The Next Fault Line in Foreign Policy Combat: “The U.S. Matters” vs. “No, It Really Doesn’t”

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Kishore Mahbubani TWN 2.jpgKishore Mahbubani and G. John Ikenberry may not know it — but they are squaring off to be the new top tier rival powerhouse intellectual combatants.
They each basically stand at the forefront of rival intellectual movements about the relative relevance of American power in the world — Mahbubani heading the school that the West is in self-denial about its plummeting significance and Ikenberry heading those who think American power remains palpably larger than any other player and is still the key factor in driving international behavior for all other countries.
Mahbubani, who now serves as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and was previously Singapore’s Ambassador to the United Nations, has authored the new book, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East.
There are many others engaged in this debate including this blogger — but on the roster are Michael Lind, Parag Khanna, Fareed Zakaria, Richard Haass, Matthew Yglesias, Steven Weber, Bruce Jentleson, Charles Kupchan, Peter Trubowitz, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Anthony Lake, and a long list of others who either are thinking through the consequences of a “diminished America” and what that means for world affairs — or a resurgent America who still stands out as the key sculptor of global trends and builder of international arrangements.
ikenberry twn 1.jpgG. John Ikenberry is at Princeton University — and would be my choice to follow in the footsteps of the intimidatingly smart Jessica Tuchman Mathews at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (if she one day moves). Carnegie is a unique place that tries to work through what I call the “horizontal issues” like non-proliferation, climate change, transnational disease, and other major international problems that aren’t easily siloed into regional study or classic security programs. Ikenberry and Mathews are these type of horizontal issue thinkers who nonetheless have disciplined minds and don’t chase their tales in circles like many in the emerging global justice community. Nonetheless, for all his brilliance, I think Ikenberry overstates American power in his recent work, though I see many strengths in his concept of a “liberal leviathan” arrangement between the U.S. and the international order.
Mahbubani, in contrast, sees no leviathan in the U.S. at all. In a recent Foreign Affairs article titled “The Case Against the West,” he writes:

There is a fundamental flaw in the West’s strategic thinking. In all its analyses of global challenges, the West assumes that it is the source of the solutions to the world’s key problems. In fact, however, the West is also a major source of these problems. Unless key Western policymakers learn to understand and deal with this reality, the world is headed for an even more troubled phase.
The West is understandably reluctant to accept that the era of its domination is ending and that the Asian century has come. No civilization cedes power easily, and the West’s resistance to giving up control of key global institutions and processes is natural. Yet the West is engaging in an extraordinary act of self-deception by believing that it is open to change. In fact, the West has become the most powerful force preventing the emergence of a new wave of history, clinging to its privileged position in key global forums, such as the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the G-8 (the group of highly industrialized states), and refusing to contemplate how the West will have to adjust to the Asian century.
Partly as a result of its growing insecurity, the West has also become increasingly incompetent in its handling of key global problems. Many Western commentators can readily identify specific failures, such as the Bush administration’s botched invasion and occupation of Iraq. But few can see that this reflects a deeper structural problem: the West’s inability to see that the world has entered a new era.

I could see a strange compromise between the two positions actually — one in which the U.S. basically maintains a heavy load of power instruments or tools because the world decides it wants America to have them — and in exchange America accedes to the rise of China and Asia and to new organizing methodologies and institutions in Asia. Think of a more slow and gradual evolution along the lines of how Britain handed off power to the U.S. just before and after World War II.
Ikenberry might argue that such a “negotiated” arrangement might maintain an edge for American power in many key arenas — and that the East Asian establishment might acquiesce to this arrangement in order to consolidate and manage internal problems within its own reginal sphere of concern, within China itself and between culturally and historically disparate peoples in separate states around the Asian rim.
In any case, it’s a fascinating ‘possible’ battle, sort of along the lines of the famous rivalries between Lester Thurow and Paul Krugman, or Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer. But it is a battle that has not yet broken out — but it is one that I want to see in any case.
I’ll call on G. John Ikenberry if he would like to share with us his views of Mahbubani’s dismissal of the West. Ikenberry might want to respond to others as well like Parag Khanna’s view that the U.S. is now one of three nodes of power — next to Europe and China — competing for the affection and support of other nations and regions which he calls the “second world” or Steven Weber and Bruce Jentleson’s work that describes a global international future in which America is sidelined and mostly irrelevant.
The door is open for response from Ikenberry and others on his team thinking about America and international order.
For those in DC, I will be hosting Kishore Mahbubani for a talk at the New America Foundation today in Washington, DC at 3:30 pm. The talk will be taped and posted later on New America’s website.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

39 comments on “The Next Fault Line in Foreign Policy Combat: “The U.S. Matters” vs. “No, It Really Doesn’t”

  1. andrew says:

    First, a message for Steve Clemons: you have a very interesting blog, and I particularly like the way you relay your trips and the events you organize and attend.
    Second, I’d like to invite all of you to visit my own blog: What You Must Read (at http://whatyoumustread.blogspot.com/). It deals with a lot of the same issues as the Washington Note, and -I like to think- it has some interesting links.
    I write a lot about how to sustain America’s power in the 21st century -be it through compromise and strategy.
    Best

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  2. Ken says:

    At last, a sensible response to this question:
    Clever conceits cannot hide the world’s jagged edges
    By Philip Stephens
    Published: May 1 2008 19:02 | Last updated: May 1 2008 19:02
    Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall politicians and pundits have been imposing patterns on the world. The search has been for something to replace the reassuring symmetry of the cold war. This undoubtedly noble endeavour has written a lot of speeches and sold a lot of books. We are little the wiser for it.
    The myriad theories of the new global order (or disorder) share several characteristics: a yearning for tidiness; unshakeable certainty in their enunciation; and flimsiness in the face of predictably unpredicted events. Over two decades we have thus seen the world described and redescribed in perhaps a dozen different guises.
    We started off, some will remember, with the end of history, a trite but beguiling phrase claiming the triumph of economic and political liberalism. We have since encountered, in quick succession, George H.W. Bush’s new global order, the US retreat from foreign entanglements, the unipolar moment, the American imperium and, more recently, the rise of the rest – the rest being the patronising label affixed to emerging great powers in Asia and Latin America.
    In between times, we have had Americans landing from Mars and Europeans descending from Venus, the victory of hard power and the revival of soft power, the ineluctable march of democracy and the birth of the capitalist autocracies. Oh, and lest we forget, the return of the clash of civilisations in the form of the long war against al-Qaeda extremists. Now, courtesy of Robert Kagan, one of the most prolific and engaging of the aforementioned grand strategists, we have the return of history*.
    The explosion of global theorising is explicable beyond the fact that it keeps political scientists in book sales. For all its existential insecurity, the confrontation with communism had the virtue of simplicity. The clash of ideologies mirrored a binary balance of power. It was them against us, or us against them, according to taste.
    The collapse of the Soviet Union overturned the sense of system. Then, even as we sought to mark out the new landscape’s contours, the events of September 11 2001 and the rise of China and India saw the post-cold war order replaced in turn by the post-post-cold war disorder. All that in the space of a couple of decades. At this rate we will soon run out of “posts”.
    By any objective criteria, today’s world is still a much safer place than that of the cold war, even with Osama bin Laden still hiding in the hills. In times that disdain ambiguity, however, the absence of a frame of reference makes it seem otherwise.
    So it is also unsurprising that people look to the past to provide templates to fit a confusing present. History is very generous in this respect: look closely enough and you can always find some analogy or other that can be said to illuminate the here and now. Thus it seems only yesterday that whole libraries were being filled with learned tomes comparing the new American empire to that of Rome. Sadly, the metaphor could not be sustained much beyond the fall of Baghdad.
    Another fashionable parallel has been between today’s rise of China and that of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany a little over a century ago. Delve deeper and the contest between the US and China in the 21st century might be said to promise more than a passing resemblance to Anglo-French rivalry during the 18th. And if we are looking at ways to ensure peace and order in a new age of great power competition, why not a Concert of Europe writ large? There must be a Metternich out there somewhere.
    The problem with these theories is that most of them last only as long as the first imprint of the essay in which they appear. One moment democracy is deemed an unstoppable force; then it is said to be in headlong retreat. First the world is flat; next we can see nothing for the mountains.
    All this speaks to the impatience of the age. Everything must be compressed. We are addicted to the new. The ease with which new theories are discarded is matched only by the conviction with which they are first proclaimed as eternal truths.
    A friend in Washington explains it thus. There is an unquenchable thirst for explanation: say something serious, obvious, or even silly, in sufficiently portentous tones and you will be noticed. Think of a clever conceit for the cover and you have a bestseller on your hands.
    Perhaps that is why the theories mostly share the same weakness. They project the present into an infinite future. Thus now that China and Russia have made authoritarian capitalism work for a while, we are asked to assume the model will endure. Bingo! Autocrats and oligarchs replace commissars as the new bogeymen in the west’s futile struggle to call a halt to history.
    Well, no actually. Pace Mr Kagan, we do not know whether China and/or Russia can defy indefinitely the liberalising impulses of the market. Logic says that economic freedom and political repression are antithetical. What we do not know is for how long they can coexist. Either way, there is no reason now to reinvent the bipolar world of the cold war by lining up democracies against autocracies.
    I do not want to be misunderstood. I enjoy all these books, quite apart from the fact that they keep me in columns. It is just that the upheavals in the global system since 1989 – the most profound for at least a century – are not susceptible to neatness.
    We live in an era of jagged lines where established power structures are buckling, yet it is far from obvious what will replace them. Globalisation is weakening states just as the shifting balance of power promises greater stresses between states. It is enfranchising many citizens and making many others more insecure.
    If there was a unipolar moment it has passed. The US will most likely remain the pre-eminent global power for some time yet, but it is already an insufficient one. The multilateral system designed in the middle of the last century no longer fits geopolitical realities. New powers might be accommodated in a reformed system or they might choose to shun it.
    Likewise multipolarity could foreshadow a new era of great power competition that might well have seemed familiar to the politicians of 18th century Europe. But the nature of interstate war changed irrevocably with the splitting of the atom.
    Most importantly, nothing is pre-ordained. The shape of the (dis)order that eventually emerges from these tumultuous changes will be determined by the decisions and choices of statesmen and women, peoples and governments. As for history, well, it never went away.
    *The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Atlantic Books
    philip.stephens@ft.com
    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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  3. David says:

    I do think a central question is whether or not the US has the power any more to enforce its edicts. I suspect that the only power we now possess is the power of a military monster, but I also suspect that that power really is being ground down by the Iraq War, and that our remaining ability to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb [people], as John McCain, in one of his cutesy moments, sang it, can only produce catastrophe, if employed. We either return to a multilateral, essentially civilized engagement with the rest of the world, or we will fail, including as a nation. Under this president we have, for all practical purposes, lost our goddamned minds.

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  4. bitterpill8 says:

    I know it is tough to contemplate, but the US has lost a lot of respect around the globe. It is now as much of a rogue nation as those it confronted over the years. It may be that Bush, Cheney and Rice are to blame for the ineffective diplomacy. But China India and the rest of the East are working out ways to co-exist and making accommodations. The current push in India for the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is a case in point. Why should the US have a veto over the economic interest involved in those negotiations?
    It is this assertion of raw power that irritates. Now there are question about whether such assertion by the US can be backed up by force: moral authority and raw power.
    Mabubhani is but one voice among many calling into question the US’s ability to enforce its edicts.

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  5. David says:

    “Episodes like the Iraq War suggest to the world that there is something fundamentally uncivilized, aggressive and irrational in American culture.”
    There is.

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  6. Ajaz says:

    Steve
    I was fascinated to watch Kishore Mahbubani’s interview on BBC America’s ‘Hard Talk’ program last night. The man makes reasoned and sensible arguments about the shift in world view, a view that the West has not caught on to. While China has been transforming the lives of its 1.3 billion people over the last thirty years, but I guess the largest shift has taken place in the last seven years.
    The Bush Administration has taken America and the West back by about 50 years in its view of the world. Unfortunately the US media has failed to challenge and check this and has served as a mouthpice for the Administration. No wonder the rest of the world sees things so differently on Iraq, Iran, Palestine and economic independence. I recall the Chinese Prime Minister telling a visiting Italian Prime Minsiter a few years ago that for China human rights doesn’t mean so much as votes as feeding 1.3 billion people.
    The history shows that all big powers fail after a period of time because in their power and arrogance they fail to see the fundamental shifts taking place elsewhere.

