Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on May 31, 2015

Bookmark and Share

America is no longer ‘indispensable’

Public Policy

After six decades serving as the global policeman, the United States is now signalling its retreat from the world.

With the Middle East engulfed by the flames of sectarian conflict, Europe’s borders menaced by the threat of war and China starting to flex its muscles in Asia-Pacific, it is clear the world has entered a new period of volatility.

That uncertainty begs tough questions for Britain: how should we respond to this new American pragmatism? And as our traditional ally turns inward, what should that mean for British foreign policy?

Ian Bremmer, the American foreign policy guru who coined the phrase “G-Zero” to describe this new and unstable world, is the author of ‘Superpower’, a best-selling new book that explores America’s options as a superpower in the 21st century.

Ian Bremmer. Photo: Javier Sirvent

Here he talks exclusively to Peter Foster about the strategic choices now facing America – and what they could mean for Britain in the decades to come.

PF: In ‘Superpower’ you outline three possible courses for American foreign policy: 1) keeping faith with the old “Indispensable” America that underwrites global stability 2) adopting a “moneyball” approach where the US pursues its narrow economic and security interests, or 3) an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home. While you invite readers to choose for themselves, you personally plumped for the “Independent” strategy – why?

IB: “I went for ‘Independent’ because America needs a strategy that doesn’t just last for three months or a year, but for a generation. And the world is moving in a direction where the promises of an ‘indispensable’ America are going to be increasingly hard to fulfil. We see that in terms of how much leadership there isn’t in Europe, the challenge posed by a rising China, the implosion of the Middle East, the rise of terrorist organisations and even things like quantum computing which are going to undermine the power of nation states. So for all these reasons I think ‘indispensable’ is deeply problematic.

“But the problem with the hard-nosed ‘moneyball’ approach, is that ultimately America is not a corporation. ‘Moneyball’ may well get the most return on investment for Americans, but the difference between a corporation and the United States is if you’re a corporation and you make a bunch of bets and one doesn’t work, you go bankrupt. The United States can’t afford to go bankrupt. I also think we cannot just jettison the idea of the exceptionalism of the United States. Maybe this is my American bias coming out, but I really do believe that America stands for a lot more than, ‘we’re going to be like any other country’. I believe the values that the United States was created with actually do matter.

“Which is why I argue that if the ‘independent’ America approach is done right, then the United States will become the ultimate ‘too big to fail’. And the way that you get the Chinese to align with America is not by containing them. It’s by creating the most robust American economy and democracy you possibly can that the Chinese will really want to invest in – because ultimately that’s what’s going to make them want to change their system in a way that is more aligned with the United States.”

PF: Isn’t it naïve to think that China will decide to remake itself in America’s image, just because – as you say in the book – America builds “better schools in Ohio and better hospitals in Arkansas”?

IB: “I don’t think so: the largest number of immigrants into the United States no longer comes from Mexico – as of 2014, it comes from China. And that means we are educating an entire generation of Chinese elites to understand that there is actually a very different kind of system out there. We ultimately defeated the Soviets, in my view, not through an arms race. We ultimately defeated the Soviets through the power of things like Radio Free Europe, through the ideas that America were standing by.

“I completely agree with you, in the next 5-10 years [the Chinese president] Xi Jinping and his cohort are not suddenly going to change stripes over this policy. But I don’t think there’s an answer for the next 5-10 years. I think we are headed into a period of profound and long-term creative destruction geo-politically. So this is really not about the next five years, this is about setting us up for the next generation. And there, I think China could change an awful lot.”

PF: As we enter this period of post-Cold War instability, is the current US disengagement good or bad for what comes next?

IB: “It’s not good, but let’s be clear- engagement cannot be half-assed. Engaging doesn’t mean telling people you’re going to engage and then screwing them over. It means really engaging. It doesn’t mean setting a red line, and then backing off. And if you asked me if I believe it is credible right now to take big bets and tell the Europeans ‘we’re really there for you’, and the Japanese, ‘we’re really there for you’, and the Gulf States ‘we’re really there for you’, then the answer is ‘no’.

Are we going to get presidents that are going to consistently get behind that and really support an American-led world order? It’s possible, but I doubt it.”

PF: So is playing the ‘indispensable’ Superpower role essentially beyond the capacity of America now? Fiscally, militarily?

