The Sun is not Setting

A friend sent this article entitled “What Follows American Dominion?” by Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Hence this may be taken as the voice of the “Establishment”.

I may as well share my dashed-off punditry. I responded pretty much as follows:

In a way, the whole thing is off-point since there never really was American “unipolarity”. That word implies a degree of autonomy and self-sufficiency no power has ever enjoyed. As I recall, the illusory concept of American “unipolarity” was first propounded in 1991 by Charles Krauthammer. He was wrong then in believing there existed a vast, unused capacity of the USA to leverage its military dominance to achieve the ideological ends he wants. Krauthammer was unwittingly the spiritual sibling of the contemptible Madeleine Albright, who famously asked Colin Powell “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?” Perhaps a visit to Arlington National Cemetary, or the National Armed Forces Rehabilitation Center would help her understand the real gravity of her blasé question.

However, putting aside the bogus and irresponsible notion of “unipolarity”, I suppose it is fair to say, in a taxonomic rather than invidious way, that America is the global hegemon. It is the primary provider of security, it is the primary determiner of the rules of the international game, etc.

So let’s be charitable to Mr. Haass and say that he is really talking about the displacement of the USA as the global hegemon. He does mix up his terms and also refers to the end of U.S. “primacy” – a word he uses incorrectly as if were synonymous with “unipolarity”.

The last global hegemon, Britain, was superseded by a much bigger entity, the good old USA. That transition process was ugly. It involved two world wars and a global depression.

I see no entity that can fill the role of global hegemon in the place of the USA.

The EU cannot do it. China cannot yet do it.

Many players have a stake in the US-led world order, and whatever irritation American primacy may cause, they will prefer the devil they know and will not like to see the uncertainly and risk of a new one replacing it.

International security is best guaranteed by one dominant power, not by a congeries of competing powers. Too many people fail to understand this. The balance of power does not work. It never did. The offshore balancer, Britain vis-a-vis Europe, the USA vis-a-vis the Eurasian world-island, predominates and keeps the peace. Such eras are marked by trade and prosperity. Challenges to the hegemon bring on eras of war.

Nuclear weapons have rendered great power conflict virtually impossible. So that avenue to dislodge us is closed. More importantly, it seems that leaders of major foreign powers realize that a direct military confrontation is foreclosed as a viable means of dislodging the hegemon. Indirect means will be employed, which will probably have the virtue of not killing lots of people in the process.

If we were to move to a truly multipolar world ala 1900-1914, we would see the breakdown of the globalized world economy and a return to 1930s conditions. Mr. Haass is right that such a world is more complicated. However, he seems to downplay that it is also potentially dangerous. War between the lesser powers could happen. More likely, beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies are regrettably likely. He may be right that the USA will consult its allies and trading partners more in the future. But we never really stopped doing that, and it is not clear we will do so more after Mr. Bush leaves town. The Democrat candidates’ enthusiasm to “tear up NAFTA” shows that gratuitously offending neighbors and trading partners is a nonpartisan vice. Moreover, Mr. Bush gets too little credit for his handling of relations with India and China, and too much criticism over the largely illusory rift with Europe.

The USA is relatively weak right now primarily due to the temporary consequences of poor performance by Mr. Bush and his advisors in planning and executing the war and occupation in Iraq. This is not due to any remarkable waxing in the relative strength of other players. China and India are still more potential than actual world powers, though both are growing regional powers and may one day supplant us. We shall see.

The USA will detach itself from the Iraqi tar baby soon enough. Then it will likely play a quieter and less brusque game in the future. This will be all to the good.

I see no dislodgement of the American hegemon by anyone anytime soon.

UPDATE: When I say we will detach ourselves from Iraq, I mean we will reduce our commitment, our troops will stop getting shot and blown up most of the time, the Iraqis will be the ones shooting our people, not our people, and we will forget about Iraq as a symbol of democracy, and we will let it become a pliant autocracy that cooperates with us, and which is capable of imposing order domestically, which is the best we can do in the region.

UPDATE II: Thoughtful and accurate comments in response to this post from Right Wing News.

UPDATE III: The Sun is not Setting: The Sequel

11 thoughts on “The Sun is not Setting”

  1. “The USA will detach itself from the Iraqi tar baby soon enough. Then it will likely play a quieter and less brusque game in the future. This will be all to the good.”

    Will it really? Say we withdrew as many military forces as we could from everywhere. (Yes, I know that we’re not really going to do this, despite the hopes of the fevered left.) Even brought all our carriers into port. (It’s a bit amusing to worry about being eclipsed when the ratio of US carriers to the rest of the world is 12 to 0). Would that really be “all to the good” for the world? I expect we’d see vast regions begin to slide into Somali/Afghan anarchy.

