The cost of American Retreat

Protests at the San Francisco airport against the “Muslim Ban” in 2016


I moved to the United States because it inspired me. No where else in the world did I find the security, equality and opportunity to positively impact the world that the United States provides. Something I still entirely believe today, which is why I have made this my home. When I moved here, I was impressed by the humility of the Americans I met. They were self critical and had the objectivity to focus on continuing to improve the system. This was refreshing. Where I came from, there was not much civic engagement, and people complained without taking much initiative to actually do anything.

However, many of my American friends nowadays have become more cynical than ever, focusing entirely on the negatives and have lost the appreciation for all the good this system has brought to the world. Countless people around the world (including me) have come out of poverty and exploitation because of the American system of liberalism and economics. Yes, the United States has been involved in some really bad situations and has caused great harm in many instances. But there’s absolutely no doubt that it has been a net positive influence on the world as measured by most metrics we all care about.

We may not realize this but cynicism is often a sign of privilege. If we can afford to be cynical, maybe we haven’t experienced how bad and unfair life can be without the imperfect systems we criticize. And maybe we have less to lose regardless of the course we take. Before we promote huge course corrections, or propose booting the current orders in favor of alternative systems, we have to do the research to understand humans, to recognize that we are flawed, acknowledge that no system is ever going to be perfect, and that it’s a function of the fundamental nature of reality itself, not due to a lack of effort or foresight.

Many of us Americans like to believe that we are some of the most ignorant people in the world. This is good self-deprecating humor, but this is actually not true at all. We can’t keep criticizing ourselves while incorrectly idealizing everyone else. That actually makes us dumb. There’s ignorance everywhere. But an ignorant farmer in India has less impact on the world than an unfairly self-critical American. So the burden is very high on us here to understand the harm we bring by our cynicism, and our actions and inactions.

Quotes from the article below:

“The dra­matic change of course af­ter 1945 was not due to some sud­den tri­umph of our bet­ter an­gels or em­brace of En­light­en­ment prin­ci­ples that had been around for cen­turies, nor was it the nat­ural un­fold­ing of Uni­ver­sal His­tory in the di­rec­tion of lib­er­al­ism. Lib­eral ideals tri­umphed be­cause, for the first time, they had power be­hind them. A new player arose on the in­ternational scene: the United States. It pos­sessed a unique and ad­van­ta­geous ge­og­ra­phy, a large, pro­duc­tive pop­u­la­tion, un­prece­dented eco­nomic and mil­i­tary power, a na­tional ide­ol­ogy based on lib­eral prin­ci­ples, and a will­ing­ness, af­ter the war, to use its power to es­tab­lish and sus­tain a global or­der roughly con­sis­tent with those prin­ci­ples.”

“The ar­chi­tects of the new or­der were not utopian ide­al­ists. They be­lieved in the in­her­ent sin­ful­ness of hu­mans, the com­pet­i­tive­ness of na­tions and the ten­dency of all or­ders to col­lapse. They had stared into the abyss and seen the depths to which hu­mankind could fall. They knew the world they cre­ated would be flawed and costly to de­fend, but they be­lieved an im­per­fect lib­eral or­der was bet­ter than none at all.”

“We tend to view the decades af­ter 1945 through the lens of the Cold War, and So­viet com­mu­nism cer­tainly pre­oc­cu­pied Amer­i­cans. Yet the re­sponse to the So­viet threat, which in­cluded the de­ploy­ment of U.S. forces per­ma­nently in both Eu­rope and East Asia and the cre­ation of the global al­liance struc­ture, pro­duced a geopo­lit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. Within the con­fines of that sys­tem, nor­mal geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion all but ceased. Na­tions within the or­der, in West­ern Eu­rope and East Asia, didn’t com­pete with each for mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity, form strate­gic al­liances against one an­other or claim spheres of in­flu­ence. Since no bal­ance of power was nec­es­sary to pre­serve the peace among them, as it al­ways had been in the past, they could shift sub­stan­tial re­sources and en­ergy from mil­i­tary to eco­nomic and so­cial pur­poses.”

“Yet Amer­i­can hege­mony was never so in­tol­er­a­ble as to drive other mem­bers out. On the con­trary, na­tions banged on the door to come in. Par­tic­i­pants in the or­der, then and now, have shared the im­plicit un­der­stand­ing that how­ever flawed the Amer­i­can-led lib­eral world or­der might be, the re­al­is­tic al­ter­na­tives would al­most cer­tainly be far worse.”

“To­day many Amer­i­cans seem to have lost sight of that em­i­nently re­al­is­tic judg­ment, and this has hap­pened, un­for­tu­nately, just at the mo­ment when the world is slip­ping back into old pat­terns. Au­toc­racy, not so long ago dis­missed as an anachro­nism, has shown a strength and re­silience that Frank­lin Roo­sevelt’s gen­er­a­tion would have rec­og­nized, while the democ­ra­cies suf­fer from paral­y­sis and self-doubt, as they did in the 1930s.”



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