IRAQ AFTER WAR & OCCUPATION: A COMMENT
"The upheaval caused by the removal of the Ba'ath regime in 2003 was clearly a watershed in terms of how all aspects of the future Iraqi state would operate. In the domestic and foreign policy realms alike, the removal of the authoritarian structures of Saddam's regime gave space and opportunity to a range of previously structured actors to carve out power centres of their own. Yet, arguably, the pattern of how policies would be determined by each of these sets of actors, and how foreign relations would later be constructed, maintained striking similarities with those of Ba'athist Iraq. Considering the making of foreign policy under Saddam, Tripp offers a number of insights which tend to encourage a view of the situation as unique, including the control of the regime by Saddam and a small circle of men related through family or clan bonds....In addition to this clear dominance, foreign policy in Saddam's terms was very much defined as starting at the boundaries of the presidential compound---that is, everything beyond the inner circle of trusted figures was in effect 'foreign', particularly as those not trusted would almost certainly be from 'communities amenable to the machinations of outside powers'".
Gareth Stansfield, "The reformation of Iraq's foreign relations", International Affairs (November 2010), p. 1401.
"America's grand strategy in the aftermath of 9/11 shifted from that of a hegemonic hyperpower minded to manipulate the rules to that of an imperial power that regarded the rules and the institutions of the UN order as outdated and irrelevant. As we have discussed above, the Iraq war brought into question the extent to which the rules prohibiting the use of force retain legitimacy. Washington's 'assault on the international social structure built up mainly by the US over the previous half century' exposes a central paradox of hegemony. While hegemons possess material capabilities to act unilaterally, they 'cannot maintain this role if they do so at the expense of the system they are trying to lead'....The failure of unilateralism and the limits of US power projection became apparent as the policy failures became starker. Within a year, the WMD claims were revealed as bogus, and within two years the invasion had made the problem of jihadist terrorism worse than it was in 2003, provoking derision about the rationale for war."
Tim Dunne & Klejda Mulaj, "America after Iraq," International Affairs (November 2010), p. 1297.
On the occasion of the withdrawal officially of all American and allied combat troops from Iraq in August, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), has devoted an entire issue to the subject of Iraq and America in the aftermath of the war and occupation. The articles are most interesting, and backs up my own contention that International Affairs, notwithstanding an at times excessive usage of International Relations theory & verbiage, is by far the best existing periodical dealing the foreign affairs now existing. The only one in fact which still provides the educated and cultured reader with an ultra-informed view of the ongoing currents in International politics. Something which unfortunately, the now withered and bowed down, American periodical, Foreign Affairs no longer does. The latter have given-in to the twin evils of moyen-vulgarization and commercialism. With all that being said, what does one say about Iraq and indeed the USA in the aftermath of the seven plus years that both have gone through? First, that even in retrospect, it seems scarcely believable that the Bush regime and its inner-circle of 'neo-conservatives', were able to use the national trauma felt by the American narod to invent a series of rationales to over-throw the rather nasty Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein. It particularly strains belief simply by virtue of the fact that the vast majority of the cabal who decided policy, both inside and outside of office, knew almost nothing about either Iraq or indeed the Near and Middle East region as a whole. Except in some fashion or other, the State of Israel. Second, following from the appalling ignorance mentioned above, it is not very surprising that this cabal, had no idea or concept of what the overthrow of Saddam's regime would cause both in Iraq and in the region as a whole. None whatsoever it would indeed appear. Indeed, the fantasies that were believed in, concerning post-bellum Iraq and post-bellum Near and Middle East appears akin to something out of Alice in Wonderland.
With all that being said, it is too reductionist to posit that the entire imbroglio has resulted in no lasting American influence in the new Iraq. As Gareth Stansfield, clearly shows in his article, it is only the Americans, not mind you either the Turks or the Persians who "'is the only party respected, if grudgingly by nearly all sides. No other entity has the same power to convene in Iraq---not Iran [Persia], not the United Nations'.1
" Similarly, notwithstanding the pessimism which seems to afflict the American pays legal these days about American machtpolitik, the fact of the matter is, as Tim Dunne puts it, the USA still exists, in a universe of its own, in power political terms:
"The US pre-eminence in the current international system is an undisputed fact. American GDP roughly equals that of China, Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Britain combined, or alternatively, one-quarter of the global GDP. Morever, the US spends more on defence than any other country in the world by a very long way---its defence expenditure in 2008 amounted to nearly half the global total. Thanks to this material preponderance, the United States commands 'unassailable military dominance over sea, air and space'"2. 1289
Which is not of course to gainsay the fact that since 2002-2003, that the Persian regime in Teheran has not taken advantage, in particularly psychologically of the removal of the Ba'ahtist regime. It indeeds has. And its nuclear processing programme, as well as its ties to Syria and Hezbollah and give the appearance of having the wind politically at its back. But, I would argue that this is more tinsel than substance. At least until the Persians positively test a nuclear weapon. Or alternatively, if Syria and Hezbollah were to once again defeat (in the sense of fight to a draw) Israel `a la 2006. Or finally the eruption of another Intafada by the Palestinians against the Israelis. In absence of any of these events occurring the decline in the American position in the region is not as nearly great as many commentators, such as Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, erroneously assume. Even with the second-rate, American diplomatic effort coming from Mme. Clinton's (Dieu help us!) State Department 3
. Or to paraphrase 'Madam Mere' (Bonaparte's mater): Let us just hope that this state of affairs lasts.1
.) Stansfield, op. cit., p. 1408.2
.) Dunne, op. cit., p. 1289.3
.) For an example of how second-rate, if not amateurish American diplomacy is at the moment, under Mme. Clinton, especially in the Near & Middle East, see: Roula Khalaf, "Israeli frustration deepens despite offers of fighter jets," Financial Times
, 29 November 2010, p.2.
THE LATEST NORTH KOREAN COUP DE TETE: A COMMENT
"THE shelling by North Korea of a South Korean island is a sobering reminder that the Korean peninsula will remain the world’s most dangerous flashpoint in 2011. Consider the environment: China, Russia and North Korea are all nuclear powers; South Korea, guarded by some 28,000 American troops, is permanently on alert against an unpredictable North; and Japan waits nervously on the sidelines, dreading the thought that the region will explode.
North Korea does, of course, have form. Only last March its navy torpedoed a South Korean warship, causing 46 deaths. The Pyongyang government denies involvement in that incident but is quite happy to boast its nuclear credentials: just last weekend it showed off a new uranium enrichment facility, described by a visiting American expert as “astonishingly modern”. In short, the days when the North responded positively to the “sunshine diplomacy” of the South’s Kim Dae-jung are long gone (the then-South Korean president wooed the North in 2000). Instead, the posture of the North Korean regime is frighteningly aggressive.
But why? The best explanation Cassandra can offer is that it is all to do with grooming Kim Jong Un to take over from his ailing father, Kim Jong Il. That process will continue well into 2011 and possibly beyond. Young Kim (at around 26 he is the “Dear Leader’s” third son) needs the support of the army. In theory, he has that support, having last month been appointed a daejang, equivalent to a four-star general. In practice, after cosseted teenage years spent in Switzerland (apparently he likes skiing and is a fan of basketball…), he needs to demonstrate a bit of toughness. Meanwhile, let the rest of the region tremble".
J.A. "North Korea grooms its heir," The Economist, 23 November 2010, in www.economist.com.
"However, the threat North Korea’s nuclear program poses is more theoretical than the threat posed by conventional weapons engagements. Just as it seems that a North Korean nuclear test would not result in military action, the ChonAn sinking and the Nov. 23 attack seem to show that an “unprovoked” North Korean attack also will not lead to military retaliation. If this pattern holds, it means North Korea could decide to move from sea-based to land-based clashes, shell border positions across the Demilitarized Zone or take any number of other actions that certainly are not theoretical.
The questions STRATFOR is focusing on after the Nov. 23 attack are as follows:
Is North Korea attempting to test or push back against limits on conventional attacks? If so, are these attacks meant to test South Korea and its allies ahead of an all-out military action, or is the North seeking a political response as it has with its nuclear program? If the former, we must reassess North Korea’s behavior and ascertain whether the North Koreans are preparing to try a military action against South Korea — perhaps trying to seize one or more of the five South Korean islands along the NLL. If the latter, then at what point will they actually cross a red line that will trigger a response?"
"Is North Korea Moving Another 'Red Line'?" 23 November 2010 in www.stratfor.com
"Nothing is more futile, therefore than to attempt to deal with a revolutionary power by ordinary diplomatic methods. In a legitimate order, demands once made are negotiable; they are put forward with the intention of being compromised. But in a
revolutionary order, they are programmatic; they represent a claim for allegiance. In a legitimate order, it is good negotiating tactics to formulate maximum demands because this facilitates compromise without loss of essential objectives. In a revolutionary order, it is good negotiating tactics to formulate minimum demands in order to gain the advantage of advocating moderation. In a legitimate order, proposals are addressed to the opposite number at the conference table. They must, therefore be drafted with great attention to their substantive content and with sufficient ambiguity so that they do not appear as invitations to surrender. But in a revolutionary order the protagonists at the conference table address not so much one another as the world at large. Proposals here must be framed with a maximum of clarity and even simplicity, for their major utility is their symbolic content. In short, in a legitimate order, a conference represents a struggle to find formulae to achieve agreement; in a revolutionary order, it is a struggle to capture the symbols which move humanity."
Henry A. Kissinger, "Reflections on American Diplomacy," Foreign Affairs (October 1956).
The lastest North Korean actions bespeak a regime which is either on its last legs (the 'Gotterdammerung' scenario), is using military strikes abroad to displace its domestic infighting and tensions (the 'primat der innenpolitik' scenario) or finally the scenario outlined above by Stratfor, in which the regime is carefully tabulating its every move to carefully raise the ante with each new coup de tete, vis-`a-vis South Korea and its American patron & ally (the 'primat der aussenpolitik' scenario). For what it is worth, I believe that in point of fact, insofar as it is possible to form an 'informed opinion' on the matter (and it is in fact not really possible given the nature of the North Korean regime...), my own surmise is that all three of the above scenarios are part of the likely explanation for the latest occurrences coming from Pyongyang. That being said, even if we did in fact know absolutely the thinking behind the North Korean regime's behavior, that mere fact would not per se get anyone very far in the current situation. Using Kissinger's analysis of 1956, we are in essence dealing with (psychologically if not in fact) a 'revolutionary regime'. And the only manner of trying to stabilize the current situation is to utilize the Chinese variable to put a positive break on those elements in the North Korean regime which are the most adventuresome and dangerous (of course it could very well be that 'all elements' in Pyongyang fit these characterizations). Unlike however, Dr. Brzezinski in the Financial Times, I do not believe that talking sweet reason to Peking will result in very much 1
. Indeed, au fond Peking appears to be quite content with the various North Korean bouts of misbehavior. Or at the very least, not very concerned or upset by the same. It would appear for example that Peking has turned a blind eye to the smuggling of components into North Korea which the latter has utilized in the construction of its brand new advanced uranium enrichment facility 2
. Unveiled just last week, in another coup de tete by North Korea. The question then becomes: what is to be done?
