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America by Proxy?

PARIS – The demise of the Roman Empire resulted from a combination of strategic overreach and excessive delegation of security responsibilities to newcomers. Without making undue comparisons, the question for the United States today is whether it can remain the world’s leading power while delegating to others or to technological tools the task of protecting its global influence.

Drones and allies – non-human weapons and non-American soldiers – have become central to America’s military doctrine. Leading the world in technological prowess while leading it from behind in terms of combat forces on the ground, if not in the air, America’s shift of emphasis is impossible to ignore.

First there was the combined French and British action in Libya that led to the overthrow of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime; then came French intervention in Mali, and now Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Each case is, of course, utterly different, but all have something in common: America has not been on the front line of intervention. Yet, without direct US military support or indirect (and in some cases implicit) political support, it is difficult to imagine that such risky operations would have been launched. Have the British, French, and even Israelis become armed extensions of the US in their respective spheres of influence?

If so, the contrast with the recent past could hardly be starker. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans simply could not envisage sharing their security responsibilities with others. At best, Europeans could be America’s “cleaning ladies,” to use the indelicate analogy coined at the time by some neo-conservative thinkers during George W. Bush’s first term in office.