The America that Can Say No

NEW YORK –­ Early this month, Kyrgyzstan’s president Kurmanbek Bakiyev went cap in hand to Moscow to ask for financial aid. To make his request more palatable, Bakiyev announced that he was demanding that the United States close its airbase in Kyrgyzstan, which resupplies NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Similarly, late last year, Iceland’s government asked Russia to help bail out its banking system, while Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited China in hopes of securing an emergency infusion of cash.

Some observers cite these episodes as evidence of decline in America’s international clout. But there’s a larger point: so far, except for relatively small sums offered to the Kyrgyz, Russia and China haven’t offered much help.   

Amid much talk of a “post-American world,” many observers see a shift from a US-dominated international order toward a multipolar system, in which countries like China, Russia, and several others compete for global leadership on a range of common challenges and risks.

More than five years ago, China’s President Hu Jintao proclaimed that, “the trend toward a multipolar world is irreversible and dominant.” When Vladimir Putin complained during a conference in Munich last year that US unilateralism stoked conflict around the world, an offended Senator John McCain responded that confrontation was unnecessary in “today’s multipolar world.”