American Values Diplomacy Showing Diminishing Returns
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 8, 2015
Executive Summary: The rise of Mainland China and other emerging nations has undermined
the United States' unipolar hegemony. Will the United States continue to
deal with great power relations as the self-styled world's leader? Will
it remain obsessed with exporting its values? Will it cling to its
hegemonic strategy and presumption of moral superiority? If so, then
Mainland China, Russia, and other developing countries will find it
hard to trust the United States. These problems cannot be solved until
the United States changes its way of seeing the world.
Full Text Below:
On Christmas eve US President Barack Obama publicly announced the full withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. This will end the longest foreign war in America's history. Beginning this year, the number of US troops training Afghan national security teams will be gradually reduced to 1000. Their only role in the future will be to guard US Embassy personnel.
This difficult to win, financially burdensome war on terror has cost the United States dearly. Over 2,000 Americans have been killed and nearly 20,000 wounded. According to Pentagon estimates, merely training Afghan security forces and providing it with weapons has cost the US tens of billions of dollars. Yet Afghan military and police combat effectiveness has not been improved. The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will cost 6 billion dollars. If one includes military equipment, weapons, and ammunition, then estimates run as high as 260 billion dollars, far more than the cost of withdrawal from Iraq. The US economy and US financial resources have been battered by global financial turmoil. They can no longer bear the cost of this expensive and risky war.
After the Cold War, feeling compelled to promote its own values, the United States launched or participated in one war after another. In 2001, Bush Junior attacked Afghanistan. In 2003, he started a war with Iraq. This showed that US national security strategy combines both American values and practical interests. As President Clinton put it, when the United States promotes its political values, it is safeguarding its national interests.
Samuel Huntington, author of "The Clash of Civilizations", said that the United States continually wages foreign wars because it wants to promulgate its values throughout the world. Over the past decade it has used its superpower status to establish an alliance of values with others, based on the universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Toward nations that contravene American values, it has often applied pressure, imposed sanctions, and adopted "pre-emptive" strategic measures.
After World War II, realism became the norm in international policy. The premise was that the international system was a state of anarchy. The United States assumed a "world policeman" role and established a global political and economic system. This included the Bretton Woods international finance plan, the Marshall Plan to aid Europe, NATO, and the East Asian island containment chain. All these embody the United States' strategic values.
Freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are generally recognized as universal values for all of mankind. The US adopted these as the core of its diplomatic strategy. No one can object to this. But the means by which it implemented these universal values externally, has often been criticized. American culture is rife with missionary zeal, a sense of superiority, of entitlement, and of pragmatism. These are often incompatible with the culture and religion of other nations. The US occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. But it could not improve bureaucratic corruption or eliminate sectarian conflict. Instead, US military personnel mocked the Koran, and burned copies of it. This revealed total US failure on the non-military level, as well as a wide culture gap.
Since the beginning of the century, the US Congress has been permeated with American neoconservative thinking. Neocons say the Middle East is plagued by political tyranny, economic failure, and cultural backwardness. They say these "failed states" are breeding grounds for terrorism. When Washington policymakers affirm the core values of the United States, they are often arrogant in their attitude. America during the Bush Jr. era adopted a "forward strategy of freedom" toward the Middle East. It frequently imposed sanctions against dissenting nations. Last September President Obama appeared on the CBS television show "60 Minutes." Obama said, "When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing, they don't call Moscow. They call us. That's the deal. That's always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation... We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world." Obama betrayed a typically American presumption of superiority. Not long ago, Obama criticized Mainland China for not fulfilling its responsibility to maintain international security. He openly accused Beijing of getting a free ride from the United States for 30 years. This flagrant “If not for America” presumption of moral superiority has repeatedly mired the US in other countries' affairs, and the consequences have been bitter indeed.
"The United States does not want war, but it must fight wars." That is the consensus of Washington political elites. It is a convenient catch phrase that rolls off the tongue. It also reveals the United States' hegemonic mindset. Compare the outcome of the Vietnam War in the 1960s with the outcomes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. American hegemony is gradually declining. The same effort is achieving diminishing results.
Former US Assistant Secretary of Defense and Harvard professor Joseph Nye was blunt. He said America cannot remain a hegemon forever. It cannot cling to its sense of superiority and arrogance, and refuse to understand the outside world. Doing so will merely squander US soft power, the risk of external intervention, and accelerate the erosion of American values.
Democracy, freedom, and human rights are fundamental to good governance. They represent a global trend in national development. The United States feels obligated to spread these political values. But it must not apply these values to every nation in the world. Afghan President Hamid Karzai recent spoke to the US media. He criticized Washington for launching a war without considering the interests of Afghanistan. Today US forces are withdrawing. The Afghan political situation remains volatile. Terrorist organizations are waiting for an opportunity to make a comeback. This has forced Afghanistan to turn to Mainland China for assistance. According to Karzai, if Afghanistan has the chance, it will follow the Mainland Chinese model of development.
The rise of Mainland China and other emerging nations has undermined the United States' unipolar hegemony. Will the United States continue to deal with great power relations as the self-styled world's leader? Will it remain obsessed with exporting its values? Will it cling to its hegemonic strategy and presumption of moral superiority? If so, then Mainland China, Russia, and other developing countries will find it hard to trust the United States. These problems cannot be solved until the United States changes its way of seeing the world.