March 28, 2006

We're a beached whale, for sure...

I've been having fun fisking this piece by Martin Jacques in the Guardian. An activity that goes well with the morning coffee. Jaques writes:

...These are the words of Henry Hyde, chairman of the House international relations committee and a Republican congressman, in a recent speech. Hyde argues that such is the overweening power of the US that it may not hear or recognise the signals when its policy goes badly wrong, a thinly veiled reference to Iraq...
Since the policy seems to be going right, we can take this as a purely theoretical point..
...He then takes issue with the idea that the US can export democracy around the world as deeply misguided and potentially dangerous. He argues: "A broad and energetic promotion of democracy in other countries that will not enjoy our long-term and guiding presence may equate not to peace and stability but to revolution ... There is no evidence that we or anyone can guide from afar revolutions we have set in motion. We can more easily destabilise friends and others and give life to chaos and to avowed enemies than ensure outcomes in service of our interests and security."
"Realist" strawman argument. Nobody is claiming we are going to "guide from afar," or "assure outcomes." The idea is to let people guide themselves, in the confidence that--in general, not invariably--they will push for peace and prosperity. Mr Hyde is a counter-example to his own point. He is pushing for less activity in foreign affairs because he thinks it will play with his constituents...

...It is clear that the US occupation of Iraq has been a disaster from almost every angle one can think of, most of all for the Iraqi people, not least for American foreign policy...
(Disaster, huh? Thanks to Orrin for this article--he also links to: Majority of Iraqis Endorse Election and Show Optimism ,and Saddam, Al Qaeda Did Collaborate, Documents Show)

...The unpicking of the imperial logic that led to it has already commenced: Hyde's speech is an example, and so is Francis Fukuyama's new book After the Neocons, a merciless critique of Bush's foreign policy and the school of thought that lay behind it...
The other bloggers are poking fun at Fukuyama, so I won't bother. I think he's terrified to discover that the End of History has actually happened
...The war was a delayed product of the end of the cold war and the triumphalist mentality that imbued the neocons and eventually seduced the US. But triumphalism is a dangerous brew, more suited to intoxication than hard-headed analysis. And so it has proved. The US still has to reap the whirlwind for its stunning feat of imperial overreach...
Yep, dat ol' whirlwin comin' any second now. Of course in the 80's guys like Martin Jacques said that the idea of "winning" the Cold War was folly and overreach, and was going to leave us bankrupt and exhausted and helpless, etc. etc. In fact our taxes and military expenditures are lower than when we fought the Cold War, our economy is the envy of the world, our losses are tiny compared to Cold-War fights like Vietnam and Korea, our military is only "overstretched" (if it is, I don't agree) because we were able to drastically reduce its size because we WON the Cold War...A bit of triumphalism now is what logic would dictate.
In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority...
(If we hadn't, the same critics would say we are unfocused, and need to concentrate on one problem at a time)
...it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's strategic interests than the Middle East...
There isn't a lot we can DO for the Far East right now. (I'd liberate North Korea, but that's not in the cards.) And in fact we are doing important things. Our growing friendship with India is a major counterbalance to China. Likewise, on a smaller scale, Mongolia. And we've pulled off the stunning feat of becoming close to India without totally alienating Pakistan! And all our moves are more credible because we are resolute in the ME, though the pacifists are trying hard to undercut this, and generate future wars.
... As such, the Iraqi adventure represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to impact on the US. Hyde is clearly thinking in these terms: "We are well advanced into an unformed era in which new and unfamiliar enemies are gathering forces, where a phalanx of aspiring competitors must inevitably constrain and focus options. In a world where the ratios of strength narrow, the consequences of miscalculation will become progressively more debilitating. The costs of golden theories [by which he means the worldwide promotion of democracy] will be paid for in the base coin of our interests."

WOE IS US! New enemies. (WHO, exactly?) New competitors. (WHO, exactly? Phalanx?) "Ratios of strength narrow?" Where's the evidence? In fact exactly the opposite is happening; economically and militarily our strength is growing relative to the world.

...The promotion of the idea of the war against terror as the central priority of US policy had little to do with the actual threat posed by al-Qaida, which was always hugely exaggerated by the Bush administration, as events over the last four and a half years have shown. Al-Qaida never posed a threat to the US except in terms of the odd terrorist outrage...
The trouble with winning a war against terrorists is that it then looks like there never was a threat. In fact it is the perception that terrorism works that gives rise to terrorists. It is clear now that our withdrawals from Somalia and Lebanon were major factors in raising up hosts of enemies. But if we had stuck it out in those countries, accepting perhaps hundreds of casualties, critics like Martin would have said that we were expending our energies in places where we had no strategic interest.
Hyde alludes to a new "unformed" world and "a phalanx of aspiring competitors". On this he is absolutely right. The world is in the midst of a monumental process of change that, within the next 10 years or so, could leave the US as only the second largest economy in the world after China and commanding, with the rise of China and India, a steadily contracting share of global output. It will no longer be able to boss the world around in the fashion of the neoconservative dream: its power to do so will be constrained by the power of others, notably China, while it will also find it increasingly difficult to fund the military and diplomatic costs of being the world's sole superpower. If the US is already under financial pressure from its twin deficits and the ballooning costs of Iraq, then imagine the difficulties it will find itself in within two decades in a very different kind of world...
In the 1980's they said JAPAN was going to be the monster competitor that was going to humble and constrain us. In fact, China has so many internal problems there's not the slightest possibility it can become either the world's largest economy, or a dominant power like the US. (Actually, there is a possibility. They just need to adopt the same institutions that have made the Anglosphere dominant. Democracy, rule of law, free enterprise, civic society. And I'd add Christianity, as the necessary philosophical underpinning. Of course then their strength would not be a problem.)

I could go on with this for a few more pages, but that would be overreach...

Posted by John Weidner at March 28, 2006 9:10 AM
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