Americans for de-globalization

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, June 19, 2012

 

fter two decades leading globalization in the world, Americans seem inclined to isolate themselves from the world. In a context of economic uncertainty and given the declining influence of the US in world affairs, many Americans believe that they would be better off no longer exercising its role as the world’s only superpower. The 2012 presidential election will test the ability of American political leaders to convince their electorate that it is in the best interest of the US to remain strongly engaged in promoting free market policies and democratic principles around the world.

 

When the US emerged victorious from the Cold War, Americans felt confident that the values most strongly advocated by their country would permeate all world societies. The promotion of market-friendly policies and democratic principles became the guiding principle of American foreign policy.

 

By signing free trade agreements and promoting world trade, the US sought to expand its influence to the entire world. Under the George H. Bush and Clinton administrations, the US did not hesitate to get involved in regional conflicts. The US has always entered into military action when its interests have been threatened, but in the nineties, Washington also got involved to promote free trade and foster transitions to democracy.

 

Under the George W. Bush administration, involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was justified on national security grounds, but the argument also included the claim that the US would be a safer place if more countries in the world were democratic. The Bush administration pushed forward several free trade agreements. Promoting democratic values was seen as the best way to strengthen national security.

 

With the 2008 world economic crisis, the dominant perception that globalization could only bring positive results suffered a huge blow. All of a sudden, the world was seen from the US as a more dangerous place. American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan generated resistance and ill will against Washington around the world.

 

Although the election of Barack Obama as president helped improved the international image of the US, the perception that America was too strong and that its hegemonic power was not a good thing for the world was already widespread in developing nations and even among some of the US traditional allies.

 

The economic crisis in the US also had important political effects. The fact that the US government ran a huge fiscal deficit during the Bush administration led many to question the convenience of keeping the aggressive military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions.

 

As fiscal hawks began to dominate the public policy debate in the US, support for American military involvement declined. Though Americans still believe that the US is safer when democracy spreads around the world, there is a growing perception that it is too costly for the US to keep its high-profile presence as the world’s leading economic and military power.

 

In fact, many believe that it is time for Washington to focus on solving domestic problems and to pay less attention to what happens abroad. Either because some Americans are in favour of reducing fiscal spending to balance the budget or because others want the government to prioritize and focus on solving domestic social, infrastructure and economic problems, support for an aggressive American presence in the world arena has declined strongly. The fact that there is so little support for additional military presence in any new regional conflict explains the US government’s unwillingness to step up its pressure against Syria. The signal being sent from Washington is that the US is no longer willing—or able—to exercise the same military and political muscle it had during the two decades after the end of the Cold War.

 

The consequences of the American partial withdrawal from the world scene are difficult to anticipate. Though it would be sensible to predict that other countries will fill the void, even if only at a regional level, there might be a period of instability as the new world order emerges and consolidates. Ironically, that instability might end up being detrimental for America.

 

The US needs world peace and stability if it wants to speed up its own economic recovery. The future success of the US depends on other countries experiencing stable and hopefully democratic development. Only with increased trade, the US will be able to get back on the right track. To foster employment, the US must promote exports and expand markets around the world.

 

Unfortunately, as the US prepares for the official start of its presidential campaign season, there will be strong popular pressure on presidential candidates to advocate de-globalization views and policies. Elections are always decided on domestic affairs rather than foreign policy issues.

 

Yet, America is already more globalized than ever before. The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates will do a disservice to their own country if they embrace isolationist and protectionist policies. De-globalization is a recipe for failure, even it is seems to be a popular campaign issue for the upcoming elections.