Is America in decline? 2

Is the world entering a post-American era? Will the 21st century be dominated by some other power, or several others?

In the splendid speech that John Bolton delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2010, he said of Obama, “He is the first post-American president.”

In Obama’s eyes, American superpower status is already over. The decline is happening. There’s no reason to regret it, and it would be pointless and unnecessary to try to halt or reverse it. Obama is content to let America be a nation among the nations, no different in any important respect, and certainly no better. “He sees American decline as a kind of natural phenomenon,” Bolton said.

In Bolton’s own view, however, America is still exceptional and still the one and only superpower. If its status as such is under threat, that threat proceeds from Obama himself, who, almost casually – not caring very much, as John Bolton remarked, about foreign and national security policy – is himself weakening it.

What Obama does care about is domestic policy. To achieve his redistributionist goals he has put America into crushing debt; and being determined, it seems, to turn America into a European-style socialist state, he can only make the debt vaster and heavier. That alone weakens America.

China is America’s chief creditor, but that does not mean China is now a second superpower. A China growing in wealth and confidence, and becoming an increasingly significant world actor, may pose an economic threat to America but is not, or not yet, a rival world power. Militarily it is far from a match. Militarily, America is still far and away the most powerful nation.

But there again, if Obama has his way, it won’t be for much longer. He has, in Bolton’s words, an “incredibly naïve idea” that if the US would get rid of its own nuclear weapons, other countries would give up theirs; those that do not have them but want them – such as Iran and North Korea – would abandon their intense efforts to obtain them; and the world would live at peace forever after. This belief or ambition represents, as John Bolton put it, “a pretty deep-seated strain in the left wing of the Democratic Party.” Obama will soon negotiate an arms control agreement with Russia by which he will undertake substantially to reduce America’s nuclear capability. America will not develop new nuclear weapons, or arms in outer space, or even keep its existing arsenal battle-ready by testing for safety and reliability. It is as if America had no enemies; as if America were not under attack; as if 9/11 had never happened; and as if Iran and North Korea would not drop nuclear bombs on America and its allies if they could do it and get away with it.

Furthermore, with the rest of the dreaming Left both at home and internationally, he aspires to another vision of a new earth: one that is not only sweetly irenic but held forcibly in union by a supreme governing authority. Those proposals for world taxes that we hear of; the intricate business of trading in carbon indulgences in the name of saving the earth from being consumed by fire or ice; international treaty regulations that would result in banning the private ownership of guns – all these are measures to realize the tremendous objective of “world governance”. It would mean the end of American independence, the end of national sovereignty. It would mean that the Revolution was lost, as Bolton said.

In a sense it would be the end of America, because America is an idea of liberty. And it is an idea that the world needs. Its loss would be a colossal disaster, a tragedy for the whole human race.

Can America be saved?

In his book titled The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria asserts that “America is closing down”, but allows that it “won’t be demoted from its superpower position in the foreseeable future” because “it’s not that the United States has been doing badly over the last two decades. It’s that, all of a sudden, everyone else is playing the game.”

America can “remain a vital, vibrant economy, at the forefront of the next revolutions in science, technology and industry, as long as it can embrace and adjust to the challenges confronting it”.

“The challenges” come from other nations, now rising, which he groups together as “the rest”.

China is the first of them because it is becoming an economic giant. The 21st century, he considers, may be the Chinese century.

What if [China ] quietly positions itself as the alternative to a hectoring and arrogant America? How will America cope with such a scenario – a kind of Cold War, but this time with a vibrant market economy, a nation that is not showing a hopeless model of state socialism, or squandering its power in pointless military interventions? This is a new challenge for the United States, one it has not tackled before, and for which it is largely unprepared.

Next in line is India. Poorer but democratic, India is “the ally”. Then come Brazil and Chile (plausibly); South Africa (less plausibly); and (implausibly) Russia. (Russia is a demographic basket case.)

Ironically, Zakaria says, these nations are rising because they learnt from America:

For sixty years, American politicians and diplomats have traveled around the world pushing countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. … We counseled them to be unafraid of change and learn the secrets of our success. And it worked: the natives have gotten good at capitalism.

America, then, has not been a malign power, or not always. In Roosevelt’s day other countries believed that “America’s mammoth power was not to be feared”. It was after it had won the Cold War, when it became the only superpower, that it began to go to the bad. “Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has walked the world like a colossus, unrivaled and unchecked”, and this “has made Washington arrogant, careless, and lazy.” Furthermore, he tell us, “people round the world worry about living in a world in which one country has so much power.”

To relieve that worry, America “must reduce its weaponry and work towards a non-nuclear world.” It is hypocritical for the US to insist that other countries should not have nuclear weapons while it is hoarding a nuclear arsenal of its own. By giving them up it would “gain credibility”, an end he apparently considers so desirable that it would be worth risking the nation’s very survival to achieve it.

The summer of 2002, Zakaria says, was “the high water-mark of unipolarity”. The world felt sympathy for America after 9/11. America went to war in Afghanistan, which was not good but not too bad. But then it invaded Iraq, which was very bad, and the world’s sympathy dried up. America was being too “unilateral”, too “imperial and imperious”.

George W Bush and “the nefarious neoconservative conspiracy” antagonized the world. He and his conspirators “disdained treaties, multilateral organizations, international public opinion, and anything that suggested a conciliatory approach to world politics.”

So the world’s dislike, contempt, and fear of America were justified, or at least understandable, in the light of the foreign policies of the “arrogant” Bush administration. Zakaria even claims that the animosity filled the Republicans – already full of “chest-thumping machismo” – with pride.

He asks:

Can Washington adjust and adapt to a world in which others have moved up? Can it respond to shift in economic and political power? … Can Washington truly embrace a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints? Can it thrive in a world it cannot dominate?

The advice he gives to “Washington” for success in adjusting, adapting, responding, embracing, and thriving is to be conciliatory, apologetic. It must listen more; proclaim universal values”, but “phrase its positions carefully”; be like the chair of a board gently guiding a group of independent directors. America must “learn from the rest”. The president must meet more non-government people, have smaller entourages, rely more on diplomacy. Consultation, cooperation, compromise are the key words. He objects to such accomodations being called appeasement. Consult and cooperate, he urges, with Russia, and with “multilateral institutions” such as the UN, NATO, AFRICOM, OAS, and the International Criminal Court. (Even internally, the US legal system “should take note of transnational standards”.)

The federal government has been “too narrow-minded” about terrorism. When bin Laden got America to “come racing out to fight” him (in response to 9/11) this was “over-reaction.”  Zakaria’s advice: “take it on the chin” and “bounce back”. The government must stop thinking of terrorism as a national security issue, and think of it as criminal activity carried out by “small groups of misfits”. Although Democrats were on the whole “more sensible” about terrorism, both parties, he says, spoke “in language entirely designed for a domestic audience with no concern for the poisonous effect it has everywhere else.” His solution is better airport control round the world. The more urgent problem in his view is that American Muslims have become victims of over-reaction to terrorist attacks. Instead of being “questioned, harassed, and detained” they should, he urges, “be enlisted in the effort to understand the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Zakaria does not consider himself anti-American. He does not even see himself as a man of the left. He reiterates that he is a free marketeer. It is because America became “suspicious of free markets”, he says, that partly explains its “closing down”.

He wrote his book before the economic crisis. He saw a globalized economy bringing about an increasingly prosperous world in which the poorest nations were rising strongly enough for him to declare that “the world is swimming in capital”, and “there really isn’t a Third World any more “. But even then the dollar was sliding, and America was showing signs of being “enfeebled”.

At a military-political level America still dominates the world, but the larger structure of unipolarity – economic, financial, cultural – is weakening… every year it becomes weaker and other nations and actors grow in strength.

For all its military might, its chest-thumping phase is over and now it is “cowering in fear”. It must, he says, “recover its confidence.” ‘It must stop being “a nation consumed by anxiety”, with a tendency to “hunker down”, unreasonably “worried about unreal threats” such as terrorism, and rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. (Iran, he explains, has good reason to fear the United States, with its armies on two of its borders. It’s only to be expected that Iran would try to arm itself with nuclear bombs and missile delivery systems. He does not explain why America should not fear this as a real threat.)

He is certain about what America needs to do to propitiate and serve the world it has alienated. It should ‘‘build broad rules by which the world will be bound’’, rather than pursue “narrow interests”.

What the world really wants from America is … that it affirm its own ideals. That role, as the country that will define universal ideals, remains one that only America can play.

We know Obama has read Zakaria’s book, or at least looked into it, because there is a photograph of him holding it, one finger marking his place. Obama is doing much that Zakaria advises in foreign affairs. But that’s less likely to be because the writer has impressed the president with his arguments than because they have both drunk from the same ideological well.

Obama’s foreign policy lets us see if Zakaria’s theory works. So far it has not.

So is America’s decline beyond all remedy?

It’s a relief to turn from Zakaria’s dull and weakly reasoned book with its uncongenial credo to an article titled The Seductions of Decline (February 2, 2010) by brilliantly witty and insightful Mark Steyn. If America believes it is in decline, he says, it will be. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The view that America has been too arrogant a power; that it is not and should not be exceptional; that humility and apology are required of it; that only endlessly patient negotiation in a spirit of compromise will improve foreign relations and dissuade states like North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear arms; that Islamic terrorism should be treated as crime and not as the jihad its perpetrators declare it to be; that Russia should be consulted on, say, the deployment of American missile defense; and that the US should reduce its nuclear arsenal and work towards a non-nuclear world – will bring about the decline.

National decline is psychological – and therefore what matters is accepting the psychology of decline.

His answer to the question “is America set for decline?” is yes, because of the policies of Obama and the Democrats, which arise from their acceptance of decline.

Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: Unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the American economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet.

American decline, he says, “will be steeper, faster and more devastating than Britain’s – and something far closer to Rome’s.” It will not be like France’s, or Austria’s.

Why did decline prove so pleasant in Europe? Because it was cushioned by American power. The United States is such a perversely non-imperial power that it garrisons not ramshackle colonies but its wealthiest “allies”, from Germany to Japan. For most of its members, “the free world” has been a free ride.

And after “Washington’s retreat from la gloire” as hegemon of the world, when America “becomes Europe in its domestic disposition and geopolitical decline, then who will be America?”

Of the many competing schools of declinism, perhaps the most gleeful are those who salivate over the rise of China. For years, Sinophiles have been penning orgasmic fantasies of mid-century when China will bestride the world and America will be consigned to the garbage heap of history. It will never happen: As I’ve been saying for years, China has profound structural problems. It will get old before it gets rich.

Not China then. Russia?

The demographic deformation of Tsar Putin’s new empire is even more severe than Beijing’s. Russia is a global power only to the extent of the mischief it can make on its acceleration into a death spiral.

Not Russia. How about the Caliphate that the terrorist war is being fought to establish?

Even if every dimestore jihadist’s dreams came true, almost by definition an Islamic imperium will be in decline from Day One.

So what might the post-American world look like? Mark Steyn’s answer is deeply depressing:

The most likely future is not a world under a new order but a world with no order – in which pipsqueak states go nuclear while the planet’s wealthiest nations, from New Zealand to Norway, are unable to defend their own borders and are forced to adjust to the post-American era as they can. Yet, in such a geopolitical scene, the United States will still remain the most inviting target – first, because it’s big, and secondly, because, as Britain knows, the durbar moves on but imperial resentments linger long after imperial grandeur.

But nothing is inevitable, and Mark Steyn offers a last hope. Though “decline is the way to bet”, the only thing that will ensure it is “if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.”

When in 2008 a majority of the American electorate voted for Barack Obama to be president of the United States, it seemed that the deal had been made. But now Obama is failing, the Democratic majority is under threat, and the Tea Party movement is reclaiming the Revolution.

This could be another American century after all.

Jillian Becker   March 1, 2010

A prescription for pleasure 0

We urge our readers to indulge themselves by watching and listening to George Will making a great speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference here.

It’s so good there’s no one part we could pick out and say “this bit is even better than the rest”.

Enjoy it all.

Posted under Commentary, Conservatism, News, United States by Jillian Becker on Saturday, February 20, 2010

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More harm than help 0

We have only just found out that this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is co-sponsored by the John Birch Society.

Is this harmful to the cause of conservatism?

Here is an interesting and seemingly objective account of the John Birch Society. What emerges from it is that if this organization is not as bad as it has been painted at the worst, it is also not as guiltless of bigotry, especially of a racist and anti-Semitic slant, as its apologists have claimed. It propagates ideas – anti-communism, anti-collectivism, anti-world government – that most conservatives would agree with; but it also propagates conspiracy theories that place it in the “cranky” category.

Furthermore, its reputation for being guilty of “racism”, “sexism”, “homophobia”, and “anti-Semitism”, whether fully or only partially or even unfairly deserved, should be an impediment to any close association with it unless and until it can prove its innocence – perhaps by emphatically and repeatedly denouncing such opinions. Mere denials, or statements to the effect that only “some members” held these views, won’t do.

All this considered, we’d say … yes – the conservative cause is more likely to be harmed than helped by this sponsorship.

And why give ammunition to the enemy on the left?

Posted under Collectivism, Conservatism, Race, United States by Jillian Becker on Saturday, February 20, 2010

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Cheers! 0

These are our favorite quotations from speeches made yesterday and today (February 18 and 19, 2010) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC ) being held in Washington, D.C., under the auspices of the American Conservative Union.

Mitt Romney (find the transcript of the whole speech here):

On our watch, the conversation with a would-be suicide bomber will not begin with the words, “You have the right to remain silent!”

We will keep America, America, by retaining its character as the land of opportunity. We welcome the entrepreneur, the inventor, the innovator.

American patriots have defeated tyrants, liberated the oppressed, and rescued the afflicted. America’s model of innovation, capitalism and free enterprise has lifted literally billons of the world’s people out of poverty. America has been a force for good like no other in this world, and for that we make no apology.

Marco Rubio (find the transcript here):

There is no greater risk to this country than the risk posed by radical Islamic terrorists. Let me be clear about something. These terrorists aren’t trying to kill us because we offended them. They attack us because they want to impose their view of the world on as many people as they can, and America is standing in their way. We need to make it unmistakably clear that we will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes, to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. We will punish their allies, like Iran, and we will stand with our allies, like Israel.

The final verdict on our generation will be written by Americans who haven’t even been born yet. Let us make sure they write that we made the right choice, that in the early years of this century, faced with troubling and uncertain times, there were those who believed that the great American story had run its course. But we did not agree. Fear did not lead us to abandon our liberty. Uncertainty did not lead us to abandon the entrepreneurial spirit. We fought for and held on to those things that made us exceptional. And because we did, there was still one place in the world where the individual was more important than the state. Because we did, there was still at least one place in the world where who you come from does not determine where you get to go.

Mike Pence (find a report of his speech here):

Some people around here like to call this the ‘party of no.’ Well, I say no is way underrated here in Washington, D.C. Sometimes no is just what this town needs to hear.

A recession is when your neighbor loses his job, a depression is when you lose your job, and a recovery is when [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi loses her job.

Posted under Conservatism by Jillian Becker on Friday, February 19, 2010

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The Mount Vernon Statement 7

In the following report the names of conservative leaders who will be signing The Mount Vernon Statement today may be found. We have omitted them only to shorten our quotation.

What we also omit are these few words: ‘God, they say, is proudly mentioned – by name – in the Mount Vernon statement.’

We’ve cut them out because God is superfluous

The Framers of the Constitution saw no reason to put God into it, and they did not.

We believe wholeheartedly in the principles which The Mount Vernon Statement declares to be those of American conservatives, while not believing in God.

So plainly, though believers may not like this fact that we boldly and simply demonstrate, belief in a supernatural maker and law-giver is inessential to conservatism.

(In the document itself, God is referred to as ‘nature’s God’;  ie the ‘God’ which Spinoza and Einstein believed in, little more than a euphemism for ‘nature’s laws‘ – also mentioned – with which we have no quarrel.)

From Fox News:

More than 80 of the most influential and respected conservative grassroots leaders in the country plan to recommit themselves Wednesday to constitutional conservatism in an attempt to reunite and reground the movement, following a period when many thought conservatism was adrift.

They have named the document they will sign “The Mount Vernon Statement.” The signing ceremony is taking place at a library that was part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

The event comes on the eve of annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) which brings thousand of conservatives from around the country to Washington D.C. every year.

The long term goal at CPAC and of the Mount Vernon statement is reestablish First Principles of Constitutional Conservatism.

The more immediate goal is to galvanize — for maximum strength — the various factions of the movement in advance of the 2010 midterm elections.

The statement draws heavily on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

It will speak directly to the three pillars of the modern movement: economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives.

It will underscore the founding principle that constitutional self-government should be moral, responsible, and limited.

While some republicans have suggested in recent years that the GOP moderate it’s social views, or be more tolerant of government growth, or even accept bellicose tyranny overseas, conservatives argue now is the time for more backbone, not less.

Conservatives, republicans, right leaning independents, libertarians and teapartiers are searching for direction and leadership…listen up… today the leadership of some of the biggest grass roots conservative groups are speaking out. …

Organizers say no elected politicians are invited to this.

The signing ceremony harkens back to a similar event nearly 50 years ago at the home of the late William F Buckley in Sharon, Connecticut.

The Sharon Statement was penned at a meeting of 90 young conservatives as they created a group known as “Young Americans For Freedom.”

Their statement amounted to a guideline for young conservatives in the turbulent 60’s that individual liberty, limited government, a free-market, a strong economy, and strong defense are fundamental American ideals conservatives must defend.

There is no doubt today that conservatives again feel compelled to protect constitutional liberty anew.

This document seeks to be a conservative line in the sand against left-wing political advances during democratic control of Congress and the White House.

The Tea Party movement has shown full well that large swaths of previously disengaged Americans fear for the future of the republic.

Organizers say modern constitutional conservatism requires application of the rule of law to all proposals, advancing freedom, and opposing tyranny….

Conservatives now plan to directly challenge the notion that positive change in America means abandoning old ideas for new.

They assert instead that positive change means reaching back and re-embracing founding principles rather than rushing for new alternatives.

By late summer republican politicians in congress hope to lay out their 2010 election agenda.

Today conservatives grass roots leaders hope their Mount Vernon statement shows Republican politicians what should motivate them.

You can sign the document here.