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bigtree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:18 AM
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Will Barack Obama oversee the waning of the American 'superpower' status?
Edited on Wed Jan-21-09 11:58 AM by bigtree
January 21, 2009
Author: Ben Slingo, Student at Cambridge, UK

D. H. LAWRENCE, in Birds, Beasts and Flowers, declared America to be the evening land. It is not, I hazard, a description that Barack Obama would care for. As it was bestowed in 1923, it has little claim to geopolitical prescience, a failing to which Lawrence himself was doubtless indifferent. Yet despite its perversity when first conferred, the poetic title is becoming ever more appropriate. For all the optimism that suffused Mr. Obamas campaign, and for all the belligerent confidence that too often marred that of his opponent, the country over which he will soon preside is not about to a witness a new dawn of vitality and hope: it is already in the grip of a long and inexorable decline. Thus far the descent, apparent in the bloodshed of Iraq and the still more gruesome carnage on Wall Street, has not been an edifying one. Mr. Obamas calling is not to arrest it, but to conduct it with a little more dignity.

A decade ago, such a gloomy prescription would have seemed as dubious as it did when Lawrence composed his epithet. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the successful prosecution of the first Gulf War, America seemed triumphant; at the very least, as the work of Francis Fukuyama indicated, she was certainly triumphalist. Yet the victory, if not the crowing that accompanied it, was illusory, based as it was on twin pillars of sand. For the two facts that appeared to underpin American hegemony irresistible American values and invincible American strength have proved sadly fragile.

The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon may have been less starkly memorable than the atrocities in New York, but it was no less freighted with symbolism: in the past few years a crater has been blown in the walls of American power, and the limitations of American force have been painfully demonstrated. For years in Iraq, a basketcase that remains unstable, the full might of the US military was confounded by a guerrilla insurgency both heterogeneous and primitive; in Afghanistan US forces are mired in bloody but inconclusive combat while the American-sponsored government remains impotent outside Kabul.

Embroiled in these conflicts with no clear end in sight, the worlds only superpower must stand by powerless as Russia recovers its imperial status, Pakistan slips into turmoil and a Holocaust-denying Iranian president strives for nuclear weapons. Worst of all, even this portrait of a burdened and faltering superpower will soon be far too charitable. The meteoric rise of China, dramatized at their Olympics and evidenced more substantially in her neo-colonial programme for Africa, denotes a return to a multi-polar world of competing great powers that would not be entirely foreign to Metternich or Bismarck. America is not only suffering under Kiplings burden; she will soon have it snatched from her back.

Coupled with this material wane is something still more disheartening. America has always represented an ideal more than military might, and the latter were conspicuously absent when that ideal was first proclaimed. Yet as the iron fist of American power has begun to rust, so the velvet glove of American principles has begun to fray. Pace the placards of priggish protesters, Americas recent wars have been about sowing the seeds of liberty as well as securing oil. As the enduring dominance of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere demonstrates, those seeds have fallen on barren ground. The presence of democracy, indeed, has been as damning as its absence the electoral success of Hamas, Hezbollah and Ahmedinejad shows non-Western peoples having mordant fun at the American idealists expense.

As Americas values have foundered abroad they have been diminished at home for the sake of wiretapping, water-boarding and Guantanamo Bay. Worst of all, however, the most seminal creed of the new millennium has not been the liberal capitalism that should have ended history but a mediaevalist perversion of Islam that abhors everything America stands for. More than ever before, perhaps, the American ideal resembles the bleached skeleton Lawrence imagined it to be . . .


my note:

There are those in government and elsewhere in America who will insist that the U.S. needs to project it's influence behind the force of our military. At the least, there is a majority who believe that the U.S. should maintain a posture and a reality as a 'superpower' which holds ultimate military superiority (if not dominance) over the rest of the nations of the world.

It is from that assumed position of military superiority that the next administration will couch it's arguments and disagreements with policies and actions by nations like Iran, Syria, China, and Russia. Yet, the invasions and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that the destabilizing effects of militarized regime change can outweigh and scuttle whatever resulting 'democratic' gains desired and can fuel and foster even more violent resistance to our presence abroad, our interests, and our allies.

I'm interested in hearing examples of where folks feel there is an opportunity for the new administration to offer different and more rational levers of influence when projecting our interests and ambitions abroad. What 'power' or 'strength' which doesn't rely on our military force can we reasonably expect Pres. Obama to project which has the potential to influence our foes away from objectionable activities as well as satisfy our allies?

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bigtree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 11:55 AM
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1. .
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Political Heretic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 12:00 PM
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2. One can only hope so.
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surrealAmerican Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 02:20 PM
Response to Reply #2
7. Same here.
Being "just another nation" in this world could be the best thing that will ever happen to us.
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rrneck Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:16 PM
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3. Just offhand I'd say that industrialized warfare reached
it's apogee in the mid twentieth century. World War II was the last good war for us in part because it used the resources of oil fueled industrialization to achieve its ends, (against an enemy that used them for the same purpose). With the advent of nuclear weapons, massed armies along well defined fronts became a liability, and the history of warfare since then has seen various efforts to sort out how to fight insurgencies among civilian populations.

For better or worse, the United States is the greatest economic and military power in the last two thousand years, but with the end of easy energy in the form of oil, the focus of our power will have to shift from away from hard to soft. We will have to relearn how to negotiate with others, frequently on their terms, and learn to get along with them on a shrinking planet.

Planetary communications are such that no country can simply overwhelm another with impunity and barbarity and expect to hide its crimes for long. Not, for example, when every telephone has a camera and the internet can spread the news in a matter of minutes. We will have to use information more than bullets to achieve our policy objectives.

Will Obama oversee the decline of American supremacy? I don't think so. We are extremely wealthy and extremely powerful, and it will take time for us to shrink to a more realistic size. But I think he will try to prepare us for that eventuality.

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bigtree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:28 PM
Response to Reply #3
6. communication
. . . "to negotiate with others, frequently on their terms, and learn to get along with them" . . . I agree that this may prove to be his most effective and vital asset.
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SammyWinstonJack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:21 PM
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4. I hope so.
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shadowknows69 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 01:26 PM
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5. Sadly I'm afraid so
The path has been set, we can reverse it, but it will take leadership and strength on a level we've not seen in a generation. We must humbly rejoin the world stage IMO.
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Johonny Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 02:29 PM
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8. No, that was Bush
Obama will be in charge of seeing how we sort out in the world.
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Tierra_y_Libertad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-21-09 02:57 PM
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9. The question is "how well will Obama oversee the loss of superpower status?"
That the USA is losing it's superpower status is a certainty.

A new world order is emerging by it's own momentum. How it plays out is still to be seen as countries around the world, including the USA, either unite to solve problems or follow the historical precedents and fight over power and markets.

Many of the problems facing the world are out of Obama's control, in fact, out of anybody's control.

The economic mess is turning into a catastrophe and will have to eventually sort itself out. The problem is that many of the stopgap measures taken by governments are almost sure to backfire over the long run and delay the "recovery". A recovery that will not return things to what they were.

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