Day By Day

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Crumbling Internationalist Consensus

Ross Douthat, over at The American Scene, riffs on David Brooks' recent column in the NYT in which Brooks argues:

Today, Americans are disillusioned with the war in Iraq, and many around the world predict that an exhausted America will turn inward again . . .

Forget about it. Americans are having a debate about how to proceed in Iraq, but we are not having a strategic debate about retracting American power and influence. What’s most important about this debate is what doesn’t need to be said. No major American leader doubts that America must remain, as Dean Acheson put it, the locomotive of the world . . .

[T]he next president’s big efforts will not be about retrenchment, but about expansion. They’ll be about expanding the U.S. military, expanding the diplomatic corps, asking for more shared sacrifice, creating new interagency bureaus that will give America more nation-building capacity.
Douthat then surveys other expressions of elite opinion from both Democrat and Republican sources and concludes, rightly I think, that there exists in this country a "neoconservative/neoliberal" elite consensus that is both moralistic and internationalist. From this he reasons, as does Brooks, that the end of the Bush presidency will not signal a retreat from America's global obligations and involvements, including military ones.

But then Douthat suggests that the elite internationalism that characterized most of the Twentieth Century may not survive long into the Twenty-First. He notes among younger pundits and political activists, those under thirty, a marked preference for extreme and irresponsible ideological positions -- libertarianism, isolationism, and McGovernish liberalism.

I have noted this too, as have some of my correspondents, and the neo-isolationist impulse seems to be not just an elite phenomenon. American workers are reacting viscerally against globalization, preferring against all evidence to the contrary to believe that they are suffering from it. And, as technological change begins to churn the middle class job markets, we see similar fears being expressed by non-working class Americans.

Douthat seems to feel that only elite opinion matters, and that is true with regard to the permanent government of professionals who are shielded from the political process, but in a semi-democratic system like our own, voters do matter, and as pressure from below mounts on the nation's political class change will follow. Maybe we won't have to wait three more decades for the next generation of leaders to emerge before the internationalist consensus crumbles. It already has for many, many American voters.

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