Sunday, January 27, 2008

[Hegemony] The U.S.'s Slow-Motion Swan Dive

From the New York Times, some good Sunday reading:

Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.

It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.

Why? Weren’t we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America’s image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no “permanent enemies,” but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.

I've been predicting a long, slow decline in US power along these lines for some time. Parag Khanna, the author, doesn't get at resource scarcity (which makes US military interventions more likely, which could change the equation), but I think Khanna is essentially correct: The US is a lumbering behemoth in the slow, painful process of crashing to the ground due to its own ignorance. (The epistemology of the Master-Slave dialectic seems ripe for application here.)

The only thing that prevents me from saying "it's about time" is the prospect that the US won't go quietly, and instead we're going to see lots more Iraq-style resource appropriation adventures/attempts at maintaining control in the near- to medium-future. You know, the kind that cause hundreds of thousands or millions of civilians to be killed or displaced. Blech.


Roxy said...

I dispute the fact we have no "permanent" friends. Lest we forget, we buy the most products from China and are in a huge trade deficit with them, especially within the last 10 years, which coincidentally has been when their economy has earned the titled of the "waking giant." If we go down, we're taking China with us dammit. To top it off, the U.S. pours more money into defense and military spending than any other state, resulting in (arguably) the best military any state has.

Anyway… That wasn’t really the point I wanted to make.

We are a hegemony in the declining stages. However, it took the first hegemony years (supplemented by two "world wars") to hit the bottom, and even when they did it hasn't been horrible for the Brits -- even with their history of colonialism. I think it's going to take years to hit bottom. I just hope we don't expedite the process with more conquests in the Middle East.

Dennis said...

I don't think we're really in disagreement here, Roxy.

My point is more that there is little to no public awareness of the long fall ahead. The assumption that the U.S. will be on top forever is alive and well, both among political elites and "common" folk.

Roxy said...

Oh, OK. Well, I agree with that.

Anonymous said...

".....there is little to no public awareness of the long fall ahead. The assumption that the U.S. will be on top forever is alive and well, both among political elites and "common" folk."

You mean there others who believe as I do? Amazing!

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