As a practical matter, James at first seems to be right when he says:
But if paleos want to dial the US down from global hegemony, as they should, they’ve got to recognize that other countries — specific other countries — do indeed need to dial their participation up.
I say that it seems right at first, because it would be far easier to hand off the interventionist and guarantor role to other powers than it would be to simply shut down our myriad bases, dissolve NATO and attempt to play the part of a normal country. Without some other
poor fools being suckered into responsible natons leading the way in taking over the obligations we needlessly maintain, many Americans would be reluctant to leave the other nations to their own devices, so finding a replacement would make the transition go much more smoothly. However, that’s the trap: there is no other power or combination of powers both capable and willing to fill this role, so we are supposed to think that we are stuck with it. There is also an assumption that seems to be widely shared that there will always have to be some outside power capable of acting as an emergency protector. It is probably more correct to say that some power or alliance of powers will tend to take on such a role, but I am much less certain that there is a need for one.
One of the main reasons why no other powers attempt to shoulder more of the burden of their own defense is that they believe it to be unnecessary, because they have become dependent on U.S. security guarantees and, in the last resort, our nuclear deterrent as well. If they have come to rely on us for things that they obviously ought to be providing for themselves, is it any wonder that there is no urgency in taking more of an interest in international conflicts far away? Among our Asian and European allies alone, you find enormous wealth and human capital that could be directed towards securing stability in their own regions and near-abroads. One of the reasons these resources are never directed toward such ends is that the U.S. does enough that it is not a priority for their governments. Once what is optional becomes necessary, the priorities of those governments will have to change, but the only way to make it necessary is to begin the process of weaning (I cannot think of any other way to describe the process) our allies off of dependency on the U.S. The only way do that is to start doing it, rather than waiting on the dependents to take over responsibilities that we refuse to give up.
On the whole, I think the “developing” world would fare much better over the long term if its internal political and military conflicts were left to the nations directly involved to resolve. There would, of course, be a place for foreign investment, humanitarian aid and diplomatic mediation, but the best way for nations to achieve some sustainable stability and prosperity is to make their own way without the promise/threat of foreign meddling. Had U.S. history been marked by extensive foreign interference in our internal affairs, there would have been great distorting and stunting effects on our political life. Whatever degree of independent political life we enjoyed on account of fortune, timing and favourable geography, interventionists tend to want to deny to other nations–and almost always with the intention of benefiting them! That needs to stop, and the best way to do that is to stop meddling.