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Into The Future, With Blinkers On

Over at The New Atlanticist, Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Council Robert Manning notes that a new world order is being forged, with Americans large

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Over at The New Atlanticist, Senior Advisor to the Atlantic Council Robert Manning notes that a new world order is being forged, with Americans largely oblivious to what's going on.

Don’t look now, but much about last week’s Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) – from its remedies for the financial meltdown to its obscurity in the U.S. – spoke volumes about emerging multipolarity and the historic shift in global power. Was America watching?

The milieu in Beijing, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy schmoozing with China’s President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jibao, suggests that when President George Bush hosts what will be the first of several summits aimed at shaping new rules to govern global finance, he will hardly be the center of attention.

It may have been coincidence that the annual Asia-Europe gathering occurred smack in the middle of the worst financial crisis since 1929. But the symbolism was hard to miss. An Asia Rising holds the majority of global foreign reserves, over $4 trillion in foreign currency; Europe for all its flaws and lack of dynamism still boasts an economy as large as the U.S. Yet most in the U.S. were largely oblivious, with coverage even on cable news networks nearly non-existent, and relegated to the back pages of the business section of the New York Times.

...What does all this mean for the U.S. as a global actor? Well for starters, the stock of those clinging to the myth of a unipolar world makes the current Dow look robust. It was never quite true even in the one dimension where the U.S. is and will remain for some time indisputably overwhelmingly dominant: military power.

But a nation’s power, as the Chinese like to say, is a question of Comprehensive National Strength, with military capability one important indicator. In the real world, a nation’s usable power will differ, depending on the nature of the particular issue. In the world now taking shape, the most sensible operative model for U.S. foreign policy will in general terms shift from Single Superpower to Primus Inter Pares, first among equals.

Now, as a European living in America I'm undoubtably biased, but what Manning is pointing to seems to me to be a manifestation of American Exceptionalism, one so comprehensively pushed for so long that even self-confessed lefties who would like to see America's status as single and biggest bully on the block trimmed fall prey to it. Americans have been told for so long that America's status and power means that it doesn't have to care about the opinions of those beyond its shores unless it wants to that - surprise, surprise - Americans have stopped caring about what goes on beyond their own shores unless Americans are doing it. I've noticed this in my contributions to Crooks and Liars, where I mostly post foreign policy and foreign affairs pieces. With the exception of hot-button issues having an impact on domestic politics such as Iraq and, lately, Afghanistan, foreign affairs posts get about a third of the comments that domestic affairs posts do. And it's not just my posts - anyone writing such posts gets the same lackluster response. Quite often, several of the comments will be along the lines of "Who cares? Get back to the domestic scandal de jour."

(That lack of interest seems to be pretty pervasive on other sites too. The very best progressive or bi-partisan foreign policy analysis sites and blogs get a fraction of the readers that sites devoted to more domestic issues do. Of course, rightwing sites have the same ostrich attitude in spades, with the twist that they want America to continue doing it to foreigners as if it were still a sole superpower and are simply snearingly dismissive of any hint that such simply isn't possible any more.)

Sure, people are naturally more interested in what's close to home. But in today's world what's going on 'over there" is close to home. America's fall from sole superpower will effect every single American's life in immediate ways, from their bank account to their job to their sons and brothers fighting in foreign realms. I wrote once that American foreign policy consists of inflicting domestic policy on foreigners. In the new multi-polar world that's going to have to change some, but it seems to me that there's scant sign on either Right or Left that the bulk of Americans are ready to admit it in their hearts, rather than their heads.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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