Can Americans hear that they are overstretched?
This is a response to Nader Mousavizadeh’s latest Reuters column, “A smaller America could be a stronger America.”
By Michael Ignatieff
The opinions expressed are his own.
What I found myself asking, as I read this extremely compelling critique of American imperial over-stretch, is how exactly a politician is supposed to tell Americans the bad news. What are the politics of honest discussion of imperial over-extension?
The change that Nader Mousavizadeh discusses can’t happen without political leadership, so what form of truth-telling will work here? Americans fear they have lived through a decade of decline, so there is no difficulty telling them what they already know. The more difficult message to pass is: we’re going to cut back on defense, we’re not going to go head to head for dominance with the Chinese in east Asia. We’re going to stay home and cultivate our garden, as Voltaire said, because our garden badly needs weeding.
Cultivating our garden means investing in our children, re-building our domestic infrastructure, taxing the rich and paring back on some entitlements in order to get our fiscal house in order. A kinder, gentler America, focused on the garden out back and deliberately leaving the challenges overseas to others is persuasive, but it’s a hard sell for any politician who wants to be President in a country which believes it can do everything.