Daniel W. Drezner

Why America’s Foreign-Policy Community Needs a Vacation

Why America’s Foreign-Policy Community Needs a Vacation

Your humble blogger is heading off on a family vacation for the next week or so to a mysterious land of patchy cellular coverage and erratic Internet access. So blogging might be inadvertently light for a spell.

Before I go, however, I have a modest proposal: a lot of the foreign-policy community in Washington should also go on vacation. And perhaps not come back for a decent stretch.

I suggest a community-wide vacation because, right now, a lot of them are writing a lot of nonsense. The combination of perceived U.S. inaction on Syria and Snowden is leading to a lot of silly talk about how Russia is back and China is back and the United States can’t do anything anymore and everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

I don’t mean to go on a rant here, but this is just so much bulls**t.

OK, it’s not all that. Advocates of humanitarian intervention are justifiably upset about inaction on Syria — and they should be even more upset if the administration is actually doing what I think it’s doing in Syria.

That said, there’s not much that’s new in these laments. China and Russia are opposing U.S. interests? Well, blow me down!! I haven’t seen that kind of activity since … since … every year for the last decade. There’s nothing new here.

One could try to argue that these countries are now relatively more powerful than they used to be. That’s likely true for China, but less so for Russia. In fact, the energy developments of the past five years have hit at a core pillar of Russia’s great-power status. Demographics will erode every other pillar. As for Russia’s investments in propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it’s worth remembering that the Russian Federation is playing defense here. Three years ago, Moscow had a stable ally in Damascus. Now it has a very unstable one that is more beholden to Iran and Hezbollah. This does not look like forward progress to me. Put bluntly, if Russia really is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe, then America’s geopolitical position is friggin’ awesome.

Of course, it isn’t true – China is a far more powerful country than Russia. That said, China also has its own demographic and security challenges — both of which pale besides the daunting economic reform project the current leadership appears hellbent on pursuing. The Chinese leadership is walking a tightrope between not allowing its financial system to fail and enacting reforms that rein in the shadow banking system. China is looking inward even more than the United States at this point.

As for the United States? Every time someone says U.S. power is diminished, I keep stumbling across charts like these, or data points like this one, that suggest that the foundations of American power are relatively stronger now than they were five years ago. None of this is to argue that the Obama administration’s foreign-policy record is error-free. But the administration has gotten One Big Thing right — the rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific. And a lot of the griping this week is coming from people whose foreign-policy worldview rises and sets with the Middle East.

I like it when America’s foreign-policy community is operating in a less panicky mode. So perhaps a vacation is in order for everyone.

Hey, here’s some light reading to suggest: I have the cover story in this week’s Spectator magazine about … the renaissance in American economic power. Here’s how it closes:

Plenty of dangers lie ahead. The United States could get trapped into another draining war in the Middle East. Partisan bickering in Washington could block any structural budget reforms and cripple America’s long-term finances. A premature end to quantitative easing, or another eurozone crisis, could induce another setback. But the United States has a remarkable ability to right its own ship. That ability, in and of itself, is one of the sources of its enduring power.

Read the whole thing. While on vacation.