Monday, February 2, 2009

How will America react

culturally and politically to relative decline in its economic strength and global political pre-eminence?

The world doesn't love us. Some of it fears us, some of it respects us, some of it has some lingering appreciation for past services rendered. A relatively small but growing sliver hates the United States and holds its people, its culture and its values in contempt. The last couple of years have, unfortunately, been kind to that sliver. But the vast majority of the global population is in a watching mode, waiting to see how all this unfolds for the good ole USA.

We do seem to be headed for a diminution. The last time this happened was in the 1970s, but that turned out to be a false dawn for the old Soviet Union. Despite the initiatives in Africa, and in part because of those in Afghanistan, efforts to exploit American weakness in a variety of global theatres failed more or less completely--less because of the skillfulness with which the U.S. government countered and more because the 'correlation of forces' about which Soviet strategists of the time blathered turned out to be illusory and the internal contradictions, not of capitalism, but of the Soviet Empire turned out to be mortal.

This time around, I don't see the Chinese reacting with the same eagerness and embarking on a self-destructive exercise in global over-reach. But I also don't see the United States in quite the distress, in terms of a military quagmire or economic morass, that we found ourselves in by the early 70s. The Iraq adventure has not come at the internal social cost incurred in Southeast Asia, and so far the economic is not as indescribably screwed up as it was by 1973--with price controls, inflation and alternate day gasoline rationing. Give our politicians time, and we may achieve a similar level of economic misery, and make no mistake, even if the internal political costs of Iraq are lower than those of Vietnam, there were be a price to be paid, in terms of international power, for mistakes in the Middle East.

It will be interesting to watch the take of the American public on all this as it unfolds. So far, we're not quite to the level of scapegoating--although public outrage at Wall Street compensation could easily evolve into that. And some scapegoating might be healthy, cathartic and cautionary.

No comments: