27 January 2008

Not Just Wrong, But In the Annals of Utterly Wrong Statements It Will Likely Achieve a Place in the Hall of Fame . . .

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.

There is much wrong with this NYT Magazine piece from Parag Khanna, but I think you can single out the above paragraph as the wrongest of the wrong.

Where to start? The EU will never be a true superpower as long as they defer to the United States in military matters. They can only project power through erecting barriers to trade and instituting ridiculous bureaucratic hurdles to trade (both internal and external). That's no way to be a superpower, add to that the demographic collapse of Europe (their next 2 decades will be just as bad as Russia's past 2 decades, so to deride the shrinking of Russia while not acknowledging the future shrinking of Europe seems odd), and you don't have an entity prepared to play a leading role in the first half of the 21st century. As far as China, they are an incident or two away from a major civil war. Western China is restive. Southern China bristles under control from the North, and Tibet remains an issue of contention. China's ascendancy is not assured, it's not as a homogeneous society as it is often perceived, and as long as they are ruled by a small cabal of communist leaders, their economy will not be what it can be, and the threat of bloody internal conflict will remain. India with all its corruption, confusion and problems, is actually in a much better position to thrive over the next three decades than China, plus their economy is more open to foreign investment, and that openness will help India shoot past China as the #2 world economy by 2040. As far as the USA goes, we will be the number one economy in 2010, and 2020, and 2030, and 2040, and beyond. Not only will we be the number one economy for the foreseeable future, but we will remain the only entity/country capable of projecting its military might to any corner of the globe on either the small or large scale. Our current challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf won't change that, if anything the experience of these current conflicts will hone our military for the challenges to come. Last, but far from least, while Khanna dismisses out of hand the mischief that Islamist can cause globally, they remain a real and present threat now and over the next few decades. It will only take one or two really spectacular acts, or a long series of less spectacular acts to put a drag on our economies and force a bloody counter-reaction from the places targeted. If we retreat from our responsibilities, expect things to get far worse before they get better (and we can't expect China or the EU to step up any time soon).

Later on in this lengthy article, the author unleashes this beauty,
The self-deluding universalism of the American imperium -- that the world inherently needs a single leader and that American liberal ideology must be accepted as the basis of global order -- has paradoxically resulted in America quickly becoming an ever-lonelier superpower. Just as there is a geopolitical marketplace, there is a marketplace of models of success for the second world to emulate, not least the Chinese model of economic growth without political liberalization (itself an affront to Western modernization theory). As the historian Arnold Toynbee observed half a century ago, Western imperialism united the globe, but it did not assure that the West would dominate forever -- materially or morally. Despite the "mirage of immortality" that afflicts global empires, the only reliable rule of history is its cycles of imperial rise and decline, and as Toynbee also pithily noted, the only direction to go from the apogee of power is down.

I don't know what to say. I doubt that China will continue to succeed in growing their economy without liberalizing its political system, for the first two decades or so of their economic renaissance they've gotten away with not liberalizing, but that's going to change. Because Mr. Khanna, for whatever reason, strongly resists the notion that economic prosperity and political liberalization are intrinsically linked, he ignores the problems present in China. It's a fatal flaw in his argument (in my opinion).

The whole piece seems designed to comfort those that hope a decline in our influence will force our political system to become more and more European-like. You could look at Sarkozy in France, and the more American-like and less bureaucratic economies of Eastern Europe as a sign that Europe will become more like us, rather than the other way around. Khanna dismisses Sarkozy and Merkel and suggests they are momentary lapses in EU anti-USA contrarianism, but I think the EU countries that cling to their anti-Americanism are the outliers. There's really no way to prove or disprove his argument, other than to wait and see what happens. Same with his assertion that the EU doesn't need to expand its military presence if it wants to be a co-equal rival to the United States. I think it's an absurd notion to be an equal partner while relying on a 'rival' for military protection. It gives us tremendous leverage against them if they ever push this rivalry too far, and the expense and turmoil of creating a real military will be a further drag on their status as true rival. Either they build up, or accept 'junior partner' status. I think they'll stay junior partners, play the backstabbing 'diplomatic' games, but when push comes to shove, if they push us too hard, we'll give them an offer they can't refuse.

The question isn't how wrong this article is, but why does the NYT devote so much space to an article like this at this time? My guess, is they want to convince Super Tuesday Democratic voters that given the reality of a shrinking hegemony, it doesn't matter whether you pick Obama or Clinton, so go with the one that makes you feel better about yourself, rather than the one you think will be respected more worldwide. Even though the official endorsement was for Clinton, it seems like the Op-Ed writers, and the slant of the news articles are pro-Obama, or at least make it seem as if choosing Obama (admittedly untested, inexperienced, and unknowable as to whether he will shrink from, or grow to the challenge of being Commander-in-Chief) at this time in history won't put us in any undue risk.

Back to the article, even though I disagree with just about all his analysis of the current situation and where things will go, I pretty much agree with all three of his main recommendations for any future State Department. The USA should emphasize global interests when speaking publicly, even while pushing self-interest behind the scenes. We should "Pentagonize the State Department", and get State and Defense working more closely together. The biggest failure of Iraq wasn't military, but the lack of a coordinated effort from State in assistance to our military. It will probably take a wholesale restructuring of our diplomatic corps, it has long been a place to stuff semi-competent cronies and fostered a self-protective culture rather than one designed to implement policy. His third suggestion is to expand the diplomatic corps. He's right, but for the wrong reasons, I think it makes more sense to have a diplomatic corps that supports our businesses, it's our corporations that will best spread our 'hegemony' not our diplomats. We need diplomats who don't view businessman as rivals, at the moment we don't have that. We don't need Peace Corps to expand, we need to use our diplomats to help tear down economic barriers to free competition, that will go a long way towards building our national 'brand' and spreading our influence in a way the EU and China, or India can't match.

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