Saturday, February 23, 2008

Waving Goodbye to Hegemony

Just a few years ago, America’s hold on global power seemed unshakable. But a lot has changed while we’ve been in Iraq — and the next president is going to be dealing with not only a triumphant China and aretooled Europe but also the quiet rise of a “second world.

Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.


Annah said...

While I was an intern at the Middle East Institute several years ago, I had a discussion with one of the employees--a Moroccan, in fact--who asked me, "What does it feel like to be a member of the most powerful empire in the world?" His question shocked me. Even though I had traveled and had seen the U.S. through other eyes, I had never thought of the United States as an empire or of myself as a member of anything. We come from such a large, diverse country where individualism is encouraged that I hardly ever feel part of some connected entity called the U.S. Yet, this is how the world perceives us, and, ironically, this is how I perceive other countries--each country is a single entity with anthropomorphic characteristics. This is how we manage the information we learn about a place.
In response to this article, I think his most poignant statement is the following: "Superpowers have to learn to behave, too."
The American empire's decline is a result of some poor choice of behavior. Perhaps a new era of better choices is upon us all.

Jourdan C. said...

This is what happens when a halfwit, embarrassment of an American becomes president. Oh really, the world is falling to sh*t? The United States seems...dare I say... incompetent! No, it can't be. We haven't reverted to dynasties based on money over ability, have we? We aren't becoming so backwards in our appointments and special favors within the government that the idea of democracy is merely a laughing stock to the population? What did people think was going to happen? You hand an inbred a country in its prime - surpluses, influence and all - and he does nothing. He does nothing to keep it going and everything to destroy it. A war of liberation? No wonder the rest of the world hates us! Things are going well for the rest of the superpower world, ok, and things are going terrible here. But it doesn't matter - because in all those eight years all the RIGHT people got rich. The legacies will continue; damn the education system - who wants the lower class to overcome, anyway?

Oh no, America isn't in total control; we no longer have the superpower complex where we can do anything we want without fear of repercussion. GOOD RIDDANCE. I'm sick of this policing arrogance where we have to tell the rest of the world what's good for them. God forbid China expand and get a piece of the pie - they only have something like 3x our population. Plus, despite all of the corruption, they still honor intelligence. That is becoming less and less important in this country; here, you make money if you're willing to do what others won't. It's the heartlessness of this country that keeps us afloat.

I believe in the European dream. One of the reasons I took this class is because I want to live in Europe. The United States is a divided, terrified police state. We have more protection than anyone and still no one feels safe. Everything feels bigger than the average person - it's all out of our hands and controlled by the powers that have and will continue to be. The Europeans have been through all of this dynasty BS and they know the history because they invented it. They handle public concerns and debates with so much more consideration for their people. The "American people" are simply an anecdote politicians in Congress use to get re-elected.

It's so painfully obvious how politically motivated most of the United States' actions have become, that it's no wonder the rest of the world doesn't take us seriously. I mean, let's put Iraq on the backburner (like our government has done) and consider more domestic issues. The drug war is obviously a political maneuvering tactic to destroy black communities and quiet dissenters. Yet, in Europe, drug addiction is a medical problem. The people aren't arrested; they're hospitalized. Hospitals? What, do they have universal healthcare or something?

Maybe the rest of the world isn't taking us seriously because we aren't cleaning house. We aren't taking care of our own kind and yet we insist we know what's best for the rest of the world. The United States was a superpower when the rest of the world wanted to be us. When the Russians saw bronze bodies on California's beaches and teenagers driving convertibles. But what do they see now? A country OBVIOUSLY divided by race, a country without adequate healthcare services - the basic fundamental of a government's purpose. I see a country falling apart, that insists on intervening because other countries simply aren't responsible enough to govern. Give me a break.