IB: “No, there are absolutely things we could be doing that would be ‘indispensable’. America has money, interest rates are low, and if we want to print money, we can. If we want to support allies, we can. But indispensable doesn’t just mean, ‘oh we’re going to do drone strikes against Isis’. It means actually going to develop the kind of support that would, over the long-term, build economic opportunities for all these disenfranchised people across the Middle East.

“We’re the only country in the world that could put the resources on the ground that could actually fix the Middle East. We’re the only country in the world that can create global architecture, global alliances. We’re the ones that created Nato. Even if our allies like the Brits say ‘we don’t want to spend as much’, we still have to stick with it – because the absence of that is chaos. That’s what the ‘indispensables’ would argue.”

PF: But right now the American public won’t buy into that?

IB: “I don’t think so. ‘Indispensable’ America is now an increasingly extreme sell, domestically, for any American president.

“Americans have gotten disillusioned with the inauthenticity of their own leaders, and the politics and politicians in Washington. After living through the 2008 financial crisis, Bush vs Gore, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib – all of this stuff – and now we’re facing a $5 billion dollar election campaign where the most recognisable names are another Bush and another Clinton – you can’t ignore the disillusion.”

PF: So what does a retreating America mean for Britain? We’ve long ridden on America’s coat-tails, but it seems clear now that those strategic coat-tails are shrinking fast.

IB: “America’s coat-tails are shrinking, you’re right, but Britain’s arms are shrinking even faster. People got mad at me recently for saying that Britain’s greatest global influence today has basically fallen to what The Economist manages to write every week. I love The Economist, but we’ve come to expect more from Britain historically.

“The post-war world order was built on the back of an incredibly strong transatlantic relationship. That relationship is now at the weakest point we’ve seen in well over a generation.”

PF: So is it time Britain faced facts and accepted a new reality as a middle-ranking power on Europe’s northern fringes. Aspire to be Norway, say, or the Netherlands?

IB: “In part it depends on what America chooses. If America really does ‘indispensable’ then the Brits want to have your referendum on the EU as soon as possible. You want to win it for Europe. And you want the Brits and the Germans, hopefully with a new French government as well, to become true leaders of a stronger Europe. You want to move the TTIP transatlantic trade deal. You want to reinvigorate the transatlantic alliance, and you want to actually take back some leadership.

But if US foreign policy continues to be incoherent – as appears likely – then the Brits need to hedge like crazy. They need to say, ‘we’re not really going to be a part of Europe, we’re not part of the United States, so we’re a really interesting global player with a pretty good economy and a lot of people who want to be here with our inviting tax rules. Let’s take advantage of that. Let’s not stick with the United States on Russia. That’s stupid – we don’t want to be a place where the Russians can’t continue to come and do business. We want to bank them, we want to house them. Same thing with the Middle East.”

PF: So in that world, with America stepping back, Britain takes a ‘moneyball’ approach?

IB: “Invest in relations with America, but not at the expense of relations with China, India, Germany, the Saudis and other emerging players. Embrace your relationship with the Saudis because they’re wealthy and they don’t have any friends. What else can you do to differentiate yourself? Stop doing geopolitics. You’re not building your military, you’re not going to project force any more. Be much more like the Germans. Say, ‘we’re not going to talk about the Dalai Lama, let’s have a special relationship with the Chinese so we can focus on where our industrial and commercial relations can be more aligned’. Do the same thing with the Indians while you’re at it. That’s a very different choice for the Brits. But given what we are seeing right now in the United States I think it’s a smart play.”

PF: In the book you criticise the Obama administration, above all else, for failing to take a long-term, strategic approach. What does that mean for China as it emerges as a rival superpower?

IB: “In the past 35 years there’s only been one geopolitical constant in the entire world. Only one. And that’s the rise of China. What’s really dangerous is that China is the only country of size right now that has a global strategy. We should not pretend that that’s not true. They have money, they’re spending it. They’re building architecture and infrastructure. They’re trying to align countries more with their long term strategic and economic interests as they see them. The fact is the Americans, by far a greater power than China in every aspect, have nothing to respond to that with. That’s ludicrous.

“I think we massively underestimate the Chinese. We spend virtually no time thinking about them. There’s no question that China has very real problems, and those problems are going to affect them a great deal over the long term. But they understand what they need to do to resolve them; they are taking very significant steps both domestically and internationally. And we’re not. It’s one thing to cede space to the Chinese out of a strategy. We’re ceding them space that we haven’t even considered.”