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  7. Sue says:

    As a Chinese American born and grew up in China and living in this country now longer than in China, I probably
    have some unique perspective to share with the people here that I read frequently and respect very much.
    I’d dare to say that people everywhere are very similar in the world; but this country is very unique: its vastness
    and richness, less historical burden, progressive tradition, creative spirit, and quick to adapt and change. That’s
    why I never bothered even thinking about politics before 2000 because I thought this country had a lot of smart
    people and would correct itself automatically. This time it didn’t and it seems we are stuck in something (the
    industrial-military-congressional complex?) that is difficult to get out. I think this country has ideological blind
    spots from both left and right that impede critical and rational thinking; though we are so eagerly to push it down
    the throat of other countries our political system dominated by special interest groups and their vicious attacks
    has made honest discussions on the problems facing this country impossible and objectively looking at countries
    that are different than ours.
    9/11 is a best example. Probably by extreme luck, 19 foreign terrorists destroyed the world trade center and a
    huge loss of life in one day. It was a horrible event. But we are the most powerful country in the world. Could
    terrorists be able to destroy us? No! Is military the right tool to fight invisible terrorists? Can terrorist acts be
    prevented 100% no matter what we do? Many questions that should’ve been asked and seriously discussed in
    public never happened. We went ahead invaded two countries, causing a catastrophe in Iraq and stuck in this war
    on terror when the rest of the world is moving on without us. When the most powerful military and economic
    power constantly talk about threats from others the rest of the world wonder whether we really believe that or just
    try to find an excuse to attack others.
    At the meantime, Chinese government has been totally focused on developing its economy like it’s been doing in
    the last thirty years. Most of the central leaders in China had engineering degrees, worked in the field and factory
    floor before becoming government official and rising through ranks of city, provincial and central level. Because
    they don’t have to concern about election, improving living standard of majority of the population has been the
    goal for every government since 1978. The goal of its diplomacy is to create a peaceful international environment
    for economic development. Ideology is their least concern. They learn from everyone’s advantages and mistakes,
    and adapt to their own circumstances; they test every major reform measure in a small scale for result before
    implementing nationwide. They are true believer of win-win. And they face enormous domestic problems everyday.
    China is aware of their rising influence; but with their per capita in one thousand something (dollars) they don’t
    feel they are a superpower or want to challenge US. Both China and US benefited enormously out of this even very
    troubled relationship.
    I feel very strongly that no matter how you look at, there is no country in the world that even close to the
    advantage US has held over others. If we can control the nuclear proliferation, no one can be real threat to us. If
    we let our good nature getting hold of ourselves, we could do a lot of good to the world and for ourselves. Our
    worst enemy is us. Only we could cause this country’s irreversible decline.

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  8. questions says:

    Just finished a round of Plato’s Republic and so the following thoughts are floating through my brain. Bks VIII and IX show the inevitable downfall of the state as the values of the communal whole become privatized, wealth and power come to matter more than truth, and finally the personal power of the tyrant himself supercedes any notion of the good of anyone else. Of course, the tyrant has an utterly miserable life dependent on slaves and fearful of death.
    The way out of all of this mess is presented in Bk X where we learn that what we should have doing all along is studying philosophy. If we do not have any appreciation of what really matters, then we cannot make a single good decision. The decision in Bk X is what new life to choose during reincarnation. The first soul to choose picks the life of a tyrant and is fated to eat his own children.
    So how is all of this relevant? If we choose a “life” in which US power and influence matter more than justice, we will be that tyrant who “eats” his own children. If we choose wisely, we might see that international modesty and domestic reason serve us far better than does bellicosity. So far, we have done the tyrant thing and we have shown ourselves incapable of knowing just what it means to live well. We think that that power matters in some real way without even understanding what power is. If it’s the ability to carry out what you will, then you have to make sure that what you will is the correct thing to will. You’re not being powerful if what you will is in your own disservice. (An earlier theme from the Rep — Bk I.)
    If the US’s influence around the world is waning, it might provide the opportunity for us to become powerful for real — we might be able to choose justice and live accordingly instead of choosing the life tyannical and living in terror.
    Just want to thank EVERYone for this very thoughtful thread!

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  9. Linda says:

    Great discussion above by all. Turning point probably was the fall of USSR and one must recall that even then in 1992, Wolfowitz, Khalilzad, and Libby were in lower positions in Bush ’41 administration and proposing hegemony and preemptive war policies that were rejected by ’41. There were other ways to go in FP that were not taken.
    Now we are stuck the worst possible results of our policies for the past 16 years and what POGO was saying in 1950s: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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  10. DonS says:

    For years I said that politics were irrlevant to changing the direction of this country, and therefore the prospect of positive change is futile.
    However, politics/government is the only mechanism that seems large enough to direct potential change.
    But the politicians we have are not reading from the same script. IF they sense the magnitude of change that is needed, they certainly disguise it with their plans, policies, rhetoric and, yes, unwillingness to call for accountability for present and past abuses of power (just confirming what others have said above), How in the hell does anyone expect the American people to accept leadership geared toward the head spinning prescription for righting this country if our “leaders” are not willing to take the RISK of explaining it honestly (if they perceive it accurately)?
    Are we to conclude that the corporate owned politicians will never be up to the chalenge?
    So, yes, accountability for the misfeasance and malfeasance of past leaders would be another question for Steve to have put to the candidates.

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  11. Tintin says:

    I think Dan has it about right.
    Amongst his many other good points…why should we care about
    who’s up and who’s down? Shouldn’t we, instead, be trying to
    spread it around? Building the world back up after WWII was part
    of what we saw as our mission, so the ascension of other countries
    and regions is the right and natural fulfillment of this “mission.”
    We seem to think that “wealth” or “power” or the other yardsticks
    are zero-sum games in which one party goes down because
    another is going up. Not so. Cooperation increases the pie or
    increases the total enjoyment of the pie.
    Equality among nations as we seek equality among people here.

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  12. PissedOffAmerican says:

    All of you seem to be looking externally, as if there is some sort of interaction with the world community that will restore our standing. Over intellectualized, and longwinded, such mental masturbation overlooks the obvious. This nation is dying internally, and until we demand that our leaders conduct themselves in a manner that shows the world community that we are what we have long purported ourselves to be, our decline is assured.
    On another thread Steve proposes a question, asking what powers the three candidates are willing to cede, while overlooking the fact that there is no incentive to cede power, because we no longer have a deterent to the accumulation of power. Our “leaders” are no longer accountable to the nation, to the people, or to the rule of law. The question should not only be which powers they will cede, but what they will do about the abuses of power that have already been committed. To foolishly believe that an incoming administration will provide its own checks and balances is insane. There is no reason for us to expect different behaviour from any one of these three. In fact, all three have telegraphed their intentions by not using their bully pulpit to advocate for accountability, and to underscore the actual crimes of this Administration.
    We are dying from the inside out. And the cancer is our leadership’s refusal to police itself. Our leaders have become the rancid symbols of who, and what, we are.

