The imminent and inevitable downsizing of US foreign policy

Paul Raven @ 12-08-2010

Via Richard Gowan of the Global Dashboard gang, here’s one Michael Mandelbaum extolling the theme of his new book, Frugal Superpower. In a nutshell: The US can’t afford to sustain its “democracy-exporting” model of foreign policy unless it wants affairs at home to go from bad to worse. And that’s bad news, even for those of us who aren’t particularly keen on that foreign policy model… because, like it or not, US foreign policy contributes to global stability.

It has to operate within limits that arise from a consensus in the wider public about what is desirable and what is feasible. During the Cold War, for example, America maintained a large and costly military presence in Europe because this was widely agreed to be necessary to protect American interests by deterring a Soviet attack. The limits that govern foreign policy are not formally encoded in a foreign policy charter and are seldom even set out explicitly. They are more like customs in small-scale societies or good manners in larger ones: they are tacitly, but broadly, understood.

Because of the country’s financial constraints, those limits will be narrower than they have been for many decades. The government will still have an allowance to spend on foreign affairs, but because competing costs will rise so sharply that allowance will be smaller than in the past. Moreover, the limits to foreign policy will be drawn less on the basis of what the world needs and more by considering what the United States can–and cannot–afford.

I’m not so sure about Mandelbaum’s grim assertions that the dogs of discord will be unleashed as a result of budgetary belt-tightening; the dogs of discord are already gleefully chewing through the leash, despite the immense (and sometimes predominantly unaccounted for) recent expenditure on US interventionism overseas. And this is exactly the sort of thing the United Nations was put together to deal with, after all… maybe we could go back to, y’know, letting it do its job? I’m guessing those notorious council veto options may hamper that particular idea for a while, but still…

Tough disruptive times are on the cards for the whole planet, this much is certain; whether they’d be any less tough with the US still throwing its weight around is, in my humble opinion, still open to debate.


Super Hero Fatigue – Why I am Tired of American Rubber

Jonathan McCalmont @ 07-01-2009

This month in Blasphemous Geometries: the life-span of the Bush administration has seen an astonishing proliferation of super hero cinema.

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

Jonathan McCalmont compares the rhetoric of American foreign and domestic policy with the thematic underpinnings of the super hero movie genre, and explains why he’ll be as glad to see the back of costumed crusaders as he will the back of Bush.

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With the Bush era rumbling to a long overdue end, some critics have turned their gin-shortened attentions to the question of which cultural artefact best incapsulates W’s period in office. One popular yardsticks are the ways in which the Presidency has been depicted through film and TV. The Clinton era, for example, has come to be seen as a period of intensely human and libidinous cinematic Presidents such as those of Ivan Reitman’s Dave (1993) and Rob Reiner’s The American President (1995). In fact, were it not for films such as Independence Day (1996) and Air Force One (1997) asserting the President’s penchant for arse-kicking you could be forgiven for forgetting that while Clinton claimed to feel people’s pain, he was no slouch when it came to meting it out in the form of air strikes and deciding, for the first time, that the spread of WMDs was a military matter.

However, while the Bush era has been quick to provide us with Presidents who are either mentally unstable religious zealots (Battlestar Galactica) or bloodless pragmatists more eager to seek revenge than examine the facts (The Sum of all Fears [2002]), the enduring cinematic icon of the Bush era is undeniably the super hero. Continue reading “Super Hero Fatigue – Why I am Tired of American Rubber”