There is an old saying that amateurs talk about strategy, professionals about logistics. Perhaps this should be amended now to amateurs talk about promoting democracy, professionals about debt. The Economist reports that the “[American] government’s unfunded obligations to give the elderly pensions and health care are equivalent to a debt of $483,000 for every household.” Current borrowing to deal with the financial crisis has added significantly to the problem. Things need to be brought back into balance, without killing the recovery and ultimately making the problem worse. Spending should be cut, rather than taxes increased; the retirement age needs to rise; the tax base should broaden and distorting loopholes decrease. (The Economist suggests changing (removing?) the mortgage interest deduction.) The Obama administration is not doing any of this. In some cases, it is doing the opposite. Meanwhile the Chinese and Malaysian’s have talked about carrying on trade in something other than dollars. China’s economy is still growing.
In the nineteenth-century, at the height of its power, Great Britain took the lead in suppressing the slave trade. Several decades later, in decline and faced with the rise of Germany, the British did not feel they could come to the aid of the Armenians. The Obama administration has been less assertive about democracy than some would like and friendlier to Muslims than others would like, while the Secretary of the Treasury has been reassuring the Chinese that we are not deadbeats. The administration’s domestic and foreign policies appear to aligned. An alternative to retreat abroad in the face of decline at home (intended or not) is to “punch above one’s weight” by aligning with the dominant power, as Britain did. Zbigniew Brzezinski has suggested that the US and China form a “G2” to sort out the world’s financial and other issues.