    As to the US being “replaced”, the only way anyone will be as strong as us is if they’re as rich as us. To be as rich as us, they’ll have to be as free as us. And if they’re as free as us, that’ll be wonderful news.

  2. Most of the essay was standard leftish cant softened up enough that moderates wouldn’t be scared away. What really jerks my chain is when not only lefties but even some conservatives that the depression was the result of “natural events” like the 1rst WWar. Please, please read Milton Friedman’s Monetary History of the US. It was primarily govt in the “person” of the newly enshrined Federal Reserve clamping down on the money supply that half the banks went under. It was not a “natural” event.

  3. Brian, to whom are you speaking? Where did I say any of this?

    The whole reason to ratchet down the Iraq mess is to preserve our power and capability, and lives and treasure, which are being consumed in Iraq. I am in favor of preserving American hegemony. Paul Kennedy has a classic article entitled “Why did the British Empire last so long”, in his book Strategy and Diplomacy 1870–1945. One reason was that the British avoided major conflicts and tried to keep the economic wheels on by doing this quietly on the periphery.

  4. Leaving tough battles because we thought they were ignorable has directly led to bolder and more determined terrorism.

    It’s not optional to leave Iraq under any other condition than for our enemies to have felt themselves the loser.

    To do anything else guarantees a more vicious world and even more need to use the American military.

  5. “It’s not optional to leave Iraq under any other condition than for our enemies to have felt themselves the loser.”

    We will no more “leave” Iraq than we have “left” Germany or Korea. That is what McCain’s comment about 100 years meant.

    But we are going to reduce our commitment in Iraq whoever the next President is. Iraqis are going to take the lead. And Iraq will drift farther back into the newspaper, as it has been doing. That process will go on. Americans as a practical matter do not care how many foreigners kill each other. As long as our people are not dying it becomes a political non-issue.

    Our enemies will not feel themselves to be losers. Merely by tying us down as they have, they have won the war of perceptions. The so-called superpower got stuck in the swamp. That is a win for the bad guys.

    More importantly, counterinsurgencies do not have victory parades. They end when your erstwhile enemies come out in the open and make a political deal. Jerry Adams gets photographed in front of 10 Downing St. The bombers get amnesty, they away with it. A deal is made. That is how these kinds of struggles end, when they are “successful”. So, your condition is not going to be met, no matter what happens.

  6. “Brian, to whom are you speaking? Where did I say any of this?”

    Mr. Green: I confess that I am quite confused by your apparent strong objection to my comment. I was of course responding to the lines of yours that I quoted. I placed what I thought were appropriate caveats in my comment to pre-emptively address the objection that I went beyond what you clearly proposed (i.e., I know you’re not a “US out of everywhere type”) because without knowing what you mean by “a quieter and less brusque game” I don’t see why it would “be all to the good.”

    I don’t see how one can refer to “the Iraqi tar baby” and then compare Iraq to Germany & Japan. A “tar baby” is something that one wants to get away from completely, and so the implication of that phrasing is certainly that we should completely withdraw all US forces.

    I agree with you 100% that American hegemony is good, and without foreseeable end.

  7. “… apparent strong objection to my comment…”

    Yeah, you mischaracterized what I said. That is objectionable.

    “I know you’re not a ‘US out of everywhere type'”.

    Correct. Then respond accordingly.

    Otherwise, it seems we are in agreement.

  8. I see no dislodgement of the American hegemon by anyone anytime soon.

    The Anglosphere.

  9. When these types of essays are written, the authors seem to discount how well off the old hegemon my remain, while it will be secondary powers and those in the backwater that suffer.
    We (the USA) benefit from trade and we always will, even in a protectionist era. Plus, we have a fairly large and stable economy of our own. It is the poorer countries that will suffer even more, and it is in those places that the more devastating wars will occur.
    I fear that even if the US remains a hegemon, we may not be able to prevent wars between secondary powers, particularly outside the protection of our sea power; in this I am thinking of China and India.

  10. Is our blood and treasure really being consumed in Iraq or is being invested?

    If the answer is invested for long term results then it will appear as a net cost until the returns start flowing in.

    But in the long run it doesn’t matter. When a withdrawal precipitates a world war and we know we are in a fight for our lives everything will work out in the long run. At a much higher cost.

    Think – the Rhineland Incident – 1936.

Comments are closed.