Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"As if history itself doesn’t happen"

With a generous hat-tip to dday, writing at Hullabaloo (you know, I really need to change the spelling on my blogroll someday), I would like to recommend for close reading and study this article at The New York Times. Written by Parag Khanna, who is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, the article is a long, and long-overdue reality check for Americans on what has been happening in the rest of the world while America leadership was drained away in a pointless war and occupation in Iraq. The lesson from this article, should anyone consider it in its totality, is quite simple: the world situation facing the incoming President - whoever he or she may be, of whatever party - will face a world fundamentally different from the one George W. Bush inherited from Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001. While the threat of terrorism is omnipresent (it always will be), of greater importance is the simple fact that the United States has lost its standing as the lone hegemonic power in the world. While still powerful, to be sure, and still the focus of much global concern and attention, these come less from the ways in which we stride unchallenged across the world stage, and more from an interest in how we have fallen, and continue to diminish, yet fail to acknowledge it.

Here is part of a description of the world as it is, not as we are told it is:
At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules — their own rules — without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.

The more we appreciate the differences among the American, European and Chinese worldviews, the more we will see the planetary stakes of the new global game. Previous eras of balance of power have been among European powers sharing a common culture. The cold war, too, was not truly an “East-West” struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle.

In Europe’s capital, Brussels, technocrats, strategists and legislators increasingly see their role as being the global balancer between America and China. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German member of the European Parliament, calls it “European patriotism.” The Europeans play both sides, and if they do it well, they profit handsomely. It’s a trend that will outlast both President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the self-described “friend of America,” and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, regardless of her visiting the Crawford ranch. It may comfort American conservatives to point out that Europe still lacks a common army; the only problem is that it doesn’t really need one. Europeans use intelligence and the police to apprehend radical Islamists, social policy to try to integrate restive Muslim populations and economic strength to incorporate the former Soviet Union and gradually subdue Russia. Each year European investment in Turkey grows as well, binding it closer to the E.U. even if it never becomes a member. And each year a new pipeline route opens transporting oil and gas from Libya, Algeria or Azerbaijan to Europe. What other superpower grows by an average of one country per year, with others waiting in line and begging to join?

In the spring of 2001, I purchased the book The End of the American Empire, a musing on the coming rise of an increasingly united Europe, and the decreasing ability of the United States to work its will on the rest of the world. Then came the attacks of September 11, and I, like most others in the United States, lost a bit of perspective. By focusing on the attacks as something qualitatively different, rather than a mere geometric leap in the methods and ability to deliver mass death, I set aside the arguments in that book to focus on the threat from terrorism. That brief period, a loss of perspective for which all Americans continue to pay, came crashing down when it became clear that, against all reason, sense, and any rational accounting of national, strategic interest, we would invade and destroy Iraq. I am sobered by the fact that young men and women who will graduate from high school this coming spring were in middle school/junior high when we invaded. This is their reality; this is their education in the destruction of American power and influence - moral as well as political and economic. This perspective, far different from my own (I reached my majority at the nadir of the early-1980's Reagan recession, and was not quite 24 when the Berlin Wall was taken down), will school a whole generation in the perils of overreach. We would all do well to remember that.

I urge anyone to go and read the article - really an essay, it is a bit longer than the average newspaper article. It is well worth the time and effort. I think it should be used as the source for all sorts of questions in candidate forums - imagine John McCain being forced to acknowledge that foreign policy in a hypothetical McCain Administration would be dominated by playing catch-up with the rest of the world.

Virtual Tin Cup

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