As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bustles around the world attempting to staunch conflict after conflict, one question arises with increasing frequency: Why bother?
Kerry has certainly had a rough year. Major peace initiatives he had personally pursued, ranging from January’s Syrian peace conference in Geneva to the Israeli-Palestinian talks, have collapsed. His early efforts to defuse the Ukrainian crisis through direct talks with Russia also failed, while Israeli officials have poured scorn on his recent push for a cease-fire in Gaza. At a time when a majority of U.S. voters favor less engagement with foreign problems, Kerry’s ill-fated diplomatic forays seem to confirm that Washington’s global influence is shriveling.
President Barack Obama tried to dismiss such declinist talk at a press conference Friday, observing that “it’s not a measure of American influence on any given day or at any given moment that there are conflicts around the world that are difficult.” The president has fallen back on the old argument that, as the “one indispensable power” in the international system, the U.S. has little choice but to keep fighting diplomatic fires.