And I know People will say, "Oh Jourdan, it's not just the president's fault. You can't blame him for all these larger things." The Hell I can't. And not just because all of his appointments down to the janitor have been incompetent. No, because there is a butterfly effect of sorts resulting out of us supposedly "electing" this guy. He talks to us like we're idiots - this guy, who's obviously never done anything really hard - and that's fine. The U.S. is used to being babied and pampered and having those with the right last name or lineage be in charge. But then you go and talk to the rest of the world - the rest of the world who's seen some sh*t, and you act like you know exactly what's going on. They turned their backs on us long ago; maybe it was after 9/11. Maybe when we took the entire burden of the war on terror under our one singular belt. We went on crusading without them, because we didn't need them. We had God's will. Well, now they don't need us, and they're off doing their divine duties - feeding and educating the people, treating and clothing them. What fools! God forbid we take this money from the boogie man war and put it into domestic issues. Maybe if the education system becomes stellar again we can be the envy of the world. But we simply won't be that until we truly are that.

Bee Anne said...

The idea that America is in decline is not a new one to those who study such things in the world of academia or to everyday global citizens. Unfortunately, this article is not as eloquent or as effective at conveying the important issues surrounding the topic as others have been. The concept of Parag Khanna's book - the "second world" and the effects of empires and superpowers on its development - sounds interesting enough as an angle on the current world situation, however I hope that it offers more realistic insights and less impractical generalizations than this excerpt demonstrates.

One of the main problems I have with Khanna's analysis is the way he details all of America's internal and external battles- whether they originate from mistakes in our leadership or from our isolated geographical location - while ignoring the potential pitfalls and very real challenges confronting the other members of the international system. His opinion on the future of Europe (as having more than 30 states and operating as a purely cohesive force and not requiring any military strength) both misuses the work of key scholars in the field and ignores crucial challenges facing the continent. The comment that "no other superpower grows by an average of one country per year" purposefully does not confront the very real challenges and problems that European expansion faces. Despite the definite progress that has been made in integration on the continent (including even further steps taken at Lisbon this past year that have yet to be ratified by the member states) most citizens continue to place their national identity over 'European patriotism'. Not all of life is consumed by who got which oil deal. And Robert Kagan's writing on the subject of differences between Europe and America has virtually nothing to do with the statistics and economic views that Khanna is talking about.

China too will face any number of difficulties as it continues to grow. Pointing solely at economic growth indicators and statistics disguises the fact that most of the Chinese population are still farmers who don't know anything of the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing. My roommate last summer while I was studying in Germany was Chinese. She was from a very small town, but was at university in Shanghai. Usually when we would ask lots of questions about life in China (she had never been outside of the country before), she would give us two answers, one for her home in rural China and another for the mindset of the metropolis. The country is going to have to deal with its internal issues as well as what to do about its undervalued currency and fragile international relationships and perception.

The debate about American hegemony and its durability is certainly here to stay, both in the minds of scholars like Kagan, Kupchan, and Khanna. There is no doubt that some of America's actions in recent years have had far-reaching negative effects on the country's reputation and the global system. It is important to realize, however, that this is not just a story of America sliding down the slope very quickly while others sprint up it. The world in the last century - both because of and despite the best efforts of the superpowers - has become more globalized, interdependent, and complicated. Every nation (and multinational corporation and international organization) is going to have to 'learn to behave' in the ever changing international system. Problems definitely exist for America, but also for all actors involved - except maybe for New Zealand they seem to pretty much have it made over there - and it isn't helpful to ignore some of the issues just to make the ones that help your argument seem more prevalent.

Kirsten Brownrigg said...

The U.S. has its … problems. And the likelihood of our hegemonic reign coming to an end is only too probable – our long-term memory is obscured by our complacency and we’ve only been on the top of this pedestal since the 1940s. After all, the Roman republic lasted 500 years and then the Roman empire lasted 500 after that, and they were both still brought to their knees (although the former could be arguably attributed to Caesar’s). I'm not what you would call a "ra-ra American," but I think it's important not to slide to the other end of the extremist spectrum and start crying for the end of American diplomacy.

On that note, I first feel compelled to address at least one concept introduced by Jourdan. Although I wholeheartedly agree with your evaluation of the “drug war” as well as some of your appraisals of U.S. meddling, I have to take issue with some other ideas you tout. First, why shouldn’t China get a bigger piece of the pie? I’ll tell you why. And if the following sounds too obvious to be true, then it’s just one more example of Occam’s Razor. China is guilty of human rights violations that most people could only conceive of in their most harrowing nightmares. If you’re angry about Gitmo, then it would interest you to know that the torture of detainees is endemic in Chinese prisons, and state prosecutors have flatly refused to allow families to see autopsy results for prisoners. Moreover, in 1993, 77% of all executions worldwide were carried out in China. Not surprising, considering that defendants can be put to death for white-collar, nonviolent criminal offenses such as theft, embezzlement and forgery. Then there’s the “one-child” rule that’s given rise to forced abortions and sterilizations, creating a 118:100 ratio of males to females. And for you animal lovers out there, you may or may not have heard that a southeastern Chinese county’s officials forcibly slaughtered 50,000 dogs "in a government-ordered crackdown," all because three people died of rabies. Not a single dog was actually tested for rabies, mind you. It’s so much more cost-efficient to just kill them.

These are just a few of the reasons why it’s important to know who will be leading in the next global era. China has its benefits, but China as a hegemonic power would be a disaster. Don’t confuse Chinese communism with Marxist Communism, because they don’t even have distribution of wealth. It’s the free market with all the disadvantages of the “winner-take-all” system, but without the advantages of the individual promise of economic advancement. The Chinese blend of communism and capitalism is like throwing the baby out and KEEPING the bathwater. I challenge you to live in China for more than a year and return to make that statement – that at least Chinese officials “still honor [intelligence].” How could you read “Riding the Iron Rooster” and still come up with that assessment? China honors “intelligence” so much that they censor literature and the Internet so their people won’t learn about democracy, freedom of speech, and the Tienamen massacre. Yahoo and Google had to create software that would automatically filter these terms out.

To address another point, also discussed by the article – Europe’s supposed superior governing skills – we should revisit the fact that European Union is successful in large part because it designates scarcely any of its resources to military operations outside of its member countries. France does not have that many French troops abroad, so military expense for France is miniscule. Britain is probably the most active country as far as sending troops abroad and yet they can’t even come within a fraction of how much the U.S. spends policing the world. So one of the reasons why the E.U. has been able to thrive is because it can keep all of the money it makes for itself. The phrase has been coined that they “live under the security umbrella” provided by the United States: the E.U. knows that if it is under attack, it can rely not only on its miscellaneous military fores, but also on the military forces of the U.S. If the U.S. were to stop policing the world (which is indeed a plausible scenario, given our dying global influence), someone else would have to take on the mantle. That would leave someone either in Asia or someone in the E.U. Those in the E.U. don’t have the resources or the will. China certainly has the will, because becoming a police state would expand its political and, correspondingly, its economic influence, but it isn’t equipped to do it.

One more thing. The U.S. is not a “police state.” A police state is a state existing under martial law where political, economic, and social aspects of the population are strictly regulated. The U.S. is not a police state – Nazi Germany was a police state. The U.S.S.R was a police state. Anyone who sincerely thinks the United States is a police state is atrociously spoiled. Now, we could be moving toward one … the USA Patriot Act and the Military Commission Act seem to be moves toward that end. But, we are not anywhere near that point, as it stands.

Kirsten Brownrigg said...

Just realized I made the same error I pointed out in others when I described the scenario with China "becoming a police state" -- somewhat of a Freudian slip. I meant to say "becoming a policING state."

Jourdan C. said...

In response to Kirsten:

I agree with your assessment of the human rights violations committed by China. I in no way endorse such cruelty. However, I believe the United States has committed its fair share of atrocities (Gitmo, Vietnam War, Japanese camps, Abu Ghraib). What, just because we don't do it to our own kind, it's less atrocious? China is screwed up, man. I ain't denying that. But I don't believe we have any right to assume more control than other countries. Our history is just as bloody. Communism restricted these countries' development for decades. Their practices do seem appalling to us, but we simply cannot analyze their behavior based on ours. The one-child rule I believe was created to curb population growth. However, Chinese have a long history of male preference. So that didn't work. I'm not defending them at all; I just don't understand why we could Assume so much. The United States, my friends, is simply better at doing terrible things and not getting caught. I believe China is on the path to liberalization and I believe as they participate more and more with the free market, Western-style liberal values will permeate their culture.

