Furious agreement

by John Quiggin on November 15, 2008

Back when I was a high school debater, my team once had to take the negative position on the topic ‘Australian democracy is dying’. With the Vietnam war at its worst, conscription of 18-year olds (old enough to die, but in those days too young to vote) a big issue, and a conservative government that had been in office since before my classmates and I were born, it didn’t seem likely that we were going to carry the audience with Panglossian rhetoric. So, we decided to argue instead that Australian democracy couldn’t be dying because it was already dead. The resulting debate was somewhat farcical, as we rushed to agree with every piece of gloomy evidence raised by the affirmative side, and pile on with our own. We won easily, but I gave up debating not too long after that.

I’m reminded of this episode by a piece by Robert Kagan, criticising the idea that American power is declining. In effect, Kagan argues that, while things might seem bad for American power just now, they’ve actually been terrible for decades. Unchallenged economic dominance had already been lost by 1960, when the US share of the world economy (around half in the immediate aftermath of WWII) had fallen to 24 per cent. The international image of the US was trashed by Vietnam and other disasters of the 1960s. Military failures are nothing new. So, those who, decade after decade, proclaim that America is in decline have simply forgotten how bad things were in the past.

The idea that the US effectively dominated the world for decades after WWII is an illusion. As Kagan says:

between 1945 and 1965 the United States actually suffered one calamity after another. The “loss” of China to communism; the North Korean invasion of South Korea; the Soviet testing of a hydrogen bomb; the stirrings of postcolonial nationalism in Indochina—each proved a strategic setback of the first order. And each was beyond America’s power to control or even to manage successfully.

Kagan is spot on here, and the implications are obvious. Ever since MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel in 1950, US governments have shown a chronic tendency to over-reach themselves, and to squander blood, treasure and international respect as a result. The Vietnam disaster reined in this tendency for a while. But then neoconservatives invented the term ‘Vietnam syndrome’ to describe the perfectly sensible lessons most people learned from the US defeat. In the end, it took the Iraq fiasco to provide a remedial lesson for the slower learners.

There’s no need to postulate a decline in American power and influence to explain why an aggressive and unilateralist policy is a foolish one. As Kagan says, there was never a time when the US, or any other country ‘could dominate, dictate and always have its way’. Every state that has tried to do this has failed. I share Kagan’s hope that President Obama will not regard a sensible recognition of the limits of power and of the need for international co-operation as a confession of national decline.

{ 55 comments }

1

Nich Hills 11.15.08 at 7:01 am

Hi John,

Shouldn’t your last sentence read, “I share Kagan’s hope that President Obama will not regard a sensible recognition of the limits of power and of the need for international co-operation as a confession of national decline.”?

D’oh!! One day I’ll write a long post with no typos. Fixed now, I hope-JQ

2

Mike 11.15.08 at 8:23 am

In the end, it took the Iraq fiasco to provide a remedial lesson for the slower learners.

I question whether this lesson has, in fact, been learned. It seems to me that most of those who supported the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and who now admit failure argue, as in the case of Viet-nam, that the problem was one of execution, not of fundamental principle. And, of course, there are many who still believe the invasions to have been a success. They will be all in favour of an attack on Iran or Syria or whomever the US trains its sights on next.

And, as yet, I have seen no clear evidence that Mr Obama holds a different view.

3

Andrew 11.15.08 at 10:05 am

I question whether this lesson has, in fact, been learned. I agree with you. My boss, an otherwise intelligent man, insists that the war in iraq was a fabulous idea, and that the war in afganistan was incredibly important.

4

bad Jim 11.15.08 at 10:23 am

The US does have fewer nuclear weapons than it used to, and the number of men under arms is less than when I was threatened by the draft, but in military terms it remains the world’s pre-eminent force. That doesn’t mean that it can impose its will wherever it chooses, but then it never could. Who could think that Latin America is exactly what the US wanted?

Considering other ways in which power could be measured, one might note that the value of the dollar has surged during the current financial panic; despite the fecklessness of its markets and the decrepitude of its manufacturing sector, the US economy retains enormous clout. Note as well the continuing hegemony of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Now consider the prospect of President Obama: We got your moral authority right here.

Our post-WWII pre-eminence was in no small part due to the damage done by war to our major competitors. Somehow we’ve retained a bit of an edge in the far more affluent present. During the cold war we never really had the ability to intervene in a Central European dispute, and it’s hard to see how our capability has changed significantly since then.

We’d be stronger if we were making merry with Castro and Chavez and Lula, while ridiculing Ahmadinejad and the whole pack of Persian Gulf puritans, but patience: one day at a time.

5

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 12:15 pm

one might note that the value of the dollar has surged during the current financial panic

I’ve been wondering about that. Do you have an explanation? It just plain doesn’t make sense, does it?

We have a financial catastrophe, there’s every reason to expect the dollar to be devalued even further, every reason to expect a lot of inflation, and somebody foreign wants dollars!

Who is buying dollars and why? I’ve got a feeling the other shoe will drop pretty soon.

6

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 12:23 pm

We’d be stronger if we were making merry with Castro and Chavez and Lula, while ridiculing Ahmadinejad and the whole pack of Persian Gulf puritans, but patience: one day at a time.

Sure, we’d be stronger if we made friends with those people, but it bothers our morals. Some of them are thugs and we don’t want to cater to them even though it weakens us not to.

I read in Readers Digest a long time ago that somebody called Somoza a SOB, and Rooseveldt replied “Sure he’s an SOB, but he’s *my* SOB.” I just now looked it up and it gets attributed to FDR, to Dean Acheson, to an unnamed CIA director, and to well over a dozen dictators.

Maybe we’re better off without that kind of strength.

7

Monte Davis 11.15.08 at 12:59 pm

Our post-WWII pre-eminence was in no small part due to the damage done by war to our major competitors.

Obvious, but harder to grasp than you might think. In 1980 I was writing for Discover, then recently launched by Time Inc. The uber-editors had been piqued by Carter’s “malaise” speech and hostages in Iran, and asked all the magazines: what happened to the American Century that TIME had proclaimed in 1950? For us at a science magazine, that became “why don’t we dominate Nobel prizes, innovative patents etc. as we did in 1960 or 1970?”

I suggested that it might have been foolish all along to expect that Europe and Japan would stay wrecked… and (with only the mildest of prescience) that it might be foolish to expect that China and India would keep stultifying themselves with ideology indefinitely. That didn’t go down at all well: vox Dei had spoken through Henry Luce, and by Luce, we were going to find out who was to blame when prophecy failed.

8

Victor Tremblay 11.15.08 at 2:08 pm

I furiously agree with your main point. But I am skeptical that the lessons have been learned by the population at large, even after Iraq. Both candidates ran on a foreign policy platform of deep foreign engagement and military actions abroad. Obama merely wants to shift the focus of the War On Terror from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, supports military actions in Pakistan, he is about as hawkish towards Russia in regard to Georgia and his position that we should talk with Iran and Syria is basically just an extension of our current policy of talking with Iraqi Sunni and North Korea, there’s nothing revolutionary here. McCain is basically a continuation of the Bush’s policies. There is an agreement that the war was badly conducted, but the consensus appears to be that by changing strategy and being nicer to allies, the War on Terror will be successful, not that we should rethink our dominant position in the world.

It seems to me that Obama will continue Bush policies with a few tweaks here and there and a much more positive attitude with our allies, but the underlying assumption of US dominance will go unchallenged. There is a possibility that Obama realizes the obstacles and limits facing the country and attempt to lead the US toward a more realist foreign policy, but after his campaign I am skeptical. Obama remembers what happened to Carter after he dared suggest that the problems facing America might be coming from within. Americans don’t like introspection, they prefer projection.

9

Paul 11.15.08 at 2:25 pm

One has only to study history to see the fate of empires and nations. Power is a tenuous thing that will be yours for awhile and then be gone. It is ephemeral to say the least.

10

Brett Bellmore 11.15.08 at 3:34 pm

“I’ve been wondering about that. Do you have an explanation? It just plain doesn’t make sense, does it?

We have a financial catastrophe, there’s every reason to expect the dollar to be devalued even further, every reason to expect a lot of inflation, and somebody foreign wants dollars!”

Makes perfect sense: Currencies are valued relatively, and this is a world-wide financial crisis which is worse elsewhere.

11

P O'Neill 11.15.08 at 3:58 pm

As far as Kagan is concerned, aren’t we in “He would say that, wouldn’t he” territory? If Iraq was a little more spinnable as a victory, I suspect his historical perspective would be different.

12

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 4:12 pm

Currencies are valued relatively, and this is a world-wide financial crisis which is worse elsewhere.

No, that doesn’t make sense. They’d have to think that things would continue to be worse elsewhere. But they’ve seen that the accounting for US corporations is generally unreliable and our banks are suspect. Why would they think we have fewer problems?

For a moment I thought I had a clue. US interest rates are very very low, so foreigners could borrow money here. Then when our interest rates go way up they could lend it back to us and make a profit. But why would foreigners who borrow dollars have to put up their own currency? Why would that make the dollar temporarily strong?

No, it doesn’t make sense. A strong dollar would seem to imply confidence in the US economy. Why would anybody make that bet now?

13

roy belmont 11.15.08 at 5:20 pm

Sure, we’d be stronger if we made friends with those people [Castro and Chavez and Lula], but it bothers our morals.
One of the more obvious indicators of quietus is the stench of putrefaction.
The outgassing of corrupted flesh, the nauseating afflatus of mortal tissues no longer sustained by organic life processes.
Viz. that fatuous statement, which is singularly wrong, outstanding in its absurdity, and the most offensive thing I’ve read anywhere in well over a month.

14

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 5:26 pm

Roy, are you suggesting that we ought to normalise relations with Castro etc, despite the large minority of public opinion which is deadset against it?

15

Jonny R 11.15.08 at 5:29 pm

Agree 100% with P ‘O’Neill and Mike;

To Mike: Yes, the ‘vietnam syndrome’ as a neo-con / Kagan ‘lesson’ is totally misdescribed in the original post. Most ‘neo-con’ thinkers did not learn the lessons of Vietnam we sometimes think they did. To people like Kagan Vietnam was a undertaken for ‘good’ reasons; ‘Nam was ‘lost’ because politicians in Washington (i.e. LBJ) didn’t fight hard enough / were not prepared to sacrifice domestic reforms to pay for the war in a world where the U.S. could not manage both guns and butter. But, we should be clear, Kagan and con lessons of Vietnam are not that it was wrong in principle or could not have worked. Kagan’s (and neo-con) points about Vietnam are as much about limiting domestic reform than about understanding a more ‘difficult’ world.

To P O’Neill: Kagan didn’t see the world as quite so limiting before the invasion, so I’d agree with you. This seems more like an effort to excuse the invasion of Iraq as part of the ‘messy’ world. Incidentally, this is exactly how John Lewis Gaddis explains U.S. actions during the Cold War (the U.S. is an innocent dealing with hard circumstances, the USSR a scheming plotter).

16

Jim Harrison 11.15.08 at 5:33 pm

As Marshall Sahlins wrote in Apologies to Thucydides, the American “empire” is analogous to the Athenian empire of the 5th Century B.C.E. We’re a predominately naval power that has the capability to wreck terrible damage to any place with a seashore, but we simply don’t have the manpower or resources to occupy more than a fraction of the land in our sphere of influence. Our preponderance depends upon prestige, the ability to do economic harm to our adversaries, and occasional violence . Like the Athenians, we have to act badly from time to time to preserve our always precarious dominance.

Sahlins goes overboard with his analogy, but at least he recognizes that military power is not a scalar quantity. America has an overwhelming ability to destroy but a very modest power to occupy. A foreign leader would have to be insane to attack our vital interests, but in many circumstances even weak powers can snub us with impunity. In evaluating our prospects, it’s important to consider the for what as well as the how much. Thus from one perspective our power has increased dramatically since World War II, but in another we are in decline. There’s no paradox in that.

17

matsig 11.15.08 at 5:37 pm

Sure, we’d be stronger if we made friends with those people [Castro and Chavez and Lula], but it bothers our morals.
One of the more obvious indicators of quietus is the stench of putrefaction.
The outgassing of corrupted flesh, the nauseating afflatus of mortal tissues no longer sustained by organic life processes.
Viz. that fatuous statement, which is singularly wrong, outstanding in its absurdity, and the most offensive thing I’ve read anywhere in well over a month.

I would say that depends on what it is you are offended about. If I were Lula (a democratically elected leader who, as far as I can tell, respects the rights of the opposition to question his policies, I’d be offended at the comparison with Castro (and quite possibly with Chavez as well). If I were Castro, I’d be flattered someone compared me with people that have actually had the guts to stand for election against an actual opposition. If I were Chavez, I’d most likely say “Yeah, me, Castro and Lula are like this!”, which really says more about Chavez than it does about the others…

18

Brett Bellmore 11.15.08 at 5:40 pm

“No, that doesn’t make sense. They’d have to think that things would continue to be worse elsewhere. But they’ve seen that the accounting for US corporations is generally unreliable and our banks are suspect. Why would they think we have fewer problems?”

Ok, here’s your problem: You rightly recognize that accounting for US corporations is generally unreliable, and our banks are suspect. Quite true. But that doesn’t mean this can’t be even more true elsewhere. Our being bad doesn’t preclude others being worse.

The belief that we’re exceptionally awful is just another form of American exceptionalism. Things can be worse somewhere else.

19

roy belmont 11.15.08 at 5:49 pm

No, J Thomas, I’m suggesting that, as per Quiggin’s post, while American power may or may not be exactly in decline its presence, while yet still greatly influential, is now more that of a gargantuan smelly dead thing that’s making everyone ill than it is a majestic and robust live thing.
As indicated by the stink of that noxious phrase you chose to deliver here.

20

j 11.15.08 at 5:50 pm

@10: “If Iraq was a little more spinnable as a victory, I suspect his historical perspective would be different.”

But Kagan does spin Iraq as a victory! He says, “Yet even in the Middle East, where America’s image has suffered most as a result of that war, there has been no fundamental strategic realignment. Longtime American allies remain allies, and Iraq, which was once an adversary, is now an ally.”

Which is true in the same way it’s true that if you corner your adversary and beat him over the head with a baseball bat for a while, he’ll probably become your ally. An ally you have to keep an eye on, but an ally nonetheless.

21

roy belmont 11.15.08 at 5:51 pm

And as further indicated by #17.

22

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 5:55 pm

Things can be worse somewhere else.

Sure, of course. But for the dollar to keep getting stronger against a basket of important world correncies would imply that things are predicted to worse on average across the world faster than they’re predicted to get worse here.

It implies that the places things are going better than here can’t absorb much of the investment that’s looking for a safe haven, that for a whole lot of people we’re the best they can do.

Isn’t that real, real scary?

23

Alex 11.15.08 at 6:10 pm

The economic argument is a red herring, though; the absurd lead of the 1950s and 1960s – well, very early 1960s, the gold overhang had developed by 1964 – was a symptom of European devastation. It wasn’t due to anything inherent the US had and has now lost; it was due to the second world war. It’s telling that by the early 70s Kissinger was talking about a concert of powers based on the major world industrial bases; the (West) Germans, French, and Japanese were back.

Of course, George F. Kennan recognised this right back at the start in the long telegram. It’s all about preventing the major industrial centres, damaged by the wars, from going Communist. But then, Kennan got everything; he was even against Iraq, in the last political act of his life.

24

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 6:18 pm

American power may or may not be exactly in decline its presence, while yet still greatly influential, is now more that of a gargantuan smelly dead thing that’s making everyone ill than it is a majestic and robust live thing.
As indicated by the stink of that noxious phrase you chose to deliver here.

Roy, I’d like it if you could make your point. I tend to agree with you about how things are, but what is your complaint? Is it that I said we’d be better off to make friends with noxious dictators, or that I said it would bother our morals?

Either view could fit. We have tended to sustain Castro and Chavez by our opposition. In both cases they can blame their problems on us and people tend to buy it. And it costs us and their civilian populations, too. And yet they are dictators that we likely despise as undemocratic, though they have sufficient public support to stay on top.

I’m inclined from your previous posts to think that you think it’s worse that we would waver in our opposition, but you haven’t said.

25

John Emerson 11.15.08 at 6:19 pm

Off topic, but at my URL I’ve posted a collection of links to freemarketers praising pre-bankruptcy Iceland’s finanical deregulation.

26

Brett Bellmore 11.15.08 at 6:24 pm

“Isn’t that real, real scary?”

Yes, you’ve grasped the true terror of the situation.

27

a. y. mous 11.15.08 at 6:46 pm

Re: Dollar going strong,

The rest of the world is doing the right thing by buying dollars and suffering slightly in the short term. Once the credit thaw begins, as it has to sooner or later, exports can remain cheap and the U. S. of A. can once again consume on credit.

One thing Iraq did is to solidify the already set notion that U. S. of A. must only import and should not even begin to think of export anything of real value. You know, like food, apple pie, motherhood, democracy. Dollars, yes.

28

Kaveh Hemmat 11.15.08 at 6:53 pm

Of course, George F. Kennan recognised this right back at the start in the long telegram. It’s all about preventing the major industrial centres, damaged by the wars, from going Communist. But then, Kennan got everything; he was even against Iraq, in the last political act of his life.@/blockquote>
I’m assuming you mean George Kennan was against waging war on Iraq, not that he had something against the country. (Sorry for being a little pedantic…)

29

roy belmont 11.15.08 at 7:15 pm

Either view could fit. We have tended to sustain Castro and Chavez by our opposition. In both cases they can blame their problems on us and people tend to buy it. And it costs us and their civilian populations, too. And yet they are dictators that we likely despise as undemocratic, though they have sufficient public support to stay on top.
Corpse gas.
Clutched-at premises composed of stinky vapor.
Faulty claims with no supporting evidence, no confirming documentation, because none is available in the real world, pushed through to bizarre and dangerous conclusions.
The entirety humming with that insectile busy-ness of disintegration and decay that naturally attends the mortal terminus.
All of it two-dimensional jingoist claptrap received from corporate image-makers whose real task is closer, far closer, to the make-up artist’s in a funeral home than to real journalism or the honest teaching of history.
Clearly you know nothing about these countries or their leaders or the fuller narrative of their collective and individual past other than what you’ve read in the Reader’s Digest.

30

Jaybird 11.15.08 at 7:22 pm

I can’t help but suspect that the main point of the essay would have been propped up a bit more if Australian Democracy had, in fact, been dead. Or, for that matter, significantly wounded.

31

oriflamme 11.15.08 at 8:48 pm

Ever since MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel in 1950

Would you consider rephrasing that as “ever since the US decided to reimpose colonial regimes in Indochina, Malaya and Indonesia in 1945″?

32

virgil xenophon 11.15.08 at 9:32 pm

bad Jim@#4 and Monte Davis @#7 echo something that people like Mary Kaldor have been writing about since the mid-70s. I think she notes in her work “The Disintegrating West” that this “catch-up” factor in which the war ravaged former industrial powers began to achieve parity with the US began as early as around 58-60.

33

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 9:44 pm

Faulty claims with no supporting evidence, no confirming documentation, because none is available in the real world, pushed through to bizarre and dangerous conclusions.

Roy, you still haven’t said which side you’re on. Or do you believe something that doesn’t fit either of those sides? This is your next opportunity to tell us what you think, what you think should be done.

34

Chris in NF 11.15.08 at 10:25 pm

I think I just figured it out — Roy’s a poet. Because honestly, “Corpse gas. / Clutched-at premises composed of stinky vapor” recalls Pound’s Cantos at their most euphonic, when he indulges his Whitmanesque tendencies in full-throated rage against the status quo. Well done!

35

mollymooly 11.15.08 at 10:29 pm

Meh. Doom was prophesied when the U.S. was losing the Space Race in the Sputnik/Gagarin era, and again in the “Cold War is over and Japan won” era.

36

notedscholar 11.15.08 at 10:35 pm

You could just use the principle of Entropy to show that power must decline, of necessity, without fail.

A very powerful argument – and before even looking at the historical data!

And I just have one word: Kennan.

37

dan 11.16.08 at 2:11 am

Sure, we’d be stronger if we made friends with those people, but it bothers our morals.

Since when have “we” – defined as “anyone in a postion to influence America’s position relative to the aforementioned leaders” – ever done anything based on anyone’s morals?

Some of them are thugs and we don’t want to cater to them even though it weakens us not to.

When have “we” ever been anything less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic about promoting the position and interests of thugs?

38

beowulf888 11.16.08 at 2:20 am

I’m not sure what alternate universe Quiggin is living in when he writes: “It took the Iraq fiasco to provide a remedial lesson for the slower learners.” A sizable minority of the US population still supports the occupation of Iraq, and even larger number of US population think that Bush did the right thing by invading Iraq, but that it was just poorly managed. Historical lessons? Please! The Vietnam War generation is starting its descent into history (and history is synonymous with forgetting in America). Unfortunately, the culture of the United States eschews the study of the past — it gets in the way of marketing the future. So expect the US to overreach itself in some military adventure every 20 years or so.

Finally, I would argue that over the course of the 20th Century, the United States did a remarkably good job of managing its overall strategic position in the world (despite not learning the lessons of history). It’s easy to point to the setbacks, but in the long run it managed to survive and prosper despite a series of economic and political threats. And we did so, not because we were in any way perfect, but because we were less f**ked up than the competition. I suspect that this is still the case despite the current economic and political situation.

Certainly the current batch contenders for the Crown of World Leadership all have feet of clay. The European Dis-Union won’t be a cohesive force unless it imposes a centralized federal government on its member states. China, though rich in industrial might, has much larger internal problems than the US (social, political, environmental). India is probably worse off than China with its massive under class living in a toxic wasteland. The Islamic world? They’re still wrestling with the medieval djinn of religious fundamentalism. South America, Brazil specifically? Maybe, but I doubt it. The US has but to muddle along, like it always has, to maintain itself by default as a “world power”.

39

J Thomas 11.16.08 at 2:26 am

Since when have “we” – defined as “anyone in a postion to influence America’s position relative to the aforementioned leaders” – ever done anything based on anyone’s morals?

When important voting blocks care deeply about the issues.

When have “we” ever been anything less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic about promoting the position and interests of thugs?

When it’s communist thugs, or thugs “we” have claimed are communists. Or that “we” have otherwise chosen as enemies.

For example “we” were fine with promoting Saddam’s interests when we particularly wanted to hurt iran, but then “we” wanted him for the threat we’d save saudi arabia and kuwait from so we acted strongly against him.

40

roy belmont 11.16.08 at 2:38 am

Roy, you still haven’t said which side you’re on.
And you still haven’t read Galleano’s Memory of Fire.
Not that those are parallel conditions.

41

Bruce Codding 11.16.08 at 4:57 am

I just clicked the link and read “Still No. 1,” by Robert Kagan, dated October 30, 2008. He doesn’t talk about decline, in fact he calls it “faddish declinism.” Although he talks about some of the United States’ shortcomings, he goes on to say “The danger of today’s declinism is not that it is true but that the next president will act as if it is.”

It sounds to me as though Kagan believes America is still a superpower. To Richard Haas’ statement that the United States remains “the single most powerful entity in the world” but that it “cannot dominate, much less dictate, and expect that others will follow” Kagan says “That is true. But when was it not?”

We went through this soul searching after the United States lost the Vietnam War. Now we are doing it again because withdrawal from Iraq sounds like “defeat.” But to those of us who said we never should have invaded Iraq, it is a Pyrrhic victory.

42

c.l. ball 11.16.08 at 7:03 am

Any student of Anglo-American international relations will be familiar with debates over whether the US was a post-WWII hegemon, for how long, and to what effect (roughly late 70s through 1980s — the debate, not the hegemony), and then the post-1991 debate over whether the US was a unipolar power, for how long, and to what effect.

But Kagan and Quiggin seem to be conflating two distinct issues. The first is whether the relative standing on material and social indicators translates into commensurate influence over others (the hegemony and unipolarity debates). The second is the efficacy of military force (the Vietnam and Iraq debates).

US dominance did not guarantee it undisputed allied support for the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, and its military power could compel submission in those areas. None of this bodes well for Afghanistan. US military, economic, and social might does not enable it to root out al Qaeda from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cooperation by US allies will not change this is the problem is the ineffectiveness of military force.

By the way, the “Vietnam syndrome” is the US fear that military interventions will lead to quagmires. The Lebanon pullout in 1983, Somalia pullout in 1993, the Rwandan non-intervention in 1994, the aversion to ground intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and the effective neglect of Sudan and Congo are all the results of this “syndrome.” The answer was the Weinberger/Powell doctrine of overwhelming, decisive, and short uses of force, which often meant excessive, disproportionate, and abrupt uses of force.

43

e julius drivingstorm 11.16.08 at 10:36 am

c.l.

Didn’t you mean to say?

…and its military power could not compel submission…

also, same paragraph, you may have and is where you mean as.

More to your point, my way of thinking is that the Reagan/Weinberger approach of bombing Tripoli or conquering mighty Grenada to everyone’s surprise, as opposed to Powell’s Gulf War I to nobody’s surprise and everyone’s support, are both excellent examples of not biting off more than you can chew. Unless you meant Powell’s unfortunate selling of the current Iraq war to the UN, which he never would have gone along with had he known his facts weren’t truthy.

44

LFC 11.16.08 at 1:51 pm

Kagan says in this column (and I think he also said in a recent Foreign Affairs article) that the Iraq war has not altered the “strategic balance” in the Middle East, b/c American allies there are still allies, and Iraq, once an adversary, “is now an ally.” But this ignores that the Iraq war strengthened Iran by getting rid of a regime that was Iran’s enemy and replacing it with one that Iran can influence. More importantly, Kagan looks only at the alignments of governments (or states), not acknowledging that nonstate actors (Hamas, Hezbollah, e.g.) have an impact on the strategic balance in the region. To the extent that the Iraq war contributed, perhaps indirectly, to Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections in Jan. ’06 and to the Israel-Hezbollah war in summer ’06, it did alter the balance in the region, maybe not drastically, but more than Kagan allows.

45

Detlef 11.16.08 at 2:54 pm

J Thomas asked:

I’ve been wondering about that. Do you have an explanation? It just plain doesn’t make sense, does it?

We have a financial catastrophe, there’s every reason to expect the dollar to be devalued even further, every reason to expect a lot of inflation, and somebody foreign wants dollars!

From what I´ve read on economic blogs part of the reason for the rising dollar seems to be de-leveraging. Till 2007 or so it was pretty easy to get a loan. And I suspect lots of these (international) loans were denominated in dollars.

1) You wanted to finance a merger, leveraged-buy-out or take control of an English Premier League football club on credit? You went to an investment bank to put together a loan package.

2) I´ve read that in countries like Iceland or the East European countries lots of loans (consumer loans, car loans, mortgages) were made in foreign currencies (dollars, Euros, yen, Swiss franc). Maybe in other regions of the world too? I don´t know the reason for that, maybe lower interest rates?
Anyway, how can an Icelandic or Hungarian bank make a loan denominated in dollars? It first has to get a dollar loan from an American bank before it can then loan dollars to its customers.

3) Plus the usual dollar denominated bonds issued by foreign governments or large businesses.

Now a lot of these original loans in 1) and 2) are probably short term or middle term loans. While the follow-up loans/contracts (mortgage, merger for example) were middle or long term “assets”. That wasn´t a problem before the credit crunch. When one loan became due you could just get a new loan to pay the old one.

After the credit crunch though banks became really reluctant to extend loans. So I suspect lots of organizations suddenly had to scramble for dollars to pay back mature loans. That might explain why the Fed entered in such large dollar swap agreements with other Central Banks. Huge dollar demand, not enough supply.

46

El Cid 11.16.08 at 5:05 pm

With the nearly permanent and almost synchronized practice of having repeated “BUT YOU WILL ADMIT THE SURGE IS WORKING” for the last couple of years, I think no deep lesson has been learned at all by anyone of the war hawk persuasion, and now it will be dogma that if you have a strong, manly man like General Petraeus in charge, it’s perfectly fine and sensible to invade & occupy a large, hostile nation which has not had a tradition of democratic governance.

47

El Cid 11.16.08 at 5:09 pm

By the way, when I am persuaded that the U.S. “dominated” the post-WWII period, I have never, ever interpreted that to mean perfect domination, or 100% enforcement of U.S. establishment foreign policy wishes. Most people do not use the term in the political science attempt to state such summary views as nearly scientific empirical generalizations.

48

J Thomas 11.16.08 at 8:45 pm

Detlef, thank you! That does make sense.

So the dollar is the reserve currency, and people who need dollars have trouble getting them because the banks have deflated the supply.

Which reminds me, why is it we let these banks manipulate our money supply? I can see the historical reasons — banks were powerful when government was weak, and it was a daring move for governments to declare a monopoly on printing money and forbid banknotes. But why should we continue to trust these bozos to manage the currency? They haven’t been doing all that great a job.

49

virgil xenophon 11.17.08 at 3:39 am

First, let’s kill all the Bankers…..

50

Reagankid 11.17.08 at 4:28 am

It’s often the case that a trend of chronological hubris takes place. “No one has ever had it as badly as we do,” “no one has ever had as much potential as we do,” etc. So no, the U.S. is not experiencing any “sudden” downturn – it’s been in the wash for a while now.

I’m not convinced by the liberal illuminati, though, that government intervention is going to play Superman and save the day.

51

J Thomas 11.17.08 at 4:58 am

We don’t need to kill the bankers. Just revoke their license to steal.

52

beowulf888 11.17.08 at 5:37 am

What I want to know is, now that we’ve bailed out all the banks, do we all get free clock-radios?

53

ffrancis 11.17.08 at 12:19 pm

Nah…just toasters. Too late for a wake-up call.

54

paul 11.17.08 at 4:19 pm

I think Hobsbawn also dates the beginning of the decline of American dominance at around 1960 in “Age of Extremes”.

55

Upstate (New York) 11.18.08 at 8:41 pm

Lesson, what lesson? We won in Iraq and were cheated of our victory by liberal traitor Barack Obama, or so will go the neocon revisionist propagand in the 2012 election cycle!

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