On the 'power to let', the man behind the curtain, and Team America World Police

In my class today we have been talking about the establishment of US nuclear policy and strategy and one of the students asked an interesting and telling question.

He wondered why the US "let" India and Pakistan get nukes but hasn't "let" Korea and Japan get them.

The question was really an interesting one, primarily since it speaks so clearly about the sense that seems to float out there that the US has the power 'to let' countries do this that or the other at the same time that it remarks on the power differential between the US, Japan and Korea. If you haven't studied American power politics much then it would not be hard to believe that the US is all-powerful world conquerer and world destroyer pulling the levers and the strings and pushing the buttons and whatever other metaphors you want to use at this point. And you would fail to register the system that operates in the place of "letting" and not see why neither Japan or Korea actually seek the very thinks Pakistan and India are willing to risk everything for.

At the heart of this is a fallacy that crops up in the thinking of those who are anti-American power as it does in the thinking of those who are blindly pro-American in terms of hegemonic power. (For the record, my student is neither, he has never studied these things and so was asking a good question because he was curious).

On the anti-American side, US power is the source of all evil in the world. When something bad happens, it is because the US caused it, allowed it, or failed to prevent it. On the other side, you can find people like those in the Bush administration who believe that the US is Team America World Police who can, to quote a senior Bush advisor (according to Ron Suskind) "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''"

"create reality" in the absence of actually "understanding reality" is one definition of what the Bush administration is about, but that is another issue.

But it is much more interesting to observe, as we do in class, what happens when world changing events occur in which the US has few or no options, let alone any concept of "letting". North Korea or Pakistan, any one?


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