Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who will replace us?

Matthew Parris of the London Times waxes wishful about the much anticipated decline of the American empire:
The accent throughout has been on the positive. Making things possible has marked the whole tenor of his campaign. Hope, optimism, ambition, confidence, reform amounting almost to renaissance - such has been his appeal. “Yes, we can” was a cocky, but not an empty slogan. A deep and swelling sense of the possible, focused on America's future but rooted in America's past, has dominated the struggle for the presidency. It would hardly be an exaggeration to call Mr Obama's promise transfigurative.

But maybe destiny has other plans. America's fate in the half-century ahead is not to be transfigured, but to be relegated. Steering your team through a relegation can be as important a test of leadership as handling a promotion, but it is a different test. Though he may not yet know it, the role for which the US President-elect has been chosen is the management of national decline. He will be the first US president in history to accept, and (if he has the gift) to teach, not the possibilities but the constraints of power.

The fate of his predecessor George W.Bush was to test almost to destruction the theory of the limitlessness of American wealth and power - and of the potency of the American democratic ideal too. With one last heave he pitched his country into a violent and ruinous contest with what at times seemed the whole world, and the whole world's opinion. He failed, luminously.


First off, America's recent economic decline is part of a global economic retrenchment. Noone is gaining on the US on a relative basis.

Secondly, the Iraq war, as much as wobbly internationalists wish to portray it, was/is not a disaster. Our war aims were acheived - Saddam was deposed, the possibility of Iraq serving as a base for the development of WMDs has been negated, a democratic government is in place in Iraq and the security situation is improving daily. In what way has the Iraq policy been a failure?

To answer my own question, Iraq has been a failure in the eyes of Parris and other wobbly defeatists for the same reasons that all wars, in their eyes, are failures. It was bloody, destructive, and didn't proceed according to the original, overly optimistic plans. It was a failure because mistakes were made. It was a failure because its unpopularity contributed to the defeat of the Republicans.

But if the American foreign policy "empire" is gone, what has taken its place? America will continue to be the world's superpower by default, because no other nation or entity (UN or EU) can replace it. Parris wants the US empire gone because is wishful for a new world order of peaceful cooperation and coexistence through the rise of trans-national entities like the UN and its spawn of countless NGOs and CSOs. Parris thinks that its time for the soldier to give way to the diplomat, the combat boot to the wingtip. Ain't gonna happen.

Iraq has strengthened our position in Asia, it has not diminished it. Likewise Afghanistan. You gain no power or influence by being disengaged from the world's hotspots. Wingtips without combat boots are worse than useless.

23 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Bush exposed the bankruptcy of American military power, that's what.

Relative to our population in 1942, the US could have fielded an army of 25 million. As it was, we were barely able to field 1% of that, and Bush dared not ask the citizenry to flock to the colors -- or to be conscripted to them.

The idea that infantry is no longer necessary was killed, although the people who need to realize that still don't get it.

Knocking off Saddam was a good thing. The idea that Iraq is now a democratic country is a laugh. It isn't even a country.

The real problem -- nationalism in southwest Asia -- was even considered, much less advanced; and the real enemies -- Islam and Iran and Syria -- were put on notice that they can do whatever they want as long as they don't do it in a fashion that a small American army can deal with.

The danger of WMD in Iran is enhanced, the US is hogtied on east Asia by a China that seems to be, in international policy, Italian Fascism all over again.

It's true we're the only actor on the stage, but we have no policy and don't act purposefully.

Luckily, most of the time it doesn't matter. Ecuador and Argentina just went down the tubes again, and I bet not one American in 50 even noticed.

January 04, 2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger David said...

Nixon and Kissinger saw their role as managing inevitable American decline. There's nothing new about defeatism.

January 04, 2009 7:55 PM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Perhaps. But you gotta admit that our attitude towards it has changed a fair bit.

As our President-elect has (eloquently) reminded us:

"Yes, we can!"

January 05, 2009 4:15 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ah, that would explain Nixon's remark about America's being a pitiful, helpless giant. Don't think so.

Anyhow, Nixon's been gone a long time. If anyone thinks - as I know many do -- that the Lion of Grenada reversed Republican isolationism, he's delusional.

I still say that if you have not underdstood who your enemy is, then you will not defeat him, no matter how much stronger you are, materially.

Vietnam comes to mind in this instance but also Spain in 1809.

January 05, 2009 8:51 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The accent throughout has been on the positive. [snip] It would hardly be an exaggeration to call Mr Obama's promise transfigurative.

Equally, it would hardly be an exaggeration to note that my dog is more critical of me than Mr. Parris is of Pres Elect Obama.

Secondly, the Iraq war, as much as wobbly internationalists wish to portray it, was/is not a disaster.

