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Hullabaloo


Monday, January 28, 2008

 
The State Of Our Union

by dday

I'm going to miss tonight's State of the Union address, but I don't think I'll be missing much. It'll be the same propaganda on low taxes and "good progress" in Iraq that we've heard for years now, as well as churlish demands for more money for endless war ($70 billion worth) as well as a complete evisceration of the Fourth Amendment. Apparently he's also going to fight the war on earmarks, not the ones he casually slips into every bill imaginable, of course. The address is not a document about policy but purely about politics, and the lines of attack Republicans will use in November.

I know that Kathleen Sebelius will be delivering the Democratic rebuttal, but I have an idea for her. Rather than reading her prepared remarks, she should just open the New York Times and recite this story of the loss of American power in the age of Bush. It's a bit long but maybe she can summarize it in parts.

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.


It's a dark and pessimistic view, but one that the public deserves to hear in full. The European Union and China are not bogged down in multiple wars, they are not stricken by failed leadership on the economy, energy, and global warming. They do not have a dollar that is almost as useful as tissue paper. They are finding room to maneuver in a time of an America adrift, and they are not entirely likely to give up the advantage they are pressing. While we refocus to Afghanistan after seven years, China and Europe are moving forward. While we appear unable to get anything done on major issues, China and Europe are moving forward. Instead of nation-building, they are alliance-building. And we face serious risk of being left behind.

And Europe’s influence grows at America’s expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past. More broadly, America controls legacy institutions few seem to want — like the International Monetary Fund — while Europe excels at building new and sophisticated ones modeled on itself. The U.S. has a hard time getting its way even when it dominates summit meetings — consider the ill-fated Free Trade Area of the Americas — let alone when it’s not even invited, as with the new East Asian Community, the region’s answer to America’s Apec [...]

Without firing a shot, China is doing on its southern and western peripheries what Europe is achieving to its east and south. Aided by a 35 million-strong ethnic Chinese diaspora well placed around East Asia’s rising economies, a Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere has emerged. Like Europeans, Asians are insulating themselves from America’s economic uncertainties. Under Japanese sponsorship, they plan to launch their own regional monetary fund, while China has slashed tariffs and increased loans to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle — of which China sits at the center — has surpassed trade across the Pacific.


We are in a very difficult spot and it's important for us to remember that a new Democratic President will get blamed for all of this. It's the Republican way. George Bush, however, has fundamentally changed our position in the world, and it's going to take a supreme effort to counteract that, probably over decades.

This is a dispiriting, yet must-read, article.


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