- By Stephen M. WaltStephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
I don’t have any profound wisdom to offer in response to the breaktaking scenes coming out of Japan (as usual, Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish is a fount of videos, tweets, and other on-the-scene accounts), but I do want to make one overarching point about unexpected disasters of this sort. One of the reasons that people like me constantly harp on the dangers of overcommitment is the simple fact that much of life remains unpredictable. To quote the distinguished political philosopher Donald Rumsfeld: "Stuff happens."
No matter how carefully you plan, there are always going to be some unpleasant surprises. Maybe it will be an earthquake hitting a longtime ally. Maybe it’s an uprising that topples a friendly leader. Or it could be a financial panic, an outbreak of infectious disease, or a military operation that turns out to be much harder than you thought.
When the unexpected occurs, great powers need to have something in reserve. But if a country has already gotten bogged down in lots of costly commitments, and if its citizens don’t like to pay taxes and thus tend to underfund anything anyway, it will be a lot harder to respond effectively when a crisis suddenly arrives. Which is why the United States should think harder about its willingness (at least rhetorically) to "pay any price and bear any burden." That’s not isolationism; it’s just what Walter Lippman called "solvency" (i.e., making sure that our commitments match our interests and our resources, with something left over to deal with emergencies.
All that said, a prompt and generous provision of relief aid to Japan seems like a no-brainer, in sharp contrast to the more vexing question of what to do about Libya.
Clyde Prestowitz is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute (ESI), where he has become one of the world's leading writers and strategists on globalization and competitiveness, and an influential advisor to the U.S. and other governments. He has also advised a number of global corporations such as Intel, FormFactor, and Fedex and serves on the advisory board of Indonesia's Center for International and Strategic Studies.| Prestowitz |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |