What's so super about being a superpower?
This isn't to deny the prevalence of anti-Americanism even in the Age of Obama. Nor is it to wish away the real threats to American power â?? from external challenges ( Iran, China, Islamist terrorists) to, more worrying, internal weaknesses (rising debt levels, decreasing military spending as a percentage of the federal budget, a shrinking Navy). But if my cross-global jaunt taught me anything, it is that those countries that dismiss the prospects for continuing American leadership do so at their peril. The U.S. still possesses unprecedented power projection capabilities, and, just as important, it is armed with the goodwill of countless countries that know the U.S. offers protection from local bullies. They may resent us, but they fear their neighbors, and that's the ultimate buttress of our status as the world's sole superpower. - Max Boot
What's interesting about Boot's argument is that he in no way ties this state of affairs to any benefits to the United States. Obviously, it's nice to feel wanted, but what is the actual strategic purpose of sustaining an expansive array of basing and security arrangements beyond "buttressing" our status as the world's sole superpower? Is American well-being and prosperity sustained by this posture? Boot refers to rising debt levels while lamenting falling military budgets, but isn't this a round-about way of suggesting that this isn't a sustainable strategy? And besides, it's a sleight of hand: military expenditures aren't falling and have in fact just finished a nearly unprecedentedly large run-up. Presumably you could slash other government expenditures for the sake of protecting Persian Gulf emirates, but I'm not clear on why that's such a good idea.
I do think Boot is correct on the basic dynamic: countries would rather have the U.S. taxpayer and U.S. soldier provide a share of their defense than to do it themselves, both because it's economically more attractive that way and because they fundamentally trust the U.S. more than any prospective security partner. I also think that in some limited cases, the U.S. can leverage that to our advantage. Where I differ from Boot, I guess, is that while he sees the need to establish this relationship everywhere, I'd rather be more selective. For instance, I don't believe it's wise (let alone moral) to defend Gulf monarchs. Nor do I think Europe is in much need of American defenses. A better case can be made for Japan and South Korea (and Asia more broadly), given the importance of the region in the coming century.