August 19, 2008

Random amplifications....

This piece by Alan Sullivan got me thinking a bit this morning...

The world is a complex place. To understand the strained relations of major powers, imagine a four dimensional space, with four forces competing in it.

I'd call it a three-dimensional space. The two dimensions of the map where powers maneuver like a game of Risk, and the third dimension being economic growth and globalization, where the successful can maneuver above the map, and touch and transform almost every spot—power flows from the earbuds of an iPod! And terrorists get to move above the map too.

The first and predominant force is the liberal democratic alliance. Culturally, economically, militarily, it is far superior to the other three. Its population is largest of the four forces, and its polities are the most resilient. It includes the sole superpower and several lesser powers: Europe, India, Brazil, Japan. Although there are tensions in the group, it is impossible to imagine them warring with one another under the present dispensation.

This group has many "virtuous" feedback loops, so they will probably end up absorbing everything. And, alas, one huge negative loop, which is the temptation that comes with prosperity and comfort for people to not grow-up. The temptation to nihilism. "Growing up" is the willingness to accept suffering, in a higher cause than the self. Things like marriage, children, dedication to causes or philosophies, service to the larger community, especially in war---these all involve suffering, and giving up some of the pleasures of the self. (And also receiving deeper joys and satisfactions that the self-centered person can't really perceive.) And, all of these "growing-ups" are "types" or patterns of the real growing-up, which comes with faith in God.

We can see this all around us, though most people don't want to take notice.

The second force is a rising regional power with global aspirations: China. A fifth of all humankind lives there; a substanial fraction more, in the neighboring lands, has fallen increasingly under the sway of China’s authoritarian model and the material success of its ancient empire reborn. But China’s growing national wealth depends upon trade, and the linkage of global economies keeps China fairly circumspect in its international behavior.

China is trapped. It can't stay in the "cheap labor" economy; those jobs are already flowing to poorer countries, and its population is graying rapidly. China's economy must mature, but that requires flexibility and the rule of law. The same transition that the other "Asian Tigers" made, but it will be much harder for a fifth of the world's population to change...

The third force — Russia and its subject principalities — is allied with the second through a shared ideological heritage from communism. To some extent it competes with the second force for influence with anti-liberal countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran. To some extent it cooperates in opposing democratic expansionism, which has made inroads alarming to authoritarians since the fall of Russia’s Soviet empire. As an energy producer, Russia is a rogue state with nothing to lose.

Rogue states kept alive by oil. That's bad juju for Planet Earth. But that problem could be easily ameliorated. We have enough oil here in the US to drastically lower world prices, but we are blocked from extracting it. (Oil shale alone = 2 trillion barrels!) The Dems are to blame, but in a larger sense I blame us Republicans. Democrats are insane; so blaming them is like blaming 3-year-olds. Republicans are supposedly the grownups, but we had a majority in Congress and squandered that opportunity like fools.

The fourth force is Islamic internationalism. The umma, another fifth of humankind, seethes with an old dream of global domination for its faith. Yet Islam faltered in its drive for conquest centuries ago, and stagnated for centuries more. Now oil wealth has awakened this slumbering power and brought the dream into consciousness. Islam is disorganized and polycentric, which is actually an advantage for maneuver among the other forces.

They are in a panic. "Global domination" is bluster. Planting a modern Western country in the middle of their cocoon drove them nuts, but now every Internet connection is like a little Israel in the midst of the faithful. They fear the changing world-views of their children. And they fear apostasy. The very death of Christendom with its slumberous state churches and "mainline churches" may mean the return of real Christianity. And no group is so vulnerable as the Muslims, with their lean loveless parody of the Church. [Link, link]

Four forces. You cannot understand our world with studying their interaction. Each force has a weakness. The liberal democracies lack strategic thinkers and shy from confrontation. China takes the long view, yet its imperious rigidity limits its gains. Russia is reckless, and always moves too soon. Islam is blinkered by its doctrines. All true.

I see no way for the three illiberal forces to combine successfully and overcome their common foe. Nor do I see a way for the liberal democracies to evade large-scale and continuing conflict with the other forces. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world, yet paradoxically we rise. Look at the achievements of the last few centuries. One must balance them with losses, failures, and horrors, but still: look at the wonders wrought by humankind! Amen, brother!

In our conflicts with these three the West should be like parents bringing along unruly teenagers, with love, and tough-love when necessary. A messy process I can tell you. And that is exactly what we are trying to do in IRAQ, and exactly why the West's legions of perpetual adolescents hate the Iraq campaign with insane fury. And hate George W Bush, who is (yes, yes I know, he's not perfect) the father telling the kids it's time to act like grown-ups, and start dealing with messy problems...

And that's also why it is not correct to say that we are "at war." We are not at war with anyone, since there are none of our "enemies" we would not welcome into friendship and comity if they decided to drop their twisted ways.

Posted by John Weidner at August 19, 2008 12:09 PM
Weblog by John Weidner