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  13. DonS says:

    I’m in accord with those above who say its all over but the shouting. Sadly, the ruling elite are still stuck in the mindset of American exceptionalism, also noted above. So as the empire declines, its belligerence increases.
    Of course, the social and economic elite can speak whatever way they want but, in fact, they are exempt from the crushing economic realties of the rest who are in a death spiral of real negative growth.
    The vaunted rising middle class upon which the great economic engine was premised is a joke. As for the prospects of a society regenerating out of the current dying husk, its hard to imagine. The country of immigrants has become the country of xenophobes. Americans are glued to the teevee, fat, dumb and, at this point unhappy, and very confused. Walking around most Wal Marts is an exercise social reality testing. If that’s the future, we are sunk.
    Until Americans stop looking externally for a villain the corner wont even be turned. In this environment are we surprised that a homogenized visionary like Obama gets a look? But let’s face it, the needed vision is co antithetical to consensus reality that its not available.
    We have encouraged our daughter to think and act as internationally as possible. I am soon applying for a passport from my other’s birth country. My future holds spending even more time in Canada, which at least still has some relief from American oppressiveness. And, I do have a spiritual practice! which provides some perspective.

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  14. arthurdecco says:

    “ONLY America can decisively defeat this (IslamoFascism) menacing mortal enemy of Western civilization.” kotzabasis
    What a steaming pile of horse poo.

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  15. bob h says:

    Mahbubani’s assertions about the decline of the West seem more a transitory consequence of Bush incompetence and arrogance than a generalized historical problem. Had Bush not been allowed to steal the 2000 election, Mahbubani would probably not be writing today.
    The departure of Bush in a few months should mark the start of rectifying some of the problems Mahbubani mentions.

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  16. kotzabsis says:

    While Dan Kervick’s perception of power as relative is deep his non-application of this concept of power to the U.S. is shallow and misleading. In his second post he uses ironically by a mental lapse the misconception of “absolute power” to demonstrate the decline of U.S. power. The U.S. post the Cold-War is still “six inches” taller than all the other countries of the world and therefore according to his reasoning still remains, in relative terms, the dominant power. Unless he can show that any other nation or group of nations have grown “taller” or are VERY CLOSE to becoming taller than the U.S., the “decline” of the latter is a pseudo-reality.
    David Hume’s “habit of obedience” is natural in a state when other countries are threatened by another strong power as it was during the Cold-War, but it becomes UNNATURAL in an anarchic competitive world when that threat is no longer there. And, indeed, Kervick argues in those terms during the confrontation with the Soviet Union. However, the habit of obedience in relation to the sole superpower has not disappeared but is in a state of hibernation. With the looming real threat of IslamoFascism it will come out of its dormant state and move once again to its natural state.As PRESENTLY, among all the nations of the world, ONLY America can decisively defeat this menacing mortal enemy of Western civilization.

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  17. TonyForesta says:

    Outstanding commentaries arthurdecco and David Apr. The world is realigning to counter American hegemony, and occidental dominance of resources, systems, and markets. What we witness in South and Central America is resource rich self sustaining nations, providing more for their indigenous populations, looking away from American, and theWests’ capitalist influence and predatory machinations, and seeking and establishing relations and trade routes with the emerging economies of China and India, and bloc of emerging state in the near, south, and far east.
    China sits on more than a trillion in US treasuries, Saudi Arabia close to a trillion, Japan and the Malaysia and Vietnam, another half a trillion. America is financing our wars and our futures on monies borrowed from our enemies and primary competitors. Our only saving grace is the buying power of the American middle or working class by far the world’s largest consumer economy. All these other nations are dependent on those American consumers now and in the near future. But while the predator class in America ignores the clear and apparent warnings and the underlying math – the rest of the world “is not that stupid”. Gradually, slowly, methodically these lender nations will call American debts and secure alternative financial instruments and currencies. The writing is on the wall. Only America remains blind to the realities the global economy. The fascists in the Bush government are heaping the terrible debts, deficits, and crumbling economy on the next leadership and the shoulders of our children.
    The rest of the world is also keenly aware of the potentially calamitous consequences of global warming or environmental degradation.
    The entire structure and underlying ideologies of capitalist consumer economies is being re-examined. America is alone in holding to the old world constructs of supremist ideologies and practices, and such notions as American exceptionalism, the PNAC Pax Americana pipedream, imperialism, colonialism, and dominance through military force, – while also denying the impact on the greenhouse system and the eco-systems supporting the greenhouse system by destructive industries, the leadership aids, abets for profit.
    Before the nightmarish repercussions of peekoil hammer the worlds economy, and particularly the consumer based nations like America, – drinkable water will be the most alarming crisis facing the global economy and the community of nations. There will of course be drinkable water, but it like energy, will be exceedingly more expensive. As the costs increase, week, disadvantaged, and poor nations will suffer the most extreme impacts.
    There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and many more conflicts as desperate people turn to desperate means for survival. Food costs, already the cause of violence, will be exacerbated by depleting drinkable water supplies at affordable costs.
    Humanity is fast approaching a lethal precipice. Neverendingwar, economic deprivation, and environmental catastrophe threaten all our futures. Humanity has advanced in magnificent ways as mechanical, scientific, and technologically inventive beasts, – but as spiritual beings – humanity has not evolved one step beyond our Cro Magnon cousins Our myriad differences and disputes are still resolved with sticks. Our sticks are highly evolved, and technologically excellent, – but we all remain essentially beasts.

