Defense Secretary Hagel acknowledges that Americans have grown tired of foreign entanglements, having done his own part as a Senator to question them a decade ago, but warns today that it's a "mistake to view our global responsibilities as a burden or charity, " since "Turning inward, history teaches us, does not insulate us from the world's troubles."
No country should shirk its global responsibilities. All countries have them. They are the same for every country. If this is all Hagel means, that's fine. If he means, as we must suspect, that the United States has a special responsibility -- and thus special privileges -- then he's wrong. Any nation's claim of special international responsibilities is an assertion of cultural chauvinism (e.g. Russia's expectations of influence over its near abroad) or ideological dominance (e.g. American insistence on influence everywhere). If there's a responsibility to protect small nations against big, or poor nations against rich, it isn't the responsibility of any nation or group of nations. It's literally global responsibility -- the responsibility of all the people of the world, regardless of where they live. But it should be up to all the people of the world to decide what their responsibilities are, rather than accepting one country's or one ideology's or one religion's definition. Only when those responsibilities are defined and ratified can the accountability of individual nations be determined. The rights of Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia, and the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine, can't be based on what Russia or the U.S. thinks right. It's either for Ukraine to decide for itself without aid from anyone, or it's for a global majority to decide. The U.S. would be acting responsibly on a global scale if it helped bring such conditions about, but whether countries rather than people can accomplish this is open to question. Whether people can do it peacefully, and whether it's worth doing otherwise, are open questions as well. It might be worth "turning inward" a little while to figure out the answers.