The policy of retrenchment that the Obama Administration has embarked on is bearing fruit. The Whitehouse made the decision to draw our outspoken enemies closer and thus defuse their argument that their own isolation provides the impetus for perpetual bellicosity. Likewise, the United State’s has been lacking in a necessary cordiality towards our historic allies (Britain, Israel, Turkey, etc.). The inevitable result of this policy is that our allies are forced to reassess their relationship with the USA.
The pressure has always been on our allies that command regional influence to balance against the United States. Only a handful of nations (North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Burma, Syria and to some degree Russia) actively contend with the hegemony of the United States and act as balancing powers. The rest of the world bandwagons with the global super power; the benefits of throwing their geopolitical lot in with ours has been self evident since the Second World War. History suggests that this is not often the case, and the tendency is to form balancing coalitions against a major power or regional hegemon. The benefits of bandwagoning are dissipating and balancing is returning.
The U.S. tempered the instinct toward balancing through its unprecedented beneficence and inclusiveness in the post-war world. However, this balancing act requires perpetual maintenance and, after only a few years abdication, the system falls apart. Nation’s have observed that there are no teeth to American foreign policy. Furthermore, they see the next three years as a time to take a gamble, while the sheriff is not interested in policing.
This is observable in Brazil’s already brazen President Lula, already beginning to buck the system in the Bush years, openly caucusing with the standard-bearers of Latin America’s “Pink Tide.” It has become unnervingly obvious in Turkey’s disturbing break with America. Ankara had been repositioning itself for the better part of a decade, but subtly and without the aim of creating a regional block with itself as the center. Today, however, Turkey had engaged in a crash course towards a rift with the West and is openly pursuing the goal of regional hegemony under the banner of Islamism. It is difficult to think of a worse development for those that seek to preserve the global peace.
These states do not intend to reshape the planet’s structure of alliances, but they are happy to lay the ground work for revision while there are no consequences for such actions. If the Administration is not careful, the crisis in the Mediterranean could provoke a significant revision or the complete abandonment of the NATO treaty. At that point, Russia will aggressively pursue its successor treaty that seeks to remove the U.S. from Europe. A similar course could be followed in East Asia. As the new Blocs rise, so will the regions on the fringe of stability descend back into chaos. Nations and peoples that were protected by our very existence will be forced to fend for themselves.
These relatively early but prescient earthquakes in the international system should prove to America’s political class (both the isolationists on the Right and the self-determinists on the Left) that the U.S. must actively preserve the system because history has shown that when we abandon that responsibility the world will turn on us. We have avoided this fate through our own exceptional foreign policy. Once we become less exceptional, so will our relationship with the rest of the world.
In 2008, the Obama campaign was fond of admonishing the Bush Administration for alienating our allies. The Obama Presidency has truly shown the world how it is done.