Also, I agree about the intelligence assessment. Again, you have to understand that this is a Communist state. Burning books and destroying information that goes against the party line is Common Practice. It's occurred since the dawn of Communism. I was extremely upset when Google agreed to alter its content to appease the Chinese government. However, as I have several friends from China now living in the United States, I can assure you that they take education very seriously. By education I do not mean expansive information (like the internet). I mean the school systems, the training. I still debate in my mind how I feel about magnet schools, and I also believe that many organizations and government operations are run based on lineage. But these people are brilliant. What they are exposed to, they are very well taught and trained in how to utilize this information. I am not defending their censorship - it disgusts me. What I am talking about is their formal education system - the alphabet and math and all the simple stuff that isn't getting taught here.

Thanks for reading my post! Cheers.

shutts said...

I agree with bee anne's assessment of the article. Khanna's analysis is nothing new, save for his unique collection of solutions to securing the U.S. a position as a major player in the future. But the E.U. and China certainly each have their fair share of problems (environmental concerns, lax government regulation, bribery and government corruption, severe censorship, quality of life). Khanna seems to imply in the sixth paragraph that Islamic unrest is under the control of European intelligence, when a glance at them newspapers reveal that this is not true and is a huge issue for the E.U. Certainly the economic and diplomatic advances of China and the E.U. should be recognized...but feared? First Russia, then Japan, then China and now the E.U.? Khanna states that "there are plenty of statistics that will still tell the story of America's global dominance: our military spending, our share of the global economy and the like. But there are statistics, and there are trends." He seems intent on proving his point, when data could just as easily be construed to clam fears. I think it IS important to recognize the success of the E.U., and countries are lining up to join (I've talked with Turkish citizens about this and they confirmed Khanna's claim). I disagree with his claim, however, that "nothing has brought about the erosion of American primacy faster than globalization." Didn't globalization and American exposure contribute to the loss of Soviet strongholds? When he writes of the cycles of imperial rise and decline, that “the only direction to go from the apogee of power is down,” this assumes the U.S. has peaked. And didn’t he just write that the global situation is a first in history? “What he have today, for the FIRST time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, mulitpolar battle,” Khanna writes, then applies an old rule. Where is his evidence that “neither China nor the E.U, will replace the U.S. as the world’s sole leader; rather all three will constantly struggle to gain influence on their own and balance one another”? One of his solutions is “a Peace Corps 10 times its present size,” yet the usefulness of this program has been brought under question, and many propose renovation. Khanna’s points are certainly important ones to consider, but despite his experience and travel, I wouldn’t count him as having the final word on the matter.

Heather said...

After years of scholars predicting that America’s empire might fall like Rome’s, in this day and age it seems that theory is not far off. Since 2001, because of the policies or as The New York Times put it “lack of policies,” America has made enemies of its allies because of its imperialistic attitude toward Iraq, created a never-ending fight against worldwide terror and has suffered a weak economy. It seems like America is crumbling from inside and out. America’s foreign diplomacy with its European allies is icy as many nations disagree with the bullying treatment used to obtain America’s allies in the Iraq War, its hidden agenda of oil fields and the immense debt that has occurred because of the war.
America’s domestic issues have not fared better. The economy hasn’t reached its strong status pre-9/11 and looks to be spiraling lower with the housing market and many Americans’ jobs have been outsourced overseas while leaving those Americans unemployed. The healthcare system is out of control and insurance companies refuse to pay for basic healthcare because of the fine print in the insurance plans that say “pre-existing condition.” And while America’s currency is becoming near worthless in foreign trading, Americans cannot seem to unite to over the best way to correct these mistakes and issues facing the nation. Meanwhile, nations like China and the European Union are becoming increasingly successful. The new movie Vantage Point touched on America’s current stance when the president faced with a terrorist-induced crisis said America’s policy with terrorist needs to be strong hearted not strong armed because we learn from past mistakes. Perhaps America should learn to be humble and take a few pointers from the European Union on how to succeed in post-9/11.

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