The Wall Street Journal’s “global disorder scorecard” doesn’t tell an informed reader anything he didn’t already know, but it is instructive that their editors choose to frame their discussion of each issue in terms of Americans’ rooting interest. This reflects an odd conceit that an event overseas is significant insofar as there is a side that Americans can cheer on, and it makes the very foolish mistake of assuming that there must be someone to “root for” in practically every foreign dispute.
So we are told that we should “root” for the Ukrainian opposition, but should cheer on the Thai government against its opponents and “root” for the Japanese government in its disputes with China. It’s not just that the incessant desire to “root” for this or that side is unnecessary, but in practice it can commit the U.S. to take an unwise position that could make things worse for all concerned. It doesn’t particularly matter to us which parties govern Ukraine or Thailand, but taking sides in other nations’ bitterly contested internal political struggles is most likely to produce resentment against us, and it would be foolish for Americans to be giving encouragement to a nationalist Japanese leadership that has been charting an increasingly provocative and confrontational course in its dealings with China. The U.S. is obviously obliged to defend Japan against attack, but that doesn’t mean that Americans should be egging on the Japanese government in its international disputes. Allied solidarity doesn’t and must not include indulging an ally’s blundering. The editors also want to “root” for an enlightened military leadership in Egypt, which I suppose is what American supporters of the coup would say. Never mind that they have been rooting for the current unenlightened leadership from the moment the military deposed the elected government. Since there is little evidence that there is or will be any such leadership in Egypt, it would make more sense to say that the U.S. should pull back from its support for a military leadership that has proven to be just as short-sighted, heavy-handed, and brutal as one would expect the authors of a military coup to be.
They conclude by saying that the “U.S. once would have led the world in defusing these conflicts, or at least trying to reduce their harm,” and this may be the most misleading claim in the entire editorial. It is always possible to look through the headlines and find examples of disorder and conflict in the world that the U.S. isn’t doing much to defuse or contain, and this is true whether the U.S. is being a hyperactive, interventionist power or when it is behaving in a relatively less intrusive fashion. There have been and will always be conflicts around the world in which the U.S. has too little at stake to trigger major involvement, and there will always be internal political disputes in other countries that the U.S. cannot influence constructively. The U.S. and many other countries would be better off if the U.S. interfered less often in foreign political contests and found fewer excuses to “root” for one side or the other.