somalia, Sudan…must I go on? Try to think of a US intervention or approach that lead to a profound democratization of a country or rapid economic growth in the past few decades. I’ll wait.

I think that the US can be smarter and more efficient about its role in the world. We can be a leader in the world, but we must be realistic and know that we cannot be the only leader. We should lead by example, although our current “example” of democracy and leadership should not give any inspiration or hope to the world at large. Proponents of our current foreign policy love to paint any critics as “isolationists” who are so foolish as to be immediately discredited. I do not argue for isolationism. Instead, we should reexamine our recent past and learn from it. Military interventions and democracy promotion efforts have failed. We must take a pragmatic approach to foreign policy, instead of the bluster and overconfidence that has characterized presidential rhetoric since the end of the Cold War. Surely, no one can argue that a foreign policy doctrine that advocates learning from mistakes, a greater diversity of opinion, less use of our military, and abandoning outdated notions of exceptionalism somehow translates to a world in chaos. Take a look around and try to say that the world is not already there.

(February 26, 2017)

At this point in the series, we have convened around three main issues. In this post, I’ll briefly address them in order of increasing importance.

Is the American world order unique?

First, Alex contests the idea that America’s world order is not just another iteration of the self-serving systems set up by the British, French, and other powers at their height of influence. He notes that “the French saw themselves as undertaking a ‘civilizing mission; and the British invented the concept of the ‘white man’s burden’” to justify their domination. Overall, Alex says that there is no “clear-cut distinction between the American-led order and every other great powers’ behavior.” However, this is an oversimplification.

Yes, other countries have invented justifications for their actions. But just because world powers are similar in one way does not mean that they are the same in all ways. Really, when compared to an analysis of America’s world order, the excuses of the old powers fall flat. The difference is namely this: while both America and the other powers claim that their systems benefit those who are a part of them, only America’s system actually sees countries wanting to become a part of the world order. Of course British imperialism, for instance, was terrible for those affected. We know this because those subjugated by it consistently fought to repel colonization. This can be seen from the American revolution in the 18th century all the way through the eventual collapse of the British Empire after the decolonization efforts of the 20th century. In short, we know colonization is bad for the colonies because people do not want to be colonies.

On the other hand, the American world order — a liberal, rules-based international economic and political system — is characterized by all the countries that want to join it. 28 countries have joined NATO, sticking through a very selective admission process. 193 countries have joined the United Nations, often as the most prominent announcement of their statehood. 189 have joined the World Bank, and 164 have joined the World Trade Organization. Because these countries voluntary join the American world order, rather than being violently coerced into it like previous orders, it is obvious that the international system created by the United States is beneficial to its members.

Successful American democracy promotion

Alex moves on to bemoan the intensity of US democracy promotion efforts, and perhaps that we take any action to promote democracy at all. He argues that all countries “do not benefit [from democracy] when the United States forces it upon them” and notes our failure in Iraq. Alex goes so far as to say, “democracy promotion efforts have failed.” Here, Alex is painting an incomplete and unnecessarily bleak picture. There have been successful democracy promotion efforts.

First and foremost, let’s dispel the notion that “democracy promotion” is a synonym for “the second Gulf War.” The 2003 Iraq war was an utter failure, but that does not change the fact that democracy promotion has been a central pillar of American foreign policy for decades. These efforts have taken place across administrations and through a variety of means.

The opponents of American exceptionalism, Alex included, often refer to democracy promotion purely in the context of military intervention. And while hard power is not the only tool we have used, a number of US interventions to promote democracy have succeeded. For example, in 1989 the people of Panama elected Guillermo Endara president, defeating the incumbent dictator Manuel Noriega. However, when Noriega refused to accept the election and step down from power, President George H.W. Bush directed the US military to invade Panama and ensure an orderly transition of power. After a month, Noriega stepped down and allowed democracy to continue. In total 260 soldiers and 500 civilians died according to the UN. Although unfortunate, this number pales in comparison to casualty counts from protracted civil wars.

Furthermore, in 1991, the Haitian Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras lead a coup d'état and overthrew the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In response, the Clinton administration received UN authorization to invade Haiti and return Aristide to power. After approximately 200 casualties, Cédras relinquished power.

But it’s also important to remember the nonmilitary ways that the US has promoted democracy in the past. For instance, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, started by the Bush administration in 2005 and continued by the Obama administration, works with local actors and NGOs to fund polling places and provide seminars on democratic governance for political leaders. And the Obama administration has used economic pressure to encourage democratic reforms in countries like Burma.

Alex is correct when he says that “there is a reason why discussion of US foreign policy has focused so much on recent failures.” That reason is because our failures are simple to understand and easy to see. Our successes are not; they take place over longer periods of time and normally uphold or aid the status quo, rather than changing it. But they are present nonetheless.

The collapse of the liberal order and the world without us

Alex correctly notes that “the liberal order is crumbling before our very eyes.” Specifically, Alex notes that “free trade is under a tremendous amount of assault from the West,” and that “all great powers eventually decline,” speaking of the United States. Essentially, Alex begins to argue that the current illiberal and populists spike means an end to the liberal order, and therefore, America must “rethink our role in the word, along with American Exceptionalism.” Alex is correct to worry about instability in the international system, but the way he goes about addressing it is all backwards. He would have us draw back from a world order we created rather than sticking through and righting the course.

If trade comes under political pressure, the solution is not to stop expanding trade. Rather, we should recognize the shortcomings of our trade policies and move forward with revamped messaging. The solution to an emboldened Russia and China is not to simply shrug our shoulders and say “all great powers eventually decline” as Alex does. Rather, we should recognize that China and Russia pose real threats to the world order and redouble our efforts to defend it.

And that recognition is important. But Alex misses it. He noted that Xi Jinping praised globalization and economic openness in Davos as evidence that China can defend the economic order just like America. This rhetoric from China is promising, but China’s actual actions on trade paint a slightly less optimistic picture. In any case, despite Xi’s recent overtures, the United States remains the only world leader dedicated to promoting both liberal politics and liberal economics.

Make no mistake, the liberal order needs decisive leadership in the face of the Chinese and Russian challenges. The reason why Alex can point to Russia, for instance, and highlight how comparatively uninfluential they are is precisely because America has stood as a bulwark against their illiberal influence. Alex states that Russia has not completely overrun Ukraine because Putin “is not about to risk major conflict with the West.” This is correct, but Alex ignores the cause. The reason the West has any credibility to constrain Putin is because the United States still recognizes itself as the protector of the world order. If we abandon this position, as the opponents of American exceptionalism would have us do, we would lose that credibility.

Ultimately, I think Alex comes from a good foundation. But his opinion is warped by optimism in some areas and pessimism in others. He is overly pessimistic about American promotion of liberal economics and politics. Both are challenging but worthwhile, and we ought to continue spreading them around the world. And he is overly optimistic about the prospects of a system that sees America in retreat. We cannot take the post-war order for granted. It was forged through tremendous American involvement, and to sustain the greatest period in human history, it is imperative that we sustain that involvement.

(March 1, 2017)

Is the American world order unique?

I’ll concede that the American world order has been substantially different from other world powers’ empire and attempts to lead their own versions of a world/regional order. It is generally beneficial for countries to join the order, and the character of the order (free markets, free trade, democracy) is far different from brutal colonial rule or extractive imperialism.

Bobby states that “only America’s system sees countries wanting to become part of the world order”. But the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept. America had unparalleled influence, at least in the West in the postwar period, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we attempted to singlehandedly shape the future of the entire world. Many countries did want to join the American-led order, but I think it is hard to distinguish between genuine desire and a lack of alternatives. For many European countries, the American order means security from Russia, and likewise for some Asian countries in regards to China. But I would argue that most other regions of the world could not match this enthusiasm for the American order.

However, Bobby is correct when he argues that the “international system created by the United States is beneficial to its members”. The kinds of economic reforms that the US has promoted are generally good for growth and development, and political movement towards democracy is undoubtedly a plus. However, it is interesting to note some of the resistance in the US towards some of the organizations that it helped form. The US has often failed to actually ratify international agreements from the UNCLOS (Law of the Sea Convention) to the Kyoto Protocol. Our failures to accept human rights treaties and the like suggest that the US itself is resistant to tying itself down to rules that may hold it internationally accountable. If we were truly committed to a rules-based international order, those rules would also apply to us.

In any case, debating the relative merits and uniqueness of the American world order says nothing about the future and is not the main argument that I want to pursue.

Successful American democracy promotion

Bobby makes some good points in this section of his argument: of course, democracy promotion has been an important component of American foreign policy for decades, and the Iraq war is the clearest and most stark failure I could have chosen to represent these efforts. There are successes, and they are less visible because they are more complex and usually do not involve dramatic or newsworthy change in favor of supporting the status quo.

But I do think the Iraq War is particularly important in damaging American influence and our reputation around the world, and I also believe that it is representative of the worst tendencies of our foreign policy. It reflects the exact reason that I think that American Exceptionalism is so damaging. We DO have a historically unprecedented ability to change the world for the better, and even a quarter-century after the demise of the Soviet Union, we still have the economic and military power to be a leader in the international order. So, when we make mistakes like invading Iraq, it damages our credibility and the strength of our ideals. It squanders the kinds of opportunities that we should be pursuing in encouraging the world to become more democratic, just, and stable.

Bobby cherry-picks the examples of Panama and Haiti to demonstrate successful democracy promotion efforts. However, I believe these examples are flawed as they involved simply restoring the rightfully elected leader into power, which can be a relatively quick fix with our level of military power. Democracy promotion more often involves long-running efforts to actually democratize a country that has never or rarely had that type of government before. I think those kinds of efforts will be more successful when we “ditch” American Exceptionalism and adjust our role from that of imperialist bully to reasonable leader of the Western bloc.

The collapse of the liberal order and the world around us

Bobby and I agree that the current liberal world order faces more challenges than it ever has to its underlying integrity and abilities. In fact, the liberal order may be ending before our very eyes. However, this is impossible to determine except in hindsight, and the debate over whether America’s “primacy” is truly over or not is actually tangential to my argument over American Exceptionalism.

