Oct 31 2008

The End is Not Near: Or is it?

Category: politics,USAharmonicminer @ 12:20 pm

Here is an article on American foreign policy couched as a book review.

In From Colony to Superpower, George Herring, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Kentucky, provides a comprehensive, competent and rather conventional narrative history of US foreign policy from the origins of the “empire of liberty” in the 18th century to its “unipolar moment” following the fall of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001…………….

Despite some major failures, Herring argues, American foreign policy has been “spectacularly successful.” Behaving, for the most part, like a traditional great power, the US has balanced its zeal to carry out a providential mission to spread Christianity and democracy with the pragmatic pursuit of its national interests. Unilateralist, but almost never isolationist, America conquered a continent, dominated its hemisphere and the Pacific Ocean, prevailed in two world wars, won the Cold War and “extended its economic influence, military might, popular culture and ‘soft power’ through much of the world.”

Add this to the list of books (and articles) heralding the much hoped for and frequently sought end of American hegemony on the world stage, in which authors try to make the case that the USA is “losing its grip” and is no longer going to be the “hyperpower” that has dominated the world since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The thing that is always omitted in these assessments is precisely WHY there are limits on US power that seem not to have applied to similarly situated powers at other times, i.e., empires with dominant military might, enormously strong economies, etc.  The reason is simple:  there are things the USA will not do in “flexing its muscle”, and those things are eschewed primarily for moral reasons.

Some will cynically say that the USA refrains from overuse of its enormous military muscle because of fear of what the world will think, not out of commitment to moral action and minimum violence in the service of its goals.

To them, I offer a simple question:  why does the USA care about what the world thinks?  What is it that makes the USA care, either its people or its government?  The fact is that the USA economy is the dog that wags the world’s tail,  the USA military has more combat power than the rest of the world’s militaries combined (in real deliverable terms, steel on target), and the attractiveness of the USA as a destination for everyone who wants to build a great life is unparalleled.  The USA, alone of all nations, has sufficient natural resources combined with a manufacturing base, a knowledge base, and a market, such that if the rest of the world disappeared one day, and it was left alone, it would shudder a bit, but basically be fine.

Essentially, the USA is restrained, not by simple fear of world reaction in the sense that if the world reacts badly then we are endangered, but rather because of the genuine regard we have for our allies, and the genuine desire of the US population not to do empire building for its own sake.  The USA is restrained by its own ethos of appropriate use of military power and by its wish to encourage freedom around the world, both flowing from essentially religious convictions at the core of our nation’s regard for human beings.  The LIE OF THE LEFT that the Iraq war was “for oil” or “for Halliburton” or “for Texas oil interests” is about to be exposed as the USA plans its victorious withdrawal from a relatively peaceful Iraq over the next few years.  We will leave a stable government, with at least some democratic characteristics, whose people will remember, in the end, that we freed them from Saddam, supported them while they rid themselves of Al Qaeda, and left them with options and freedom of which they could only have dreamed.  Which is what we did for nations as diverse as Japan, Germany, the Phillipines, even Cuba, the various stories of each proving that final destiny is still in the hands of the people, in the end.  The American people are simply not interested in conquering the world, although we would like to trade with them.

It is possible that the USA is coming to the end of its leadership role in current affairs.  If so, that is not cause for celebration, but terror, on the part of the rest of the world, because its replacement, a few decades hence, will speak Russian, Chinese or Arabic, none of which represent nations that have any sense of restraint in the application of power to achieve ends.

The only other option might be India, which has a chance of becoming a powerful liberal democracy, just possibly.  But militarily it has very far to go to catch up with China or Russia, though it certainly has great potential.  It is an open question whether it will achieve that potential without falling back into a more authoritarian system, given the great ethnic strife it must somehow solve.

In terms of a hyper-power that has no real designs on the rest of the world, it really is America Alone.  America may fade, and other hyper-powers may arise, but they are unlikely to be one-fourth as benign as the USA has been in the role.  Can anyone imagine China, or Russia, or a Caliphate, committing billions of dollars and a huge naval effort to relieve victims of a hurricane in the Caribbean?  Can anyone imagine the individual people in one of those imperiums independently donating enormous sums from their own pockets to aid in the relief, and sending thousands upon thousands of civilian relief workers?

So, my advice to those who think the 21st century will not be another American century:  pray that you are wrong, because you won’t like any of the alternatives.


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