There are benefits when you stop being the Cop of the World

Leave it up to Fibber McGee and Molly
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

President Hu Jintao of China will arrive in Cannes, France, this week pondering a plea from Europe for tens of billions of dollars to help the continent get out of its debt crisis. And President Obama will arrive with a smile, some hearty handshakes, and his own plea: that Greece get its act together and that Europe fix its economic ills, which he has called one of the biggest drags on the United States’ own ailing economy…

The last few months may well end up being an inflection point, in which the United States, though easily still the world’s leading power, no longer has quite the responsibility or the burden it once did. The pattern has been evident in the Arab Spring, with the American military playing mostly a supporting role in Libya, and now in the European financial crisis, with Asian money coming to aid the Europeans…A significant difference in policy between Obama and traditional Cold Warriors in both of the TweedleDeeDum parties.

In many ways, the situation is a natural evolution of the campaign promises made by Mr. Obama in 2008, when he vowed to turn away from the Bush administration’s more unilateral approach.

As president, Mr. Obama is now overseeing the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and has emphasized multilateral diplomacy in all its messy forms. He refused to consider American intervention in Libya until the United Nations approved a resolution supporting it, and then he stepped back and allowed France and Britain to take the lead though American military help remained essential…We only have about 174 countries to go to withdraw from the rest of our foreign military bases.

Mr. Obama’s backers say that he is simply acknowledging reality and developing a clear-eyed strategy for what the United States can and cannot do and that he ultimately may prove right in diagnosing Europe’s economic problems and its need to take difficult steps to fix them…

Arriving in Cannes on Thursday, Mr. Obama will be trying to balance providing that leadership while not taking on any of the additional burden — particularly financial — that such leadership often requires…

But for all the acceptance that the United States will no longer be the world’s policeman and financier, the emerging strategy carries risks…

The American military remains the world’s most formidable, and the most likely to be called on to back American allies like Israel, Japan and South Korea.

Of course, no one expects South Korea or Japan to invade one of their neighbors – and start a war.

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