I for one, again in line with Kissinger's suggestion from 1956, that when dealing with a 'revolutionary' regime, one has to engage in 'revolutionary' tactics in turn, would like to suggest the following: that the Americans and the South Koreans in raise the ante by initiating counter-moves. Not mind you, by acting in some piecemeal fashion. That would in turn merely result in North Korea responding in kind. And at a time and place of its own choosing. The only method of bringing matters to a head perhaps and forcing the PRC to take effective action to put pressure on Pyongyang, is by a drastic military response. A response which would have the end-result of anchoring the entire American Pacific fleet off of the Korean coastline. With patrols up to the edges of the maritime DMZ. As well moving an entire division of American troops to the demilitarized zone, and finally re-introducing tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula. These moves, may or may not frighten Pyongyang (See however Reuters for their usual hysterical comments about the current small-scale South Korean-American military exercises)3
. They will most definitely concern, nay indeed frighten the PRC. While the PRC has deprecated North Korean behavior so far, it is unlikely that it will continue to do so, if that involves bringing a significant portion of American military power right on its doorstep. At that point, Peking will no doubt exercise its 'positive influence' on its confreres in Pyongyang to substantially change its behavior. Of course it may be asked, whether or not both the monetary costs to the USA (which could indeed be borne in part or in whole by both Japan and South Korea), and the dangers of an uncontrolled escalation, make this exercise in diplomatic va banque worth it 4
? But given the current circumstances in which we are now in, the prior American policy of 'do nothing', and apply more sanctions on Pyongyang, has by this time run its course. A 'Neue Kurs', is most definitely needed before North Korea decides to really cross a 'red line'.1
. Zbigniew Brzezinski, "America and China's First Big Test," The Financial Times, 23 November 2010 in www.ft.com
. Scott A. Snyder, "North Korea tests U.S. 'Strategic Patience,' The Council on Foreign Relations, 23 November 2010, in www.cfr.org
. See also: Geoff Dwyer, "Ties bind China and its awkward ally," The Financial Times, 24 November 2010, in www.ft.com
. Jeremy Laurence & Danbee Moon, "North Korea says U.S-South Korean exercises bring war," Reuters, 25 November 2010, in www.reuters.com
. For an argument which comes to the opposite conclusions of my own, but does agree that current American policy is hopeless and needs to be changed, see: Douglas Bandow, "Deja Vu on the Korean Peninsula," The National Interest, 24 November 2010, in www.nationalinterest.org
THE UK'S STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: 'SUCCESS' OR 'FAILURE' ?
"In Britain, major reviews of security and defence strategy conform very loosely to two rules. The first rule is that strategic reviews usually fail. A failed strategic review is one which proves unable either to balance the demands of security and defence with the need to maintain a healthy economy, or to identify and anticipate evolving security and defence challenges.
Typically, a strategy review moves through four phases: the apparent failure of the prevailing strategic framework is followed by a period of policy inertia. A policy review and formulation process eventually begins but the findings are not fully implemented. So the review ends in failure and the process must begin again, but only when it becomes politically impossible to resist the demand to do so."
Paul Cornish, "Defence: Muddling Through," The World Today (November 2010), p. 6.
"The ultimate aim of any Government in the United Kingdom must always remain the security of these islands from foreign domination or attack, the prosperity of the British people and the protection of our individual freedom and liberty. The following paragraphs consider how best these aims may be safeguarded over the next 10 years, in light of the international situation depicted in Part I and the estimate of the United Kingdom's material resources in Part II....Whether we like it or not, our interests are inextricably linked with those of the whole free world. We cannot hope to preserve them by our own independent action, and we are much too important a part of the free world to be able to retreat into a passive role like Sweden or Switzerland. Our duties and responsibilities will be very different in the future from what they have been in the past, but they will be no less onerous and no less
demanding of our highest efforts....But despite the contraction of our former strength and resources the United Kingdom still has many of the responsibilities of a world Power; and our influence need not shrink in proportion to our material strength. Provided that we live up to our won highest standards, our resources will not lie in material strength alone. Our leadership of the Commonwealth, the progressive fulfilment of our Colonial responsibilities, our special relationship with the United States, our European associations, the legacy of our Imperial past, the maturity of our political experience outside Europe, our national quality of rising to an emergency and our reliability in the defence of freedom and justice: all of these can continue to justify for the United Kingdom a leading position among the Powers and a higher place in their counsels than our material assets would strictly warrant."
