Monday, November 15, 2004

America and Empire

Yesterday's NY Times featured an Op/Ed piece by Robert D. Kaplan. Kaplan chides both neoconservatives and internationalist liberals for attempting to impose western style democracies in the Balkans and Iraq. He points out that democracies must spring from internal desires to form such a government and that it may take years to establish one in Afghanistan and Iraq, if they ever get there. The interesting quote for me was this:

But rather than a replay of the Balkans in 1995 and 1999, Iraq has turned out like the Indian mutiny against the British in 1857 and 1858, when the attempts of Evangelical and Utilitarian reformers in London to modernize and Christianize India - to make it more like England - were met with a violent revolt against imperial rule. Delhi, Lucknow and other cities were besieged and captured, before being retaken by colonial forces.

The bloody debacle did not signal the end of the British Empire, which expanded for another century. But it did signal a transition: away from an ad hoc imperium fired by an intemperate lust to impose domestic values abroad, and toward a calmer, more pragmatic empire built on international trade and technology.

In that vein, it seems inevitable that the coming four years will be a time of consolidation for America rather than of expansion; for it may take that long to bring Iraq to a level of stability equivalent to that of the post-conflict Balkans. Only after Iraq is secure will it be possible for our diplomats to work credibly on behalf of democracy throughout the Middle East.

As for our overstretched military, increasingly it will have to work unobtrusively through native surrogates in the hunt for terrorists: for as the histories of Rome, France and Britain all reveal, the successful projection of power is less about direct action than about the training and subsequent use of indigenous troops.

Moreover, in a world where every field operation is subject to intense scrutiny by global news media, the only empire that can be broadly acceptable is one consisting of behind-the-scenes relationships. That, in turn, will require an increased emphasis on what academics and diplomats call "area expertise."

James Wolcott has been thinking over American Empire as well. He's noted that anti-American sentiment seems to be affecting sales of US goods abroad.

In late October, the Financial Times had a front page story "Well-known US brands see sales in Europe fall."

Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Marlboro, and GM were all revealing problems echoing those "already faced by Disney, Wal-Mart and Gap."

Corporate chiefs dismissed the connection between falling sales and rising anti-Americanism.

And later adds this comment from a Coca Cola representative:

"We want to promote the bigger global ideas that are based on universal human insights."

Aye, but here's the rub.

America itself no longer promotes universal human insights. It thumps its exceptionalism everywhere it stomps. It is perceived as the overdog unchained.

An entire chapter in Emmanuel Todd's After the Empire is devoted to America's retreat from universalism. "One of the essential forces of empires, a principle behind both their dynamism and stability, is universalism, the capacity to treat all men and peoples as equals."

Instead, the US has curled up into an angry ball at home while lashing out at much of the world.

"it pretends to incarnate an exclusive human ideal, to know all the secrets of economic success, and to produce the only movies worth watching. The recent boasting about its presumed social and cultural hegemony, the progress of its ever expanding narcissism, is only one of the many signs of the dramatic decline of America's real economic and military power and of its universalism most of all."

At what point will corporate chieftains in the US, particularly those who rely heavily on exports, going to realize and acknowledge that Bushism is bad for business?

Heh, I think that the past 4 years should have been a big clue to the corporate shills that Bush is bad for business. Instead, they are locked into their aggressive world view that we can crush any opponent in the world and ignore the possible long term effects of their policies. Shareholders would be wise to oust these idiotic louts, who are more often than not put up on pedastels for little to no good reason anyhow and earn outrageous perks for their efforts at self promotion when those monies would be better spent on shareholder wealth anyhow.

But I digress from the point I wanted to make. The Bush policies may succeed in the short term, but they have also dangerously exposed our vulnerabilities. As Kaplan noted, it is the "projection of power" that maintains the empire. For ages, the Pentagon has maintained that it had the strength to fight a war on 2 fronts. We are now in Afghanistan (though barely) and Iraq and we're finding great opposition. As North Vietnam will attest, once that weakening is perceived, it bolsters the opposing forces and lends credence to America's foes that they actually might be able to take us down or at least, force a retreat in our policies. Likewise, the American branding on foreign policy, economic policy, and it's own goods becomes tarnished.

Even before 9/11, Bush has supported a weakening of the American dollar on currency trading markets. This was a reversal of decades of policy on the American economy. Since Bush took office, the dollar has fallen 30% on trading. The consequences of this are now being seen and one can feel a change looming on the horizon. If this policy becomes a change for the worse, Bush will have succeeded in not only exposing our military underbelly to our foes, but also our economic vulnerabilities. He will have exposed the country the way that no one else has done to attack and put us in greater danger than ever before. How will those famed marketing experts on Wall Street account for this and what will they propose to get us out of the quagmire? Stay tuned for election 2008.

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