Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola: A Case for US Retrenchment?

The case for the United States’ declining hegemony is hard to overlook. The costs for maintaining such international dominance and the emergence of balancing powers in China, Europe and China grow more and more apparent. The United States, not unlike other great nations, has a choice to make: to be or not to be. A global hegemon, that is. No American wants to see the U.S. decline in prominence and strength, but historically every great power does. To prevent such a catastrophic collapse in power and prestige as Germany and France experienced in previous centuries, the U.S. needs to start thinking strategically about how best to preserve its interests abroad while not overextending itself to the point of collapse. The case of Ebola interestingly exemplifies how limited retrenchment would be beneficial to preserving its sense of primacy and national interests.
The authors of “Don’t Come Home, America push for continued U.S. hegemony, claiming U.S. national interests dictate international policies and ultimately serves our best interest. While the U.S. may have its footprint on every continent, its focus and military might is not felt everywhere. The lackluster response to the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa that has infected more than 9,000 people and killed more than 4,000 is case in point. The U.S. only began ramping up the much needed medical support and aid when it became clear Ebola would be a plague leading to a “lost generation” as Liberian president Johnson Sirleaf pleaded for more international assistance. And is still well below what is requested or needed.

Based on the assessment by Stephen Brooks et al., the response to Ebola was in line with U.S. hegemony. Africa is generally further down on the U.S. radar except as it pertains to terrorism and regional proximity to the Middle East. Clearly the U.S. was more intent on coalition building against ISIL directing attention away from this pandemic. By not prioritizing Ebola the attention from European countries, whose historical relations with Africa are better attuned to evaluating and addressing these issues, was also diverted elsewhere. U.S. national interests won't always align with global interests; the U.S. will not always have proper intelligence to understand potential threats allowing issues like Ebola to slip through the cracks. If U.S. hegemony persists in the current form the ordering of U.S. interests would in turn determine the level of importance and response to global issues and epidemics like Ebola. The U.S. capability and propensity to direct and prioritize international support towards their national goals and initiatives largely prevents other nations from stepping up and leading the fight against periphery threats like Ebola. If the U.S. didn’t consider it an urgent threat to be addressed, who else would?

Should the U.S. hegemonic role continue to decline and turn towards aspects of retrenchment then it needs to start empowering the international organizations it helped create like the UN, WHO, and NATO to better address international dilemmas. As the current hegemon, the U.S. can use its strength to promote the use of these organizations in response to global dilemmas. Doing so bolsters the prominence and respect of these organizations to oversee issues that aren’t seen as priorities for the U.S. before they rise to a threatening level. Doing so allows the U.S. to continue its defense spending and maintain it military commitments to its allies. The rich and powerful neglectfully overlook regions and third world problems, but that won’t prevent the Red Death from knocking on their door to join their ranks. 

The problem with U.S. hegemony in an ever-growing and interconnected global society is everything tends to matter. The U.S. cannot afford to monitor, manage and oversee operations all over the globe to make sure that they are handled with U.S. interests in mind. This will inevitably lead to failure. Instead, the U.S should recognize its limitations where they exist and call upon the international institutions to step up and manage crises like Ebola as they come up with sincere and resolute actions. Whether or not the U.S. chooses forms of retrenchment or further hegemony, it has the power and responsibility to direct international policy. U.S. retrenchment by relying on international organizations would free up resources and energy to maintain its hegemonic role while making sure another Ebola is not overlooked until it crosses the pond.

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