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Home/Daniel Larison/“Indispensable” America and Superpower

“Indispensable” America and Superpower

While reading Ian Bremmer’s Superpower, I came across this important criticism of the “Indispensable” role for the U.S. in the world:

The most striking weakness of Indispensable America is that though our political leaders and office-seekers continue to adorn their speeches and talking points with poetic references to this idea, the American people continue to tell pollsters that they don’t really want it. They don’t want an open-ended commitment to risk American lives and spend American dollars to achieve goals of doubtful use here at home or to try to export values that others may not want. As more and more countries build their strength they need to deny our requests and resist our demands, it will become even more difficult to persuade Americans that global leadership serves our national interest–especially after the nation-building and other failed projects of the past twenty-five years.

There’s also the reality that many people around the world don’t consider America a leader worth following. They want less, not more, U.S. interference in their countries and their lives. (p. 192-193)

These are the greatest political weaknesses for a foreign policy premised on the idea that the U.S. is the “indispensable” nation in the world, and that is why it is an unsustainable and undesirable role for the U.S. to have. Public support for a U.S. role in which it is “single world leader” has always been very low, and there is not much appetite for being the most activist power:

Most Favor Shared World Leadership

But the more telling weakness of the “Indispensable” approach is that the U.S. is not, in fact, indispensable and necessary for the peace and security of the world. Our supposed indispensability is the excuse that advocates of this approach use to distract from the reality that the U.S. could have  a less activist and intrusive foreign policy without putting others in greater jeopardy. The U.S. would also be much less likely to make disastrous, unforced errors if our leaders didn’t assume that it was crucial for the U.S. to interfere and take sides in each new crisis and conflict.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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