Economic woes and a shrinking U.S. world role

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, is worried that America’s worsening economic woes will inevitably decrease our ability to be a leader in the world arena.

That’s something pro-Israel leaders  should be worrying about. A lot.  If Friedman is right, the tectonic change  will have huge implications for an Israel that counts on an engaged, loyal America as a pillar of its security.

Friedman writes that as our economic crisis continues and our national debt soars, “there is simply no way that America’s leaders, as they have to take more things away from their own voters, are not going to look to save money on foreign policy and foreign wars. Foreign and defense policy is a lagging indicator. A lot of other things get cut first. But the cuts are coming — you can already hear the warnings from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. And a frugal American superpower is sure to have ripple effects around the globe.”

He cites a new book by Johns Hopkins scholar Michael Mandelbaum, “The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era,”which documents a growing national insolvency which – Mandelbaum writes – will “fundamentally transform the public life of the United States and therefore the country’s foreign policy.”

An expanding economy meant expanding U.S. activism around the world; a shrinking economy will mean a reduction in that involvement.

Don’t believe it? Look at the Tea Party movement. Although diverse, big chunks of it are moving toward a traditional American isolationism.

Left unsaid by Friedman: that reduction in U.S. involvement on the world stage will be accelerated by our national aversion to taxes. Lest we forget, we have spent the past nine years fighting two wars while cutting taxes, a significant factor in our current economic uncertainty and an ominous portent for the future.

Foreign policy and – much more importantly – a globe-spanning military are expensive priorities. During the post-war boom years, a vast military-industrial complex (to use Dwight Eisenhower’s term) was a luxury we could afford; as our national debt grows and internal obligations like Medicare and Social Security burgeon, that era may be over.

Israel’s $3 billion or so in foreign aid is a given in today’s political climate; as the economic pinch tightens, that may be ending. America’s leadership role is something Israel has counted on to make sure its dangerous region doesn’t get even more dangerous. Will that change as an all-but-broke America retrenches and withdraws from expensive foreign entanglements? Probably.

The left will argue this is a good thing, that America’s hyperactive foreign policy and military adventures have caused more problems than they’ve cured.


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.