I wonder if wobbly internationalists would care to ponder what the Iranian nuclear weapons program would look like -- with all the knock on effects to the rest of the ME -- if Saddam was still in power.

Recognizing Russian and French perfidy for what it was; uncovering grotesque UN corruption; letting Islamist nihilism flourish for all the world to see; proving to Islamists that the US will, in fact, take casualties: all, in the long run, may well stand in the shadow of the nuclear threat we greatly diminished.

++++

The idea that infantry is no longer necessary was killed, although the people who need to realize that still don't get it.

The idea that infantry is no longer necessary to successfully attain military victory is well and truly alive.

The idea that a population, newly unburdened of a murderous tyranny, will quickly prefer civilization to sectarian slaughter is the notion that has been killed.

That said, perhaps the best thing that could have happened (besides removing Saddam's threat as an incentive to the Iranian nuclear weapons program) is precisely what did happen: Muslims killing each other over a fairy tale.

The security situation in Iraq today is a consequence of Islamist failure, which could only have come about with a light occupation force.

It is such a clever plan no one could have thought about it in advance.

Perhaps.

++++

Nixon and Kissinger saw their role as managing inevitable American decline. There's nothing new about defeatism.

Remember those days well. Far more plausible then than now.

January 05, 2009 9:20 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry:

That Nixon and Kissinger saw their main challenge as managing America's relative decline is pretty well established.

If not Reagan, what did end Republican isolationism? That it did end is pretty clear, given that Republicans are now not isolationist.

I agree that not recognizing the enemy makes it more difficult to win. That makes the fact that you are wrong about the enemy -- hint, it's not Islam -- ironic.

January 05, 2009 11:18 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Republican isolationism is not as dead as you think.

Bush (I think) expected that Iraq and Afghanistan would be just as tough as Grenada and Panama. He was wrong, but he certainly showed no stomach for dueling with bigger bullies -- N. Korea, Iran, not even Syria.

God, or whoever keeps score, is still on the side of the big battalions.

January 05, 2009 4:52 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

That makes the fact that you are wrong about the enemy -- hint, it's not Islam -- ironic.

Who do you think the enemy is?

January 05, 2009 5:40 PM  
Blogger David said...

In the current war? Al Qaeda, principally.

January 06, 2009 4:32 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: That's an odd definition of "isolationism" you've got there. Sounds more like "picking your battles" to me.

January 06, 2009 4:33 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not picking, ducking.

January 06, 2009 11:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

In the current war? Al Qaeda, principally.

Which differs from Islam how?

January 06, 2009 12:25 PM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Parris also seems to have caught Victor Hanson's eye.

Uh oh, watch out... (Scroll down to "The Decline Industry".)

January 07, 2009 2:03 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I still read the newspaper, and today it reports that Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia, has called for murder of Americans in support of the Palestinians, Sunni.

This suggests that David is wrong about who the enemy is and Skipper is wrong about the defeat of the Iraq insurgency.

Sometimes (often) I think I am the only person who takes religious speakers seriously.

January 08, 2009 11:13 AM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Just the Moslem version of ecumenicalism....

January 08, 2009 1:04 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Skipper is wrong about the defeat of the Iraq insurgency.

So let me get this straight. Since Mooky has called for the murder of Americans, the insurgency is undefeated.

Does that mean that if no, or very few, Americans are killed as a consequence, that is de facto evidence the insurgency is defeated?

January 08, 2009 11:09 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The insurgency might be considered defeated if an American or a Sunni could drive through Sadr City unarmed and come back.

Muqtadr is a very slow learner, but it's clear he finally figured out that if he lies low he'll get what he wants by resuming violence after the Americans leave.

January 09, 2009 12:14 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Or Maliki will just have him popped when he shows up, if the Americans aren't around to make Maliki play nice.

January 09, 2009 2:21 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Harry:

The insurgency might be considered defeated ...

Keeping in mind that I have never said the insurgency is defeated, that is a good rule of thumb test.

You must admit, though, that the situation in Iraq is far closer to that end now than two years ago.

January 09, 2009 5:03 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

No, I don't have to admit it. Take the long-term view, not the 8-year presidential term.

Aside from bumping off Saddam, which goals have been achieved?

Not one.

January 10, 2009 9:49 AM  
Blogger erp said...

The most important goal of all -- no more attacks on us.

January 10, 2009 12:43 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Being in Iraq has nothing to do with that.

And that's not the goal anyway. The goal should have been to eliminate the desire to attack us.

We haven't done that.

January 11, 2009 11:09 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And today my newspaper reports that the Kurds may withdraw from 'Iraq.'

As if that's news.

January 12, 2009 9:48 AM  

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