"'Future Policy Study, 1960-1970': Cabinet memorandum, report of the officials committee,"
24 February 1960 CAB[inet] 129 / 100, C(60) 35, Public Records Office, Kew.
"Next year we are to bring all the soldiers home
For lack of money, and it is all right.
Places they guarded, or kept orderly,
We want the money for ourselves at home
Instead of working. And this is all right.
It's hard to say who wanted it to happen,
But now it's been decided nobody minds.
The places are a long way off, not here,
Which is all right, and from what we hear
The soldiers there only made trouble happen.
Next year we shall be easier in our minds.
Next year we shall be living in a country
That brought its soldiers home for lack of money.
The statues will be standing in the same
Tree-muffled squares, and look nearly the same.
Our children will not know it's a different country.
All we can hope to leave them now is money".
Philip Larkin, "Homage to a Government," 1969.
While one may or may not characterize the United Kingdom's just completed,'Strategic Defence Review' (hereafter 'SDR'), as (to use Paul Cornish's useful terminology) 'successful' or unsuccessful', no one will gainsay that the SDR itself appears to have high strategic importance for the UK's future role as a world Power. Unless the stipulated cuts are reversed (and no SDR has been 'reversed' in this sense in the past sixty years), the United Kingdom's ability to project its power abroad effectively will be considerably hampered. As the commentator Clara O'Donnell explains:
"Britain will no longer be able to maintain a long-term operation of the size that is currently deployed in Afghanistan: while there are nearly 10,000 British troops in Afghanistan today, the maximum size of such operations in future will be around 6,500. The size of large-scale fighting operations will also be cut back – to around two-thirds of the forces that went into Iraq in 2003 [30,000 versus 45,000]. The government has also been forced to give up big items of military equipment. Britain will mothball or sell one of the two new aircraft carriers it has committed to build; the UK is also retiring its Harrier fleet of military jets early, leaving the other carrier without any British aircraft for several years".1
The upshot of the exercise as Dr. Andrew Dorman noted for Chatham House was that the SDR has resulted in a situation where each of the forces has prioritized its own particular
'mission' without any attempt at arriving at a logically coherent whole. With the army's role in Afghanistan for the next five years in particular being used as a pivot to exercise massive cuts in both the RAF and the Royal Navy. With the unintended end-result being that other than the current Afghanistan commitment:
"There is an acceptance that there must be significant levels of risks in some areas. The force posture is supposed to be geared towards supporting current operations in Afghanistan, with significant risk accepted in terms of the ability to project military power to other areas such as the Falklands. In the longer term, there is an acceptance of an order of magnitude reduction in Britain's ability to undertake strategic power projection." 2
Unless an economic miracle were to occur in the next five year, it would appear that the cuts which have been outlined, will no doubt take place. And once done is highly unlikely to be undone regardless of any other variable. The examples of the 'East of Suez' decision of 1968, immediately spring to mind as being a pertinent example of what we shall see in the next five years. And make no mistake about it: sans its power projection, sans it ability to act as the USA's (in the words of Bernhard von Bulow the Younger) 'splendid second', I for one see no alternative for the UK, but becoming merely a larger and poorer 'Sweden or Switzerland'. As many if not most of the 'soft-power', non-material variables outlined in the 1960 Cabinet paper quoted above, no longer command much in the way of respect these days. And as for the Clara O'Donnell's idea that the UK will in some fantastic fashion 'pool' its military resources in common with its European Union partners, this nostrum misses the point that five years or less hence, "stabilisation and conflict prevention efforts around the world", will no longer occupy the Official Mind in Whitehall to the extent that it does now. And if the United Kingdom really does get out of the Great Power business it will no doubt get out entirely. Not merely bit by bit. Sad but true I am afraid. But, as the late, great, Raymond Aron once noted, perhaps the key question of post-1945 British history is how British went from being 'Romans to Italians'3
. This year's Strategic Defence Review is merely another example of that sad and unfortunate transformation.1
.) Clara Marina O'Donnell, "Britain's Defence Review: Good News for European Defence?"
28 October 2010, in www.cer.org.uk2
.) Andrew Dorman, "Evaluating the 2010 Strategic Review," Chatham House: reports and papers
, October 2010, p. 7.3
.) Frank Prochaska, "A Humble One," The Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS)
, 6 August 2010, p.23.
THE G-20 SUMMIT & THE 'VENEER OF AMERICAN HEGEMONY'
"As a direct consequence of the 'Great Recession' of 2008-2009 and the continuing financial instability left in its wake, the G20 has moved into the putative position of premier forum for global economic governance. The immediate impact of the G20 as a 'crisis breaker' has been palpable. From the initial leaders' summit in Washington, DC (November 2008) to the second in London (April 2009) and the third in Pittsburgh (September 2009), the G20 served as an effective catalyst for generating both big domestic stimulus packages and promises of new resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks....Beyond its immediate role as the primary locus for concerted initiatives on the crisis, the G20 attracts attention as a new form of reordering in global governance. This view gives priority to the G20's ability to act as a new form of 'steering committee' with a new membership reaching beyond the countries at the helm of the post-1945 settlement and those incorporated in the 1970's (through the creation of the G5 and then the G7) and the post-Cold War era (the G8). To the old establishment---previously restricted to North America, Western Europe and Japan---key emerging powers are added".
Andrew F. Cooper, "The G20 as an improved crisis committee and / or a contested 'steering committee' for the world". International Security (May 2010), p.741.
"In this sense political leadership became merely an aspect of the function of domination-in as much as the absorption of the enemies' elites means their decapitation, and annihilation often for a very long time. It seems clear from the policies of the Moderates that there can, and indeed must, be hegemonic activity even before the rise to power, and that one should not count only on the material force which power gives in order to exercise effective leadership".
Antonio Gramsci, Selections From the Prison Notebooks, edited & translated, Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. (1971). p. 59.
"You must either conquer and rule or lose and serve, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or be the hammer".
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Der Gross-Cophta (1791).
The failure of the G-20 Summit to make any progress in resolving some of the conflicts between the differing powers attending the summit: PRC & Germany versus the United States / Emerging versus Developed / Trade surplus versus Trade deficit, et cetera, highlights various things at once, but perhaps the most important aspect of the failure of the meeting was that it shows we are perhaps in the midst of an interregnum. Not mind you, an interregnum in terms of machtpolitik (at least not yet), but in terms of the International economic order (or should one say 'dis-order'?). Of course in using the term 'hegemony' in this sense of the word, I am borrowing from the oeuvre of Robert Gilpin & Robert Keohane (see in particular the former's 'The Political Economy of International Relations'.). Au fond, the fact that we are in an interregnum would seem to be beyond dispute, and helps to explain the failure of the Americans to get their way at the Summit vis-`a-vis China and Deutschland over the issue of global imbalances. The fact that the criticisms uttered by both the PRC and the Berlin government were so outspoken seems to indicate that the days are long gone were the Americans could merely 'stamp their feet', and get their way at these meetings. Reducing us to a state perhaps best described in the Old Testament: "there was no King in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes". Id est, the Hobbesian state of international anarchy: bellum omnium contra omnies
However, at some level this description of the current situation as it pertains to the international economic order is slightly misplaced. Meaning that it is suffers from a telescoping of events and hence a mis-reading of them. Firstly, one did not have to be particular discerning to be rather skeptical of the idea that the formation of the Group of twenty countries was a 'Bretton Woods' moment in International political economy. It was not. And the events in the past two years has clearly proven the same. Rather than taking the steps described by Andrew Cooper, in point of fact, the G-20 merely gave its blessings to moves which the different powers were in the process of taking / under-taking. Actions in which domestic considerations (primat der Innenpolitik) were uppermost in the minds of the officials who made them. The