Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'A Pitiful Helpless Giant' Again?

"Why is the world today apparently becoming covered so quickly in troublesome abscesses of political, religious and ethnic violence?
One of the main reasons is the United States' loss of deterrent power. In the absence of a real permanent UN force,the United States is the only permanent Security Council member that has a credible modern army, capable of being dispatched quickly to any part of the world. The problem is that this force no longer really inspires fear.
Unfortunately for the West - and for world peace as a whole - the United States, by becoming bogged down in Iraq, has destroyed its deterrence power and thus its political credibility. Its advice, demands, and threats are much less heeded than they were just three years ago".

Renaud Girard.

"He [Primakov] also criticized the invasion of Iraq and what the US calls as propagation of democracy in the region, pointing out to its current result in Iraq in terms of destructive chaos.
The former Russian premier saw that uni-polarity in the world would not last long as the world is on its way towards multiplicity and it is not acceptable any more that the US decides the fate of the world".

Yegeny Primakov.

"The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought about a fourth era in the region's history, during which the United States enjoyed unprecedented influence and freedom to act. Dominant features of this American era were the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait, the long-term stationing of U.S. ground and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and an active diplomatic interest in trying to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all (which culminated in the Clinton administration's intense but ultimately unsuccessful effort at Camp David). More than any other, this period exemplified what is now thought of as the "old Middle East." The region was defined by an aggressive but frustrated Iraq, a radical but divided and relatively weak Iran, Israel as the region's most powerful state and sole nuclear power, fluctuating oil prices, top-heavy Arab regimes that repressed their peoples, uneasy coexistence between Israel and both the Palestinians and the Arabs, and, more generally, American primacy.
What has brought this era to an end after less than two decades is a number of factors, some structural, some self-created. The most significant has been the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and its conduct of the operation and resulting occupation. One casualty of the war has been a Sunni-dominated Iraq, which was strong enough and motivated enough to balance Shiite Iran. Sunni-Shiite tensions, dormant for a while, have come to the surface in Iraq and throughout the region. Terrorists have gained a base in Iraq and developed there a new set of techniques to export. Throughout much of the region, democracy has become associated with the loss of public order and the end of Sunni primacy. Anti-American sentiment, already considerable, has been reinforced. And by tying down a huge portion of the U.S. military, the war has reduced U.S. leverage worldwide. It is one of history's ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end".

Richard Hass.
(In the November / December Issue of Foreign Affairs, see: www.foreignaffairs.org).

The musings of one of the leading figures of the American foreign policy establishment (State Department Policy Planning Staff under Colin Powell, NSC Near East head under General Scowcroft, current President of the Council of Foreign Relations), always makes for a good read. Especially when what he has to say, ties in, with the thinking of his counterparts abroad. Videlicet, almost simultaneous articles exhibiting the same type of pessimism about the current and near future role of the USA abroad. One, by the ex-Soviet spymaster, ex-foreign minister, ex-premier under Yeltsin, Yegeny Primakov, the second by the veteran foreign affairs commentator and reporter, for the French newspaper Le Figaro, Renaud Girard (see: www.syriacomment.com for Primakov's comments, and, www.lefigaro.fr for Girard's comments). All three gentleman, reflect, a current of thought, which while not widespread, can be seen to be gaining currency, among the more intelligent elements of the various elements of the commentariat, and, West European and East Coast elites. To wit: that the Iraq debacle, has seriously damaged not only American credibility abroad, but to some indefinable extent, even the American will to act. Something which this online journal has noted down here, several times in the last six to eight weeks. For good or ill, national prestige, both at home and abroad, is as much psychological as based upon reality. In real terms, of course the losses that the USA, has suffered, and will continue to suffer in Iraq, are nothing compared to those suffered in either Korea or Vietnam. And, considering the fact that the American population is approximately one third larger, than what it was at the height of the Indochina war, the relatively small number of American troops killed or injured, should not on the face of it, seriously damage the American will to power. But, it is all too apparent that it has. Partly no doubt, this is a result of the fact, that the essentially easy victories of the USA in the First Persian Gulf war, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, all set a very high bar, for American success. That and of course being the world's sole superpower.

Now of course, the atmosphere is entirely different than what it was in the fall of 2002 or even the late Winter of 2003. Like Napoleon's Grande Armee, prior to invading Russia, in June of 1812, the United States appeared like an unstoppable force on the world stage. With many American neo-conservative commentators arguing that the first stop was Baghdad, but, that second and third stops would be Persia and Syria. Where are those commentators now? I presume hiding under Mr. Bush's oval office desk at the moment, for lack of a better place to go. Unless of course it is the Mr. Kristol's desk at the Evening Standard....

Having been an early adherent to the above, new school of pessimism, I will admit to being loathed to criticize it but, it will not become my role as commenator if I did not. Because, while I quite agree that the post-Iraq, 'new world disorder', will most definitely be a much more multipolar one, than what the world previously experienced, I am not altogether sure that I am fully prepared to agree that Uncle Sam, is down for the count. However much, a part of me, would like to think that is true. That part of me being of course the 19th and 20th century diplomatic historian. Id est, multi-polar worlds by definition, are infinitely much more interesting, than either unipolar or bipolar worlds. More actors, hence the acting, the interaction is so much more interesting. However, I am old enough to remember the seemingly chronic pessimism of the 1974-1980 period, when the Richard Nixon quote above seemed to be fully borne out, by events following the fall of South Vietnam and the scandal of Watergate. This was the era, when Henry Kissinger was accused (to a certain extent rightly so, as one can see by carefully reading the first volume of his memoirs, written in 1978-1979) of having a strategy of 'managing American decline'. Of course, the upshot of that six to eight years, was the reassertion of American power (real or imagined, and let us say it was a bit of both) under Ronald Reagan. So dear reader, I agree, that the failure of the American project in Iraq, has and will result in a diminution of American power, and it will afford a greater degree of maneuver room for other world powers, most especially Russia under Putin. But, do not, yet count out, the USA. As the greatest Statesman of the 19th century, Furst von Bismarck, once put it: "the good Lord has always made special provision for drunks, fools and the United States".


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