PF: Britain is to have its promised referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017. You have said that the Euro crisis is the top global political risk for 2015. So, should we be in, or out?

IB: “To be a part of the EU on balance is advantageous for Britain because of the uncertainty over what happens with Scotland if the Brits go out, as well as the uncertainty for London as a global financial centre if the Brits leave. Having said that there’s really no need for Britain to take a leadership role within Europe the way the world is going, and there’s certainly no reason for Britain to argue for more integration with Europe.

“It would also be good for Britain to have certainty around the Eurozone one way or the other. Britain should aim to continue to be an attractive financial destination and support its own strategic industries, whether it’s pharmaceutical, finance or aviation and arms technology. There are still a few areas that the Brits still do very well in from a global competitive perspective. They should continue to do well in those not just with Europeans but with everybody.”

PF: In so many areas, the geopolitical outlook seems bleak. The US has a general election coming up in 2016, is it too late already to make a difference?

IB: “No. As the world’s only superpower, with the world’s reserve currency, with all the advantages America has and with the power that a US president has over foreign policy, if an American president really decided they wanted to go with ‘indispensable’ they could. So there’s actually a moment here where there’s a real debate. Where a Rand Paul vs a Marco Rubio vs a Hillary Clinton vs a Jeb Bush actually matters.

“Ultimately, the real danger is not that US foreign policy will continue to be incoherent, but something much more dangerous than that: that it will continue to be incoherent until the next 9/11, and then the US will respond massively without a strategy in a world where the US is much weaker in terms of its influence.

“The September 11 attacks came when US was at the peak of its international power. So even if the United States massively screwed things up it still had all sorts of ability to align the rest of the world behind it. But if you have that kind of reaction in five or ten years when China is the world’s biggest economy, that could be a hit that America doesn’t come back from. That could really change the world order in a dangerous way. I don’t think anyone is thinking about that – and that worries me.”


26 Comments on "America is no longer ‘indispensable’"

  1. dubya on Sun, 31st May 2015 8:35 pm 

    I think John Micheal Greer has already covered much of this, more eloquently.

  2. Rodster on Sun, 31st May 2015 8:36 pm 

    World’s policeman? Nice try, how about world’s instigator, troublemaker, chaos maker, destabilizer. All in it’s quest for world domination and protector of the almighty Petrodollar.

  3. Plantagenet on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 12:50 am 

    Amazing how it only took seven years for Obama to transform American from the world’s only superpower to a bumbling nation in decline and retreat.

  4. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:21 am 

    Blow it out your ass plant. The US has been in decline for decades. The invasion of Iraq, (based on lies) cost a few trillion, 5000 dead soldiers, a whole bunch mangled,on going daily suicides, families torn apart and was nothing but a complete clusterfuck that made a shitload for the MIC. Which team made that call? Everyone of your parties and presidents and politicians sold the people out a few generations ago. You’re just too fucking stupid to know it, which make you one of many many useful idiots in their divide and rule game. I’m sure if the republicans get in the nation will be a glorious republic as Jesus intended. I have been on dozens of doomer sites Planty and you are by far the biggest fucking clown out there.

  5. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:46 am 

    Rodster, they have acted like the worlds policeman…………in the Rodney King video.

    US police shot dead almost 400 people in 5 months – report

  6. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:57 am 

    Our Gang Problem Is Bigger Than We Think

  7. Richard Ralph Roehl on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 2:18 am 

    A war mongering empire that bullies all the peoples of the world is not ‘indispensable’. It is the opposite. It becomes a pariah that is despised and hated… and fated for destruction.

  8. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 2:28 am 

    Ex-Nazis got $20.2M in U.S. Social Security, says watchdog
    Justice Department used legal loophole to persuade Nazi suspects to leave U.S. in exchange for benefits

  9. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 3:37 am 

    Hedges does an excellent job of explaining what went and is going wrong with capitalism and especially the neoliberal version of the last 35 years, but he fails to see that our problems are psychological at the root and no system can redeem us. 7.2 billion cancerous techno-carbon apes in overshoot all vying to increase our status/consumption. No ism is going cure that.

    Chris Hedges
    Karl Marx Was Right

  10. Rodster on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 5:07 am 

    “The invasion of Iraq, (based on lies)”

    Back then I fell for it as well. Then I awoke to the whole left vs right charade and who is really running this world. I can no longer watch G.W. Bush and Colin Powell videos on Iraq’s WMD speeches without yelling, liars, you sold us all lies.

