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Matt Welch on the price of unilateralism. More on this later. Let it just be said that I do think one should distinguish between two slightly different aspects of the problem. One is the public diplomacy problem -- when we do unpopular things, people come to dislike (or even hate) us and our government and this creates various problematic situations. Related, but different, is the balancing problem -- when we refuse to abide by any kind of rules, other governments feel threatened by our behavior and become inclined to check American power (or at least refuse to enhance it).

November 15, 2004 | Permalink


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The two problems aren't entirely seperate. Foreign governments and foreign publics are not entirely separate. Public views drive government views (particularly directly, though not exclusively, in democracies) and government views shape the presentation of information and the views of the public (particularly, though not exclusively, in non-democratic countries).

Actually, I think, though that the "balancing" problem is a bad description for how unilateralism drives foreign states to resist US policy. Its not so much balance of power as that US policy detached from reality makes it very hard for there to be clear incentive to cooperate (for instance, Saddam was, substantively, largely cooperating with the substantive overt demands prior to the invasion, even if prior to the recent round of pressure he hadn't been) on the part of foreign states, and this makes the marginal cost of opposition to US policy much smaller.

This can be seen even with notional allies. Lots of reports out of the UK have suggested that the Blair government cooperated with the US in Iraq largely as a way to get influence over policy. But if the US doesn't substantively cooperate in return, then the incentive for other governments to cooperate similarly in the future is nullified.

Posted by: cmdicely | Nov 15, 2004 6:18:15 PM

If the people of other countries get tired of America & quit bying the things we export where will that leave the average worker here ?

Posted by: eeff | Nov 15, 2004 6:35:08 PM

If the people of other countries get tired of America & quit bying the things we export where will that leave the average worker here ?

And if the people of America get tired of other countries & quit buying the things we import, where will that leave the other countries' average worker? Let's face it, other countries need us more than we need them.

Posted by: Al | Nov 15, 2004 7:54:46 PM

Al sums up nicely the zero sum mentality of the knee jerk nationalist.

1. Americans are not going to stop buying foreign stuff. This is because they like it. American imports from France actually went up in 2003.

2. If Americans did stop buying foreign stuff, this would be bad for furriners, but it would also be bad for Americans.

3. The Chinese Central Bank owns your national debt. You should talk nicer.

By the way, other countries have morons like Al too. They think just like he does. That is why we are all f****d.

Posted by: Gareth | Nov 15, 2004 8:08:04 PM

The beautiful irony of this is that the Bushies want to use the same techniques on the Europeans that they used on the American electorate, but the Europeans just aren't dumb enough. Must be making them nuts.

Posted by: Eli | Nov 15, 2004 11:55:55 PM

Guess it also helps that the European media is not a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party. Better get cracking on that, Karl.

Posted by: Eli | Nov 16, 2004 12:10:19 AM

This administration used wedge issues to get Bush reelected at the great cost of social harmony here in the U.S., I would not be surprised for a moment if they tried to use that tactic subversively to pry apart Europe at the seams.

Come to think of it, they have. The perjorative "old Europe" nonsense, bribing Eastern European countries for their support in the coalition, playing Britain against the Continent. Guess we should look forward to more of the same in the next four. American uber alles!

Posted by: Windhorse | Nov 16, 2004 1:41:54 AM

Related to the balancing problem, is the Do-As-We-Say-Not-As-We-Do problem: After Iraq II, how much standing will we have to tell others, say for instance China, that pre-emptive war is fine for me, but not for thee?

Posted by: Legion | Nov 16, 2004 6:56:28 PM

On the other hand, while appearing to be a cynical, logical, power-hungry imperialist has disadvantages from a foreign relations standpoint, there could be game-theoretical advantages to appearing to be a batshit crazy warmonger with no sense of your own national self-interest. Other countries tend to take you more seriously when you claim that you'll shoot yourself through the foot if your foot's between your gun and the other guy, for instance, if they think you're loony. Unfortunately, the best way to convince others that you're run by crazy incompetents is to actually BE run by crazy incompetents, so the costs ultimately outweigh the benefits, but there's always a silver lining.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Nov 16, 2004 9:52:24 PM

eeff, Al, Gareth,

Americans like foreign stuff when it's cheap. Foreigners like American stuff when it's cheap. People everywhere are remarkably non-ideological about bargains.

Non-bargains and discretionary spending are something else again. U.S. tourism in France is definitely down since the Iraq war. Maybe this is because the Euro has appreciated against the dollar over the past year and maybe it's because patriotic Americans have decided that Paris's charms are quite resistable. Probably some of both.

And the dollar total for French goods imported to America is down by about $1.5 billion for the first 9 months of 2004. The quantities of such imports are down even more because of the unfavorable movement of the dollar/Euro exchange rate over the past year.

Now about that debt owed to the Chinese Central Bank. I seem to recall an old adage to the effect that when you borrow a thousand dollars and can't pay it back, you have a problem. When you borrow a billion dollars and can't pay it back, the bank has a problem.


Social harmony in the U.S. != Democrats getting to do whatever they want.

As for the rest of the alleged "price" of alleged "unilateralism," pardon me if I don't value the kind wishes of Europeans at all if one is required to join in the au courant moral cowardice and barbarian appeasement that constitute club dues these days. It's too bad Matt Welch's Westside social life is suffering but I don't personally find that too high a price to pay.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Nov 17, 2004 8:37:07 PM

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