We must set a good example for the children . . .

By Megan McArdle

John Quiggin has a post up about foreign policy in which he calls me out. I'm still mulling the meat of the post, but something one of the commenters said struck me:

Sadly, I think most of my fellow countrymen are not going to understand the problems with the Drezner model until they’ve experienced how it works when some other country is top dog.



I have heard some variation of this argument before, though I don't know how widely it is held in the netroots. But if it is, I'm not sure what the point of arguing is, because this strikes me as completely lunatic. Is there anyone who believes that, should Russia or China surpass America to grab the mantle of world superpower, they will allow their actions to be bound by the kind of international law model that Quiggin is proposing? Or that if we voluntarily submitted to be 100% bound by the UN charter, this would somehow lay upon them an inviolable moral obligation to do the same? If leading by example were as effective as some of the netroots commenters seem to imply, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation should have obviated the need for the welfare state.

That leaves one with the question of what to do in a world in which the other states don't voluntarily submit themselves to be bound by a robust international law. Even presuming that we all agree that such a framework would be nice, should America unilaterally act as if we are already living in such a system, even though several of the major players manifestly will not reciprocate? That's a tricky stunt to pull off in a system with no enforcement mechanism outside of your own military power.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/08/we-must-set-a-good-example-for-the-children/1773/