Monday, December 18, 2006

I was wrong, but I was kind of still right

I have, over and over and over, lamented the fact that Americans generally seem unable to accept the idea - not even a fact, yet, but just the idea! - of America being anything other than the #1 power in the world. I have generally criticized American leaders most of all, for perpetuating a form of American nationalism while criticizing other countries for their own nationalism. Today, I have to make an exception to that: This quote is from Bill Clinton, in 2003:
"A lot of respectable opinion," he allowed, backs the conservative idea that America should act like "we're the biggest, most powerful country in the world now. 'We've got the juice; we're going to use it.'"

Then Clinton gave his point of view. "But if you believe that we should be trying to create a world with rules and partnerships and habits of behavior that we would like to live in when we are no longer the only military, economic, and political superpower in the world, then you wouldn't do that. It just depends on what you believe..."
This would be the same Bill Clinton who ignored Kyoto, tried to scuttle the ICC, and who remained hostile to the Land Mines treaty, but whatever. I have to concede that Clinton's hands were tied by a psychopathically-hostile Senate. Nice to see someone in the American leadership grapple with the fact that yes, America's relative power will decline and yes, America has an opportunity now to make the rules of the game fair for all players - an opportunity that won't re-occur.

And what happens when someone else gets the whip hand? Do you seriously think that Beijing, or Brussels, or whoever will be more inclined to be sympathetic to America's interests? Clinton apparently understands that a truly liberal world order - one with America as member, not Presiding officer - is America's only hope for stability in the 21st century.

Now, in the title to this post I say that I was still kind of right because, Clinton notwithstanding, it's clear that these simple facts aren't gaining any traction in the punditocracy right now. I pulled that quote from this article (which deserves another post unto itself) which I found courtesy of David Brooks in the NYT op-ed:
I have to say, I’m as pessimistic about the Middle East as the next guy, but most of this broader existential gloom about America is absurd. The U.S. is in extraordinarily strong shape economically and socially. And whatever their short-term strengths, the Sadrs of the world simply do not have a social model that large numbers of people will want to live under.
To quote the Vietnamese, "That may be so. But it's also irrelevant." We're talking power politics here, not who gets better television.

How's that going? Let's see. In Afghanistan, the US has begged for more troops. They aren't coming. In Iraq, the US is reduced to asking-while-not-asking Iran and Syria to pretty please stop funding insurgents. In Lebanon, the Chinese are busy protecting the state of Israel from Hezbollah. And meanwhile Iran and North Korea are either in possession of or building nuclear weapons, without fear of US reprisals.

But never fear, everyone, because David Brooks says all we need to do is "Buck up." What an idiot.

No comments: