... Where the discussion isn't going, at least in public, (or the PR level), is the possibility that the first foreign policy crisis the administration will face will be the complete economic collapse of a large, unstable nation. To be sure, Pakistan is nearly broke, and U.S. policy makers seem to be aware of that; but a worldwide demand crisis could lead to social unrest in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Singapore, the Ukraine, Japan, Turkey or Egypt (which is facing an internal political crisis of epic proportions already). The U.S. won't have the resources to, say, engineer the rescue of the peso again, or intervene in Asia as in 1997.
The public rhetoric from Team Obama seems to treat history as having ended in early October, which is understandable; the priority right now is on the liquidity crisis, the structure of government and the peopling of the administration and the domestic economy. Most of the administration's major policy voices don't have the luxury of time to game out scenarios. Now -- it can fairly be said that Treasury nominee Tim Geithner, himself an assistant secretary for international economic affairs during the Clinton administration, is aware of the precarious state demand in certain critical countries, as is Larry Summers. The question: what's the administration's policy in this area? Which countries can we afford to let fail? Which unstable states would concern us the most? Is there something the U.S. can do, in advance, should do, in advance, to forestall the collapse of other economies?
Today: GM. Tomorrow: the Egypt bailout ...?
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Ross Douthat is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic.