January 31, 2005

Best joke of 2004

The best jokes have some truth in them somewhere. The best one of last year was especially cool because it was both a joke and a simple statement of fact. Ron Suskind reporting hearing this from a White House Aide:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''...

I laugh and laugh when I think of that. He's rattling Suskind's cage, but at the same time it's so TRUE. We just SAW it yesterday. The Amazing Bush goes sailing through the air at the top of the circus tent, while thousands of realists chant Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed we're Doomed. And then the trapeze is caught at the last moment, and he swings lightly onto the platform while the crowd cheers.

Or that's how it looks to the poor reality-based guys. Actually, there was not so much of the circus-trick in the Iraq election; lots of us have long thought it was a pretty sure thing. Because we know that faith, and the the human spirit with its crazy dreams and schemes are what create "reality." But the realists are now reacting dazedly to the new reality, which us dreamers knew was latent there all the time.

I was thinking about this because I started fisking this piece by Fred Kaplan: 2020 Vision: A CIA Report Predicts That American Global Dominance Could End in 15 Years.

Fish, barrel, dynamite...

Just from the title you know it's too silly to waste any time on. But it actually became interesting (to me at least) when I started getting into the how-dya-do-it of becoming a superpower....

[Kaplan writes:] Who will be the first politician brave enough to declare publicly that the United States is a declining power and that America's leaders must urgently discuss what to do about it?..
Mr Kerry? Mrs Clinton? Any volunteers? Anyone gonna step forward?
...This prognosis of decline comes not (or not only) from leftist scribes rooting for imperialism's downfall, but from the National Intelligence Council—the "center of strategic thinking" inside the U.S. intelligence community.
"Leftist scribes" is actually a good description of the CIA. Have you ever heard of a Republican CIA person?
...The NIC's conclusions are starkly presented in a new 119-page document, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project." It is unclassified and available on the CIA's Web site. The report has received modest press attention the past couple weeks, mainly for its prediction that, in the year 2020, "political Islam" will still be "a potent force."
Ah Ha! Now I see how the CIA can predict the future. Just take the current situation and draw a straight line...Sheer wizardry.
...In this new world, a mere 15 years away, the United States will remain "an important shaper of the international order"—probably the single most powerful country—but its "relative power position" will have "eroded." The new "arriviste powers"—not only China and India, but also Brazil, Indonesia, and perhaps others—will accelerate this erosion by pursuing "strategies designed to exclude or isolate the United States" in order to "force or cajole" us into playing by their rules...
Funny thing is, we're forcing them to play by our rules, without even hardly trying. ALL the steps that these guys need to take to move into the big leagues involve becoming more like the USA. ALL of the tricky schemes nations use to avoid that fact FAIL. Invariably. (And those schemes always involve some reality-based crew making brilliant decisions.)
...America's current foreign policy is encouraging this trend, the NIC concluded. "U.S. preoccupation with the war on terrorism is largely irrelevant to the security concerns of most Asians," the report states...
Sure, sure. None of them need oil from the Persian Gulf, or Russia. None of them have restive Muslim groups..
The authors don't dismiss the importance of the terror war—far from it. But they do write that a "key question" for the future of America's power and influence is whether U.S. policy-makers "can offer Asian states an appealing vision of regional security and order that will rival and perhaps exceed that offered by China."
Of course. Asian countries will be eager to have China organize their whole region. So trustworthy, China is. Can protect them from Brazil.
...To the extent that these new powers seek others to emulate, they may look to the European Union, not the United States, as "a model of global and regional governance."
The EU! Vibrant! Bursting with youthful energy and creative juices. Its unity, its surging economic growth and cultural enthusiasm make it a coming global superstar. Make that GLOBAL superstar, to emphasize the resources it can project to distant parts of the earth.
...The trends should already be apparent to anyone who reads a newspaper. Not a day goes by without another story about how we're mortgaging our future to the central banks of China and Japan. The U.S. budget deficit, approaching a half-trillion dollars, is financed by their purchase of Treasury notes...
If it's in the newspapers it must be true. Right? But they never explain why, exactly, if China and Japan are coming global powers, they are investing in the US, rather than in...China and Japan? Oooops, I think I answered the question. Japan isn't on the Global-Power career-track any more. Remember how we used to hear that they were going to swamp us? Unless we got smart and emulated them?

Do you know WHY Japan became an economic superpower in the 70's and 80's? Because in the 40's and 50's the USA reorganized them, and at the same time they also enthusiastically embraced American managerial theories. And why did Japan fizzle out? Because they didn't take the whole package.

It's hard to follow the entire regimen. The first steps are the easiest, and lots of countries can get to the point of having factories cranking out cheap goods. But each step is more tricky, and more subtle. And more a matter of character, and the spirit.

What should we DO about the possibility of other countries eclipsing us? Encourage them. There is no dishonest way to do it, not in the long run. The only way to surpass us is to be better than us. Really better. Able to put on the spangled tights and sail effortlessly across the circus tent, like we just did. And a person who thinks China will be there in 15 years is called a "realist?" Now there's a joke.

Posted by John Weidner at January 31, 2005 9:25 PM
Weblog by John Weidner