Kajaki, Afghanistan — April 22, 2012: US Marines patrol as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (GoodAndy45 / Shutterstock.com).
The Perils of Shaping a Recalcitrant World

Whenever you hear senior US officials tout Washington’s determination to “shape” the world order pursuant to America’s vision of all that is right and good, make sure you have your flak jacket handy. In practice, “shaping” typically culminates in exchanges of gunfire.

Recently, in a much-anticipated speech, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s plan to “shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open, inclusive international system.” In an age that celebrates openness and inclusivity, Blinken’s vision sounds benign.

Yet, to judge by the recent past, this latest effort to shape will leave Americans and the world worse off. To shape is to impose. Incorporating expectations of compliance, the effort is inherently coercive. When the United States sets out to shape, brace yourself for blowback.

Recall that during the Cold War, US strategy had centered on containment. However imperfectly implemented, the overarching idea was quite specific: Prevent the spread of communism and avert a cataclysmic Third World War. Yet the Cold War’s abrupt conclusion in 1989 found the world’s sole remaining superpower in a dominant position without any sense of how to put that dominance to work.

Read the full article in The Nation.

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