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  18. Dan Kervick says:

    My sense is that US power has been declining gradually for decades, as it inevitably must in a world in which its share of the global economic product has continued to shrink, not really because of any severe mismanagement of the US economy, but simply because of the successful development of economies around the world. The US self-image is still rooted in its experience in the postwar decades of being an economic colossus, left standing over a smoldering and rebuilding world in ruins. It’s been a gradual ride downhill ever since. But this isn’t some sort of tragedy or calamity. It’s just the way power flows as economic conditions change.
    The end of the Cold War did not, in my view, represent the ultimate triumph of US power, or its final accession to some sort of global throne, but the beginning of a more rapid period of decline. The philosopher David Hume described one factor in political power that he called the “habit of obedience”. For the subordinate rulers and vassals of the US during the Cold War, the habit of obedience was grounded in the US role as the necessary leader of a military, economic and political alliance against a common enemy. With that common enemy vanquished, the motives for obedience have naturally diminished. US leaders and thinkers have since then tried to dream up global threats of equivalent heft with which to frighten the old allies into continued obedience. But these supposed threats – the Global Islamic Whachamacallit; the Rogue State Menace; the Anarchic Failed State Collapse, and others – haven’t really impressed others to the degree US propagandists would like.
    The Bush Administration did not start the decline in US power, but it did hurry it along by casting the US culture and way of life in the worst possible light, and tarnishing the US as an object of emulation. Of course, there were always many doubts about US society and culture. Our economic culture has been seen as innovative, dynamic, flexible and creative, and capable of rapid recoveries from downturns. But it’s principle of continuous flux and “creative destruction” has also been seen as harsh, anti-social, amoral, brutally competitive, atomizing and destructive of community and family values, and of human dignity. And the seeming tolerance of Americans for high levels of violence and economic inequality in their midst has been seen by others as puzzling or shocking. Episodes like the Iraq War suggest to the world that there is something fundamentally uncivilized, aggressive and irrational in American culture.
    All this said, the idea that the United States is going to turn overnight into some sort of global sideshow or irrelevancy is absurd and hyperbolic. Nor do I think we are close to being able to pronounce the dawning of an “Asian century.” The United States continues to be a very rich country, and even it no longer plays the role of global kingpin, it is bound to be a very influential player, absent some stupendous catastrophe. And the rising Asian countries still have a lot of structural political and social weaknesses of their own to deal with.
    Frankly, a lot of these debates on who’s more powerful than whom are unwholesome and counterproductive in the current environment, and are more relevant to the cultural chauvinism, and even ethnocentrism, of their authors than the well-being of the world’s people. There are a number of pressing global problems to be addressed, and we need intellectuals around the world to devote themselves to constructive, cooperative and practical efforts at dealing with them. I’m not really interested in seeing the pale, waspy Europhile Ikenberry and the darker hued Asian Mahbubani face off on the question of who is more truly awesome, Europeans or Asians, or spin megalomaniacal fantasies about “liberal leviathans” and “Asian centuries”. The spectacle is unseemly and counterproductive. I would note also that both of these fellows occupy privileged and comfortable positions in their own societies, and so have the luxury of engaging is idle and undecidable theoretical wrangles about the power levels of the cultures they respectively represent. Why don’t they get over it, and get to work on actually fixing something – like our rapidly degrading global environment, or our dangerously conflict-prone and economically hazardous energy system, or the out-of-control global proliferation of dangerous weapons of every kind and size, or the growth of teeming slums in third world megacities, filled with many hundreds of destitute millions shut off from effective participation in the more prosperous sectors of the global economy.
    The levees are breaking and we need people with brain power to help out with the intellectual sandbags, not waste their time with White Man – Yellow Man cultural smackdowns.

    Reply

  19. Carroll says:

    The US influence and power is over.
    Discuss it and debate it all you want…it’s done, finished.
    The US myth is busted and what you will see children …is a long period of jockeying to maiontain or gain power by countries and other actors in the world….with power being fluid and diluted acording to the prevailing winds of chance and change.
    Get use to universal uncertainity…that’s all you’re going to get for the foreseeable future.
    AND..it’s not just this adm that has caused it.
    The hubris and greed and stupidy and corruption that has caused this has been going on for a long time, for decades.

    Reply

  20. Carroll says:

    Posted by arthurdecco Apr 28, 9:03PM
    >>>>>>>>>
    I think you are on to something Arthur.

    Reply

  21. David says:

    Gotta say arthurdecco has added a very important point to this critical discussion. And the forward movement in the South is tied to actual populist empowerment (US media nonsense regarding Chavez notwithstanding – he accepted the will of the people in their rejection of his desire to control the banking system, and he is a champion of the indigenous folk), whereas the rise of China is a function of a warlord class and WalMart.
    China covets a transferrence, not a transformation. In fact, they do not even want to transform themselves into an enlightened capitalist state, merely a dominant one. They are clever at what they are doing, and clearly so much smarter than Bush/Cheney and Company that they are winning, hands down, in the current sense of winning. But only transformation will get whoever holds the “winning” hand to where that party needs to be in relation to the realities of the support system on which all life depends.
    America is still the bastion of some of the most enlightened ideals for political existence, ideals we as a society have only falteringly realized, and ideals that have been utterly betrayed by this administration. And remember what the students at Tiannamen Square carried. Also remember what the Chinese government thought, and thinks, of such things.
    If what we are talking about is the current manifestation of capitalism and the global economy, this is a reasonable debate, and some nations will be winners and others losers. And momentum is on the side of Asia, in spite of the clear economic lead we still have.
    But if the debate shifts to a much broader perspective, and includes the global ecosystem as a primary consideration, then there are no winners, just as I argue there were no actual winners of the Cold War, only greater and lesser losers.
    I am reminded of a comment by Al Gore in his book EARTH IN THE BALANCE. I do not recall the exact wording, but in essence it was that the problem is the logic of modern civilization. I think he was correct then, I think it is even more apt now, and I think that if we do not face the largest realities regarding humankind’s relation to the planet, reality will dope slap us in ways none of us will like, including the financial elites who seem to think their game is one without end, only an endless series of financial victories and personal comfort and gratification.

    Reply

  22. Spunkmeyer says:

    We are in a situation today akin to Great Britain in the early 50’s.
    Winston Churchill became Prime Minister again in 1951 after
    being booted from office in 1945. Parallels of the Clintons,
    possibly?

    Reply

  23. arthurdecco says:

    The rest of the world cannot afford to allow the US, (and its sock-puppet allies), to dominate the planet in the ways America would like to. To do so will eventually mean suicide or most certainly, grinding poverty and oppression for almost everyone else. I don’t believe Asia or anyone else is that stupid, no matter how much the powers-that-be here in the west like to think so.
    You can only suppress the hordes for so long before you run out of bullets. And then what happens?
    An alternative proposal to making more and more bullets to be fired from more and more guns that is being considered by the sociopathic leadership of our western collective is to obliterate a few of the marginal players from the “other side” with nuclear weapons in order to send a clear message to the remainder to do what they’re told.
    Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to go over big with Russia or India, China or Pakistan, and it certainly won’t go over very well with their neighbours. It may not even go over well with America’s allies… (though by the time it happens, who knows? Their leaders may have been co-opted enough by then to go along to get along.)
    The fact is – Western hegemony is in decline. Full stop. The evidence is unassailable. Who listens to the bellicose braying from politikal Amerika and its kontrolling klass anymore? Only the other members of its echo chamber is all – the same bad actors who refuse to acknowledge what needs to be done to make the world a more equitable, safe and rational place. Everyone else keeps their own counsel, nods and smiles and backs carefully away thinking their own secret thoughts about how they’re going to “get back” at their American oppressors. To think anything else is stupid. That’s what the study of human nature has taught us. Mobs of hungry, nervous and angry people are dangerous. And creating those mobs has been the primary byproduct of tone deaf I, Me, Mine, American foreign policy since…forever.
    Rather than the East versus the West, it’s the latest Southern political movements that have my attention just now. They seem to realize the way forward for them has little to do with the way the economic and political elites in the US and its allies want the world to move. They seem amendable to the softer use of power that countries like China are bringing to the table in their multi-faceted resource extraction agreements that side step the need for belligerence and big sticks to convince them to buy into their deals.
    China has learned one thing for sure – it’s cheaper to buy what you want than it is to steal it.
    I’m looking South for clues about our next human developmental phase. You guys can keep navel gazing and hand wringing over the unending filth and corruption of America and its enablers, or you can continue to stand still, struck dumb by the speed and size of China’s and the rest of Asia’s economic growth. I’m hoping for something slower and stronger to come out of the populist movements of South and Central America – something that could conceivably lead to a more productive and egalitarian place for all of the world’s citizens – not just for the few and the privileged which is the path we’re all collectively hurtling down right now.
    Because no matter how powerful or economically successful the East becomes, their present political systems aren’t providing me with the expectation that equity will have much of a part to play in their future.
    Or ours for that matter.

    Reply

  24. TonyForesta says:

    Gripping thread.
    America has a language problem, collective dyslexia that is a direct product and result of an intentional mangling of language by the fascists in the Bush government. Before Americans can begin to formulate opinions regarding the future of America, – there must be a re-visitation, and re-analysis of terms, conditions, language, laws, and principles that define America.
    Torture is mangled into enhanced interrogation. Democracy is shapeshifted into tyranny enforced by the predator class commandeering the terrible swift sword of the America’s (the peoples) hypersuperior military, wherein the authority of the government is derived from the cloaked machinations of the predator class, (the fascists in the Bush government, and not the people. Liberation is morphed into the ruthless slaughter of hundreds of thousand of innocent civilians and wanton profiteering by warmakers. Robbing from poor and middle class Americans is majikally repackaged and sold as privatization. The peoples rights, the Constitution, and the rule of law are some how altered into heretofore unknown, unknown and never debated or voted on dictatorial powers, and conjured authorities, and immunities of the socalled unitary executive. The unitary executive has reengineered the president and the vp into monarchial overlords, proclaiming king’s rights, and unfettered dictatorial powers.
    Before America can advance as a nation, and regain or better maintain our once grand standing in the community of nations, – it is imperative, – it is essential that the fascists in the Bush government be held accountable, and abusers punished for radical abuses, liars punished for pathological lying, profiteers be punished for systemic profiteering, and fascists be dethroned, punished, and once again damned for all time for insidiously and ruthlessly enforcing fascist policies and machinations on the people. Until and unless the bloody costly terrible wrongs and crimes wrought by the fascists in the Bush government are addressed and redressed, – America’s future is doomed to certain economic depletion, neverendingwar, and a crippling divide between thehaves and havenots and all the ensuing stresses, tensions, and conflicts that will result .
    While America remains today the worlds hypersuperior military force, and dwarfs all other nations in terms of defense, intelligence, and blackworld expenditures, – by most other critical metrics, measurements, and vectors, America is moving in the wrong direction. Monstrous debts and deficits effectively strangle, constrict, and smother economic opportunities for all future generations Americans. Our aging population, and decades of woeful mismanagement, and financial malfeasance threaten to disrupt if not bankrupt our Social Security System. Our children are among the least well educated, least healthy in the first world. More than 47 million American and millions of children have no insurance and little access to healthcare. Our obscenely expensive healthcare costs and the concomitant pillaging of the system by insurance and pharmaceutical, and healthcare provider oligarchs have shapeshifted America’s once outstanding healthcare system into a compassionless machine, what I call mcmedicine. The next epoch will be defined by Green technologies, systems, management, practices, legal framework, and political will advancing those technologies. America is far behind in supporting, or more accurately investing in the coming green revolution. Other nations are leaping into the future and will dominate green technology markets. Our nations infrastructure (roads, bridges, energy grid and distribution systems) are crumbling old world technologies, fast eroding, noncompetitive globally, and each one, a potential catastrophe in the making. The radical divide between thehaves and the havenots, compounded by a massive decrease in housing prices force enormous pressures on America’s middle or working class, (the heart and engine of the American consumer economy), and the poor on one side of the economic equation, – and obscene fortunes are funneled into the offshore accounts of the predator class on the other further eroding America’s global financial standing and internal economic stability. America is deeply entrenched in two bloody costly, noendinsight wars and occupations, and the even more costly bloody and nebulous neverendingwaronterror. We can claim no victory in any arena or on any front. America has no more political, economic, social, legal, judicial, or moral credibility in the global community. Point being, the terrible swift sword of America’s gargantuan hypersuperior military, and endless warmaking and wanton profiteering driven by the predator class severely burdens and undermines America’s economic capabilities and stature, – while our once more perfect union is wildly redefined, and fast diminishing as an economic and political power.
    The stained and tattered shreds of America’s once sterling empire is fast eroding. All that remains is the hypersuperior warmachine, the predator class the benefits exclusively, singularly, and wantonly from said warmachine, and the terrible seeming certain burdens and hazards of neverendingwar.
    We can begin the daunting and arduous process of regain our stature as a global power first and foremost by firmly placing IMPEACHMENT on the table.

    Reply

  25. Matthew Myers says:

    Don,
    I certainly enjoy this discussion. Hopefully the discussion Steve is calling for will be just as enjoyable.
    I would say in regard to the SCO that regarding it as a collection of countries with even a semblance of common interest, other than tweaking the west is going a step too far. The SCO, based on nothing more than its membership and observers couldn’t possibly form more than a PR function. While there may be some self-serving “counter-terrorism” function to the organization, I find it hard to believe that much unites any of these countries (Russia and China for example) than the desire to appear united. It is much like claiming the OAS as a power block, at least in my view (apples and oranges they may be).
    Secondly, the KMT is looking for improved ties, for sure. I do not dispute this and agree with you. Japan for its part is looking for improved relations, from a pretty bad place, but lets not compare temporary measures with fundamental national interests. Tokyo, if anything is seeking even closer ties with the United States. Taipei, whether it likes it or not, and to a certain extent, whether we like it or not, is tied to the United States.
    China does indeed hold much money. Much of it in dollars. This binds them to us as much as we are to them. They could not dump it any more than we could afford for them to dump the dollar. They are the ones in a bind with oil tied to the dollar and the dollar falling. Their assets, are dropping due to this. Thus, they have a vital interest in keeping our economy afloat. I would even take that a step further, which many people have disagreed with me on, that China needs our market much more than we need their products.
    Lets not lose sight of the fact that even though it has the 4th largest economy now, it is still only a 3.4 trillion dollar economy, as compared to our 13 trillion dollar economy. That is an order of magnitude difference.
    Now if you include Europe as part of the “West” then I think my point becomes more clear. The EU as a whole has a larger economy than the United States. Thus if we are counting them as part of the West, then any talk of power shifting to the East must overcome that to be persuasive to me. Indeed, most economies in the East are on the bottom end of the production scale anyway and it would take decades, I believe, to move up the value added scale.
    Now, finally, I do not dispute that there are factors that would tend to favor the world balance of power to move to the east. I just do not buy the argument that this is an accomplished fact, nor an imminent one.

    Reply

  26. Delia says:

    Here is the basic problem at this point in time. The scholars and thinkers (and the actors outside the US) perceive the decline in US power. But the actors in the US — those holding power — either cannot or will not perceive it. Neither will they ever agree to any sharing of power with another nation. Remember, it was only a few short years ago that Cheney and his friends were blathering about the unipolar world and the fact that we don’t need any allies. I’m not sure they’re ready to recognize any change. And believe me, the American public as a whole doesn’t even have a clue this discussion is taking place. I think it’s going to take some catastrophic failure, either in foreign or domestic policy, or perhaps both, to put a serious dent in American exceptionalism.

    Reply

  27. Don Bacon says:

    Matthew,
    There are always issues, but the major Asian powers are increasing their mutual friendship.
    *The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an intergovernmental mutual-security organization which was founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (recently evicted US air base). Observers are: India, Iran (recently applied for full membership), Mongolia and Pakistan (which has requested full membership, endorsed by China). Afghanistan and Belarus want to get into the SCO.
    *Taipei, now under the KMT, is seeking more friendly ties with Beijing, and in Japan the rising JDP is doing likewise. A transfer of allegiance to China by Taipei and Tokyo would be seismic for the US in the East.
    Your predictions for China are your predictions. Their banking system may be a joke until they open the vaults and count the money — then the joke’s on us.

    Reply

  28. JohnH says:

    Yes, the US role as the superpower is about over. Some things to ponder:
    1) With the US now the world’s biggest debtor, its stranglehold on world financial institutions has evaporated. “The IMF’s loss of influence is probably the most important change in the international financial system in more than half a century.”
    http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-columns/op-eds-columns/the-imf-s-historic-transition-is-less-better/
    2) The Pentagon spends twice what the world spends on “defense” but can’t win the wars it starts, draining the US economy of productive and financial capacity in the process. http://www.alternet.org/story/83555/
    3) The big energy deals are now between China and the producers, not Western companies and the producers. And future energy assets are predominantly in the hands of countries like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Persian Gulf states. (oh, and Iraq, where the fight against the Occupation prevents investment in exploration, development and production.)
    3) US media no longer dominates the globe. Al Jazeera, TeleSur and others offer alternative perspectives to the US frame of world events. Plus, there’s the small matter of the internet…
    Of course, the US could theoretically “maintain a heavy load of power instruments or tools because the world decides it wants America to have them.”
    But this is really delusional thinking. Latin America has breathed a collective sigh of relief now that it has enough breathing space to build endogenous democratic institutions.
    And elsewhere the world sees that the US is simply impotent when it comes to broking or imposing constructive solutions. Given 60 years to broker a deal between Israel and Palestine, the US has instead become part of the problem. When al-Maliki attacked al-Sadr, it was not the US but Iran that stepped in to broker a deal. And it is now Turkey, not the US, who is offering its services to negotiate peace between Israel and Syria.
    http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/turkey/8800883.asp?gid=231&sz=40500
    The US could yet matter in the world, IF it chose to become a problem solver, respected the aspirations of others, and stopped trying to simply impose its will. The world would welcome a powerful, understanding and constructive player.

    Reply

  29. Matthew Myers says:

    Don,
    I appreciate your comments, but I fundamentally disagree. There is not an increased comity but rather very serious territorial issues that have yet to show themselves. There EEZ issues between China, Japan and the United States. There are ethnic issues between Thailand and Malaysia. There are issues between Vietnam and China, as always. Lets not forget the Spratly islands either. There have been varying overtures to the United States from several players seeking to counter growing Chinese influence. While China is growing militarily and economically, it is a relative gain from a very low start.
    Additionally, I would say that my argument about structural flaws holds especially true for China. It is facing severe environmental problems. It’s banking system is a joke. There are some significant problems down the road for China, especially if one is inclined to believe in the issue of rising expectations. I am not saying that China is rising but I would dispute the true extent of this rise. People seem to assume and ever rising slope of growth and influence when it comes to China. I just see many things wrong with that picture.

    Reply

  30. Don Bacon says:

    Matthew,
    Of course there are problems in the East, as elsewhere, but (1) Nobody there is at war (2) There is increasing comity between the major players (3) China, which is beefing up their military, is heavily engaged economically in much of the world and (4) Already enjoying a trade surplus, they have the people to produce and consume, all of which explains why there is a shift in power to the East.

    Reply

  31. Matthew Myers says:

    Steve,
    I believe Ickenberry will come out ahead on this one. Many seem to be confusing the errors and declines of the Bush administration with structural factors.
    In all the key factors the West still retains a preeminent position. There are many demographic, and structural problems in China, India and pretty much anywhere in the East that preclude any conversation of their dominance or a shift in power to the East.
    It is important to look at real power and even relative power and distinguish them from leadership. The West has lacked leadership for the past 7 years and squandered opportunities to be sure, but the United States and the West still remain key pillars of the international system.
    That being said, I look forward to the debate.

    Reply

  32. WigWag says:

    Dan Kervick, I hadn’t thought about it that way. But now that I think about it, I think you’re right, power doesn’t have much meaning in absolute terms, only relative terms. When people talk about absolute versus relative power, I think they are using short hand. Regardless of the rise of Asia or the European Union, in absolute terms the United States will still have a 280 ship navy with 3,700 jet fighters, the U.S. will still have 4,075 active nuclear warheads and a defense budget that dwarfs the defense budgets of any other country. In relative terms, as other states become stronger, the advantage that these resources afford American policy makers decline, resulting in a relative loss of power.
    In his book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500 to 2000”, first published in 1987, Paul Kennedy suggests that great powers decline when their political aspirations exceed their economic might. In his current Foreign Affairs article Fareed Zakaria claims that economically the United States will continue to dominate the world. He thinks that the only threat to American dominance is American political inflexibility. Any way, Dan Kervick, I hadn’t thought about power the way you presented it and I am glad you pointed out it out.

    Reply

  33. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Correctly moved and convinced by the writer’s argumentaion, I would like to add that the transatlantic attitude of callous diplomacy- regarding the management of the world’ conflicts, particularly the Arab- Israeli conflict, the Iranian nuclear conflict ,the ongoing western invlovement in the US- waged war on terror; and the US- sponsored egg-headed policies both in Iraq and Afghanistan throw sufficient light upon the losing and the failing western strategies-may lead to the conclusion that has also been positively shared by Dr Henry Kissinger’s doctrine of changing the dynamics of today’s international relations, West is left with no choice but to rethink its policies and paradigms.

    Reply

  34. Don Bacon says:

    To reinforce Dan’s point, suppose the occupation resisters in Iraq got their hands on Stinger missiles, enabling individuals to destroy US aircraft. That was a key factor in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Empire. Something as simple as that!
    The CIA supplied nearly 500 Stingers (some sources claim 1500-2000) to the Mujahideen guerrillas fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan during Operation Cyclone the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where they were used quite successfully. After the 1989 Soviet withdrawal the U.S. government collected most of the Stingers it had delivered, but some of them found their way into Iran.(Wikipedia)
    The Stinger is used by the military of the United States and by 29 other countries, including Pakistan and Myanmar. Around 70,000 missiles have been produced. Light to carry and relatively easy to operate, the FIM-92 Stinger is a passive surface-to-air missile, shoulder-fired by a single operator, although officially it requires two. The FIM-92B can attack aircraft at a range of up to 15,700 feet (4800 m) and at altitudes between 600 and 12,500 feet (180 and 3800 m).(Wikipedia)

    Reply

  35. Dan Kervick says:

    I bought Mahbubani’s book a couple of weeks ago, but so far haven’t had a chance to read more than one chapter. Perhaps this is a good time to pick it up again.
    I do want to say something about the distinction WigWag makes between absolute and relative power. (My point here is not to single out WigWag, because this is a distinction I have seen made by many others, and WigWag only makes it in passing.)
    In my view, the distinction makes little sense, because power, at least as that concept is employed in political thought and international relations, is an inherently relational concept. Power is the capacity to influence the behavior of others. Thus the amount of power you have absolutely speaking is more-or-less the same thing as the amount of power you possess in relation to others.
    In this way power is distinct from concepts associated with properties like like height and weight, which have both absolute and relational features. If everybody in the world except me were to grow six inches overnight, then I might be able to say that while I am just as tall today as I was yesterday, absolutely speaking, I am no longer tall in relative terms, since my height now falls below the mean.
    But power doesn’t work like that. Suppose someone invented devices that could dissolve bullets, shells, rockets and missiles in flight, and erect a “force field” around a nation’s borders, making it impervious to invasion from without. Suppose that while we in America slept, every other country in the world installed these devices.
    One of us might then try to say, “Well, we possess just as much power as we possessed yesterday, absolutely speaking, but our power has declined in relative terms.”
    But this claim makes little sense. We might still possess the same amount of *military equipment* today as we possessed yesterday, but that equipment has been rendered impotent by the new technologies, and so it no longer contributes what it once did to our power. Thus our power has simply declined, in as absolute a sense as one pleases.
    I know this is a bit of a pedantic point, but I bring it up because it seems to me that some of the people who make this distinction are engaged in a somewhat desperate attempt to console themselves with the idea that there is *some* important sense in which out power has not changed, even if they must admit that there is some other sense in which it has.

    Reply

  36. erichwwk says:

    .
    .
    This blog is fantastic.
    AMEN !!!
    “What happened in this country was that a rigid system was created, and then life was herded into it” — Mikhail Gorbachev
    “Reality is that which, when you don’t believe in it, doesn’t go away” — Peter Viereck

    Reply

  37. AresLuna says:

    “But few can see that this reflects a deeper structural problem: the West’s inability to see that the world has entered a new era.”
    Our leaders are still 20th century men, flexing their (waning) 20th century power, still not having realized that the peasents can read, write,operate sattelite tv, and use an internet cafe to under5stand the world around them.

    Reply

  38. WigWag says:

    Steve, this is a really interesting post. The failure in Iraq and the looming failure in Afghanistan may or may not prove to be a harbinger of a dramatic decline in American Power. Whether or not American Power is declining in an absolute sense, it is clearly declining in a relative sense. How the next President “administers” this decline could have a profound impact on America and the world.
    Your readers might enjoy looking at the current issue of Foreign Affairs (available free on line at http://www.foreignaffairs.org)The main article is entitled “Is the American Era Over” and it features a debate between Fareed Zakaria (who claims America can maintain its hegemony if only it gets its political act together) and Richard Haas (who believes we are inevitably entering a period of nonpolarity in world affairs). The debate between them is very interesting.
    One point that should be emphasized is that while some times big powers fall with a big thud (e.g. the Hapsburgs and the Ottaman Turks) usually they fail slowly. Paul Kennedy claimed this started to happen to the United States 30 years ago. Most people dismissed him. Time will tell if he was right.

    Reply

  39. fascinated says:

    Steve,
    Holy Shit! This blog is fantastic. Am I reading this right that you are calling Kishore Mabubani and G. Jon Ikenberry out to fight each other.
    You are becoming the key foreign policy ringmaster. I haven’t read something this cool in a long time. I don’t know what the hell these two guys are really saying, but you sure know how to make something sound fun.

    Reply

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