Well before incurring 2013’s embarrassments vis a vis Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran, Obama &co. had lost confidence in their ability to deal with the problems coming America’s way from the Middle East. Long since having blurred the lines between “politics as a game of perception and policy as the pursuit of national objectives” (Bret Stephens), and trying to cut their PR losses at home, the Obamians decided to “pivot” US policy away from the Middle East to more tractable and important regions – principally the Western Pacific.
Frank Buckley is the editor of a new collection of essays entitled The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law, which features great scholars in business law, class actions, securities, regulatory law, among other subjects, who look into the ways America has departed from its pivotal commitment to the rule of law. The essays are oriented around the idea that America may be alone among western nations in the variety of ways it is descending from the rule of law. On this point, Buckley opens by suggesting that such a departure might be directly tied to our lagging economic recovery:
More recently, America itself has suffered from an economic decline, and this book asks . . . whether a decline in the rule of law has contributed to this. America sends experts to lecture people in other countries about the importance of the rule of law, but in doing so, do we fail to recognize the beam in our own eye?
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman created a stir when he offered the following comments: “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century… . Our one-party democracy is worse.”
I am reluctant to offer criteria for what it takes to be “a reasonably enlightened group of people,” but if Western academic legal theory and political philosophy stand in for what Friedman’s group believes, then we ought to be cautious in our optimism, to say the least. After all, their position is at times murky, and at times at odds with the American constitutional order. On pressing issues, Chinese academics assiduously studying American court cases, published journal articles, academic books, etc. may find an endorsement of China’s policies, not a repudiation of them. Far from “speaking truth to power,” Western academics may simply have nothing to say.
Dragons and pandas are oft-used metaphors when the West, including the United States, discusses China and its implications on national and international politics. I have lamented about the overuse of dragons in reference to China in the past, though I must admit: I sometimes succumb to the easy trap myself, particularly in the classroom. The use of dragon or panda as a metaphor for China is a simplistic means of conveying meaning toward the country: the former connotes a dangerous, potentially harmful China, perhaps to itself and nation-states around the world; the latter, a soft, cuddly China, otherwise friendly to its…