The Problem With Calls For “American Leadership”…Who Exactly Are The Followers?
As Speaker of the House John Boehner succinctly put it, “A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk”. It’s not often that I quote the Speaker approvingly but that quote nicely sums up the problem with the right’s constant calls for a more robust form of “American leadership” around the world.
But which countries are screaming to be led?
In the Mideast, the Israelis don’t want to be “led” to a force peace with the Palestinians. The Saudis don’t want to be “led” in their efforts to dominate the Sunni nations around the Persian Gulf. What both want is for America to carry the burden of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The story is the same in Asia. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and others want American security guarantees from an expansionist China but in other areas, they have their own interests and policy prescriptions.
There’s no sign that India, a major emerging regional power, has any interest in American leadership or even security guarantees against China or Pakistan.
Does anyone think Brazil is interested “American leadership” on how to exploit and profit from its energy resources?
And in Europe where the once was American leadership (for a very brief time following WWII), “old Europe” is clearly uninterested in “American leadership” on any number of issues from economics to defense to dealing with Russia. Granted, in the “new Europe” there are countries that are interested in being seen as reliable partners and friends to the United States. From its participation in Iraq, a willingness to host missile defense bases and CIA black sites, Poland has stood out and been badly used by this administration. But at its heart, Poland’s interests are in security guarantees from a resurgent Russia.
It’s in Russia where calls for “strong American leadership” seem the most ridiculous. During the run up to the Iraq War France and Germany didn’t see fit to be led by George W. Bush (a man the “leadership” brigade would certainly call a strong leader) and even Tony Blair’s UK, as steadfast ally as there was, wasn’t simply “led” into war. Remember much of the time wasted at the UN prior to the invasion was because Blair thought explicit UN approval was necessary or at least desirable.
In the current crisis with Russia over Ukraine, there’s no amount of US “leadership” that is going to get Germany to forego its energy supplies. France won’t commit to not delivering the Russians an advanced amphibious assault ship. And even the usually reliable UK has decided that Ukraine isn’t the hill to give up billions of Dollars, Pounds and Euros sitting in their banks, markets and economy courtesy of Russian oligarchs.
Another example from the Bush years to demonstrate how amenable our ersatz followers are to our “leadership” is Iran.
The Bush administration made it clear they were interested in dealing with the Iranian regime but our European followers got us bogged down in a series of debates and processes at the UN (P5+1) and the IAEA. They ran out the clock on Bush (and were assisted by a mendacious National Intelligence Estimate).
If invoking “America leadership” were all that were necessary to get the world to fall in line, surely George W. Bush was the man to do it
People who talk about wanting “American leadership” aren’t using leadership in the traditional sense of influencing others to pursue a common goal. What they are really saying is they want America to take on the burdens of dealing with whatever problem they want solved. From Europe to Asia and South America to the Mideast, countries don’t want America telling what to do, they want us to come running when they call (you don’t consider the police or fire department your leaders do you? You just call 911 and expect them to show up and solve the problem). They also want to tell us how to solve their problems and reserve the right to complain the entire time we are doing it.
Others want “America to lead” as long as we’re buying. The second we ask others to pay their share for our supposed “common goals”, our leadership is out the window.
There are arguments in favor of America bearing a disproportionate share of the world’s load. People advocating for that course should have the decency to admit they aren’t arguing for shared responsibilities of leaders and the led but for unilateral American burdens that are occasionally covered by a fig leaf of coalition