    Just look at the Middle East and what it has become thanks to those clowns in both parties who supported that war on Iraq. It’s a powder keg and ISIS was another movement created by the US. Now they are having to fight the cancer because it threatens to take over major parts of the M.E. and it’s oil supplies. i bet all this ME instability must have Israel worried that ISIS could cause them problems as well. I’m definitely not losing any sleep over Israel. Israel is also run by pathological liars.

    The lies about Syria and Libya shows what a pariah the US has become to the rest of the world.

    Sometimes peoples and Nations just want to be left alone but the USSA won’t have any part of that. It’s divide and conquer until it achives world domination.

  11. paulo1 on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 7:52 am 

    Lost me at: “We’re the only country in the world that could put the resources on the ground that could actually fix the Middle East. We’re the only country in the world that can create global architecture, global alliances.


    As if a country that governs by reacting can fix, anything. 4 year election cycles and propping up sclerotic interests trumps everything possible.

  12. penury on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 9:17 am 

    Looking at history I find many examples of nations or groups of nations which were “indispensable”, Rome, Greece, Egypt, British Empire, we could go on the list is long. Death comes to all, be they empires or insects. The difference of course is that “we are special” and have the ability to print money. (and that is only one stupid idea), Gut what did I expect, it was written by a Englishman.

  13. JuanP on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 9:22 am 

    Not worth reading!

  14. Plantagenet on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 12:18 pm 

    Its curious how people like Apneaman are soo very upset about the US invasion of Iraq in 2004, but don’t give a damn about the US war on Libya in 20011, or the current US war on Syria and Iraq.

    Its as though their brain shut off in 2009. Although in Apneaman’s case it would be hard to tell.

  15. BobInget on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 12:48 pm 

    Plant, You forgot Benghazi !
    If your making up history as you go, best find an audience younger then fifteen.

  16. GregT on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 12:51 pm 

    Apnea has more brain cells in the pimple on his forehead planter, than you appear to have in your entire empty cranial cavity. Continuing to display your utter cluelessness, only makes you look even more devoid of rational thought.

  17. Plantagenet on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:06 pm 


    Are you so out of touch with reality that you think O’s war on Libya didn’t happen. Are you pretending we aren’t at war with Iraq and Syria right now?

    Why so lost in delusions?

  18. Plantagenet on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:11 pm 


    Please keep your boyish admiration for the quality of spnea’s pimples to yourself.


  19. GregT on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:18 pm 

    I rest my case.

  20. Plantagenet on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 1:22 pm 

    Hopefully your “case” isn’t resting on Apnea’s pimples.


  21. HARM on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 2:30 pm 


    Thanks for reminding us that history started on January 21, 2009, and that nothing important except U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah! happened before that.

    Aside from Obama’s clear and obvious sole responsibility for our decline as a superpower/hegemon, you forgot to point out his other catastrophes:

    –Invading Iraq
    –the real estate bubble and 2008 Wall Street Crash
    –the crash of 2000
    –deregulating the banking industry
    –dismantling the social safety net
    –overthrowing Mossadegh, leading to the hostage crisis of 79
    –Instigating the Vietnam War
    –killing Kenndey
    –Denying women the right to vote until 1919
    –massacring the Indians
    –causing the U.S. Civil War
    –Codifying slavery into our Constitution

    There are so, so many other things he’s responsible for, it’s impossible to list them all. But thanks for keeping up the good fight!

  22. Apneaman on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 2:39 pm 

    Oh look, Oklahoma is following Texas in showing the world all about them’s “freedoms” the terrists hate them for.

    Fracking Bans Are No Longer Allowed In Oklahoma

  23. HARM on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 2:57 pm 

    Good for Oklahamoa! (Note to self: buy bottled water stocks).

  24. Speculawyer on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 4:29 pm 

    I am not interested in Viceroy Bremmer’s opinion.

  25. Makati1 on Mon, 1st Jun 2015 7:16 pm 

    What can I add to the above observations except: Why don’t we all just ignore Plant and maybe he will go away?

    Brainwashing comes in many forms and he seems to display the most common in the US, denial of reality. I slammed into that wall when I visited the US last month. Denial is rampant in America.

  26. Dredd on Tue, 2nd Jun 2015 12:28 pm 

    Not bad.

    A good start.

    Now work on surrendering unconditionally (Greenland & Antarctica Invade The United States).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *