Thursday, 19 October 2006

American power: the view from Germany

With all the flap over Iraq, North Korea and Iran, Russia's latest shenanigans have been largely flying under the North American radar. Not so in Europe. Putin has been pressing for a free trade pact with the European Union, making politely threatening comments about how it supplies most of Europe's petroleum. Theodore Roosevelt would recognize the tactic.

Stefan KorneliusIn an editorial entitled "The Decline of America" (in German) Stefan Kornelius at the S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung bemoans the loss of American power as an effective counterweight and contends that the loss of American prestige and influence has made the world a much more dangerous place. "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it," he comments. Now they've got a less powerful America, they don't much like it. But don't think that makes Kornelius a Bush fan - far from it!

Here is a summary.

Why Washington's influence is diminishing, and why this is becoming a problem for the entire world

On September 20, 2002, the White House unveiled its National Security Strategy. This testimony to American hubris came when America was at the height of its greatness. Six months later, the Iraq war began, which would lead to the end of American omnipotence. Now, four years later, the American Secretary of State travels the world, running into the limits of American power and influence everywhere she goes. America's weakness is a problem for the entire world, actually making it more difficult to build multipolar alliances. An autocratic Russia is flexing its muscles as a petroleum imperialist and China is recognized as a superpower, even as it pulls its head into its shell before its northern nuclear neighbour.

Lack of leadership Two of the three "axis of evil" members are showing how confrontation with the US can spread terror, and up their market value at the same time. This new multipolar world came into being faster than the most vehement Bush critics could ever have hoped - and centrifugal forces are tearing apart the world's stability as a result of America's inability to form effective coalitions. The epicentre of this wave of destruction lies in Iraq, with repercussions in the entire region. A Camp David initiative for Lebanon or Palestine is now unthinkable. And now North Korea has found a new raison d'être in its nuclear provocation of the US. Only the possible sale of nuclear technology to terrorists prevents us from dismissing Kim Jong Il out of hand. Nobody seems able to stop the man, giving hope to a half dozen other nuclear wannabes.

Bush's administration did not create these problems, but has greatly furthered them through its policies. Bush's imperial hubris will not be forgiven him in his two remaining years in office; quite the contrary, opposition will grow ever shriller, even at home. But when the Schadenfreude has dissipated, there will be wide recognition that this lack of power has not been good for the world. The European Union must be conscious of its own weakness; its influence is too weak to trade a couple of democratic values for Russia's gas.

Cooperation with China Europe is also too weak to pressure China or to stabilize Afghanistan or the Middle East. Condoleezza Rice should use the North Korean situation as an opportunity to reassert American influence, showing a new openness and willingness to bargain. Working with China, it should be possible to lure North Korea out of its isolation and come to some kind of new non-proliferation agreement. Because only when America makes new deposits into the security account, can it expect to be able to make withdrawals.

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Fern R said...

It's interesting that you mentioned Theodore Roosevelt, my favorite President. I've been kicking around a post involving TR and American foreign policy for awhile now. It's not exactly earth shattering to say this, but American foreign policy has gone down the tubes and I think we could learn something from looking back at how TR did things.

TR was actively engaged in international affairs and had a way of getting his point across forcefully but was smart about it. Like when he wanted Japan to know that the American Navy wasn't going to cede control of the Pacific to them, he arranged for the "Great White Fleet" to dock in Yokohama Harbor. Instead of issuing an official statement that would have put the Japanese in the hot seat and come across as needlessly confrontational, he was able to flex our military muscle while allowing the Japanese to be supportive (hundreds of Japanese children greeted the fleet while waving American flags). TR did the same sort of thing when he was police commissioner in New York. A German anti-semite had been granted permission to speak in NY and TR was required to provide the anti-semite with a police escourt. TR arranged for every police officer in the escourt to Jewish. The German got the message real quick that anti-semetic rhetoric wasn't going to be tolerated.

Sadly, I don't think the Bush administration appears to be capable of that sort of nuance and creative thinking

Adrian MacNair said...

An interesting look at the decline of American power. And yet I believe that the fall is not inevitable. The Americans survived Vietnam, and they can survive Iraq. Immediate withdrawal should be the main focus.

I find it curious that so many Americans and western liberals are happy with the idea of the fall of the American empire. Do they not realize that a powerless U.S. is a greater evil than one which war-mongers?

Janet said...

Adrian, apparently not. I think an appropriate reality check for them would be to send them to live for several years in one of the other countries with super-power aspirations. You know, one of the ones they say are not as bad as the US.

We did that to the FLQ terrorists, remember? A few years of Cuban hospitality and they were eager to get back to Canadian jails...

The first candidate should be Lynn Stewart, seeing as she is one of the most gloriously inconsistent.

Janet said...

Fern, those are great stories. Perfect illustrations of speak softly and carry a big stick.


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