If we are, once more, entering a more traditional multipolar world, I’ll admit that my argument becomes stronger. But even if American maintains its current economic and military edge for the next few decades, the changes that I propose will create a smoother path forward-one that ensures a respectable level of stability considering the current “flames” raging across the geopolitical landscape, from the possible disintegration of the EU and the continued threat of ISIS to the relative rise of China.

I do not think the US should stop “expanding trade” or “shrug our shoulders” in response to Russia and China. Rather, we must be realistic about the limits of our power and what our good influence can do. The underlying foundations of our foreign policy strategy makes sense, but it has been consistently overstretched by our political leaders. Let me go into more detail here.

Pundits and experts who tend to agree with Bobby’s position recognize that public opinion has started to look more non-interventionist, and that the realities of governing mean that future budgetary decisions will require tough political decisions. In other words, our government spending as it currently exists is not sustainable. However, their solutions involve increasing the military budget even further, and somehow also engaging on a charm offensive to reverse the opinions of average Americans. Lots of political skill, and frankly luck, will be needed to thread the needle on those kinds of maneuvers. Rather, accepting reality and slowly scaling down our “national defense” budget, which in reality subsidizes the defense of the entire West in a completely cost-ineffective way, is the only realistic way forward. The fact of the matter is that the US faces no existential or even major threats to our actual security and defense of the homeland. So, will we be willing to pay for 800 (or so) military bases around the world forever? Our taxpayers increasingly are not, at least those that are even aware that our military encircles the planet, but apparently the governing elite would rather ignore their desires. Shouldn’t the political earthquakes of the past year, if nothing else, have taught elites the dangers of living in bubbles? And isn’t the fact that many Americans do not even realize the true extent of our “defense” establishment concerning?

Even if elites were willing to accept the judgements of the people, as a democratic republic should, they have all inevitably suffered from the distorting lens of power when making foreign policy decisions. I think that any individual who is in charge of wielding the immense power of the US is automatically biased in favor of using that power, and being more cognizant of American Exceptionalism simply allows all of us to realize this bias and attempt to correct for it. As Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins suggests, we must remember the possibility of overextension when considering the future of our foreign policy. He is correct, but I find him suggesting this in conjunction with an increase in defense spending as hypocritical and laughable. We are already overextended in terms of defense, as a simple look at the federal government’s discretionary spending could tell you. The simple logic is that policing the world is too expensive no matter how you spin it.

Foreign policy hawks can always find an excuse to increase defense spending, and they often do so successfully. It is long overdue for the monopoly of opinion on this topic to end. Hawks are more than happy to paint any rational criticism of the defense budget as blasphemous and “not supporting the troops”. Debate is automatically shut down, which serves the military-industrial complex’s purposes just fine. On the flip side, Trump’s recent budget proposal guts our abilities to conduct diplomacy and give out foreign aid. How can we be rational about using all of the tools at our disposal when, hypothetically, one tool is a huge, technologically advanced weapon that dominates all others, while the others have atrophied for lack of funding?

If you disagree with my assertion that we should be more careful about the leaders of our government wielding our nation’s power, look at our current President’s statements on nuclear weapons: “if we have them, why can’t we use them?” A truly frightening “know-nothing” approach to foreign policy has suddenly gained an incredible amount of acceptance due to Trump alone, and this should be far more concerning to Bobby’s side of the argument than to my own. We can disagree now as to the extent to which our missteps have squandered our credibility and present position of power, but the types of approaches advocated by Trump and his team have the very real power to end our leadership of the liberal world order entirely.

My approach for the future is more appropriate politically than Bobby’s in terms of how easy it will be to pursue and how much of our budget it will consume. We can connect the current difficulties facing America as actually undermining American Exceptionalism. Rather than being the leader of providing equality, justice, stability, and rights to our citizens, America has fallen behind Europe and has even been considered a “flawed democracy” as of late. A budgetary refocus will not only result in a smarter and more efficient foreign policy, but free up resources for us to invest in infrastructure, education, and health in ways that will begin to improve our increasingly desperate domestic situation.

While Bobby makes some good points, and I understand the fundamentals of his position, he is too attached to the status quo to imagine what the world may look like without it. The world is not going to spiral out of control if we close some military bases and cut our “defense” budget. In fact, doing so would make long-term sense. Our approach to the world today is often interpreted as bullying and hegemonic by foreign countries as well as domestic critics. As these voices get louder, the defenders of the status quo can only attempt to shout down what is becoming a more widespread viewpoint, as they fear that it may become a new consensus. Resisting this change of opinion is futile: after all, if this side has less staying power, it should be defeated on equal ground as a legitimate idea. But if it has more, as I think it does, this kind of opinion deserves a fair response from liberal elites instead of the condescension and scorn which it has often received. Bobby has given fair weight to my ideas, but he should look at what I actually propose that the United States does in this response and compare it to his accusations that I want the US to “retreat” from the world. He will find that it is not an accurate characterization.


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