best example of this being the fact that the gradual movement among many of the powers from fiscal expansion to fiscal contraction, was almost entirely a result of domestic political imperatives rather than any pressure by peer pressure among the powers in question. Just as the fact that the Americans are for the most part, laggards in this change is a result of domestic political imperatives in the USA. Secondly, if one has the presence of mind and the command of enough historical knowledge to go back in time to say the 1970's, one will recall the fact that during the Carter Administration, there was a great 'to-do' between Bonn (as it was then) & to a lesser degree Japan, and Washington over the need for a concerted 'fiscal stimulus' by the G-Seven countries. The latter two powers being hesitant and Washington (as to-day) being in favor. With no one power, or powers being especially able to 'impose its will' over the others (For the quarrel over what was labeled at the time as the 'locomotive theory of international equilibrium', see: David Calleo, The Imperious Economy, (1982), pp. 125-126). A state of affairs which in fact goes straight back to the 1960's, with the slow-moving decline and fall of the Bretton Woods system of exchange rates. With the Nixon 'Shocks' of 1971, being evidence of American weakness and not American strength. At least as it relates to America's hegemonic position in the International economic order. Once again, it is only through a very partial mis-reading of history that one may say that, until circa 2003 or 2007, that the United States exercised unchallenged hegemonic power in the realm of International Political Economy. In fact it would be truer to say that since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, the Americans have merely exercised a 'veneer of hegemony' rather than the genuine article. A state of affairs in which the Americans often lead, but only so long as the other powers were willing to be lead. In instances such as that cited above, where the other powers were unwilling to go, the hegemonic veneer, came to nought. Arguing along much the same lines for even further back in the post-bellum era, the one American commentator noted almost thirty years ago:
"Because the immediate postwar period is now seen as a time of American hegemony, there is a tendency for people to think the United States always got its way. Careful scholars know matters are more complicated than that. But when labels become commonplace, they often mislead, and that has happened to many people in this case. There is no doubt that the United States was the greatest power in the world. That did not mean it could impose a new economic system on the postwar world."
William Diebold, Jr. "The United States in the World Economy: A Fifty Year Perspective," Foreign Affairs (Fall 1983), pp. 84.
In short, our current interregnum, was something which began quite awhile ago, and the non-results of the G-20 Summit are merely another sign of the same. When or if the Americans recover their veneer of hegemony, `a la the period from 1994 to 2007 remains to be seen (For an idea of what that veneer of hegemony seemed to convey at the time, see: Joseph Nye, The Paradox of American Power, (2002), pp. 36-76). Right now I for one get the impression that the almost ad hominen attacks leveled at the American performance at the Summit, reminds one of nothing so much as the Franco-German dismissal of the Americans during the Carter years. With Deutsche Kanzler, Angela Merkel making a very good impression of ex-Kanzler Helmut Schmidt in one of his rants about the then American President (For Angel Merkel's comments on current American policy, see: "Transcript of an interview with Angel Merkel," 9 November 2010, in www.ft.com
. On Helmut Schmidt's view of the Carter Administration, see: Francis Loewenhein, "From Helsinki to Afghanistan: American Diplomats and Diplomacy, 1975-1979," The Diplomats, 1939-1979, eds. Gordon A. Craig & Francis Loewenheim, (1994), pp. 645-655). Unlike say some, I do not believe that in point of fact, the Americans are 'down and out' (on this see: David Rothkopf, "The Perils of America's Pacific Presidency," 14 November 2010, in www.ft.com
). At least not in any structural sense. The fact that American diplomacy was not at the top of its game, is more an indication that the current American Administration, notwithstanding its allegedly many positive qualities, is in terms of its diplomacy sub-par if not in frankly second-rate & amateurish. Or as Alan Beattie in the Financial Times, notes:
"With a weak economy, and external debt burden and a general loss of faith in US capitalism, the White House needs to start punching above its weight rather than below it."
Alan Beattie, "Drive to arrest decline in US power proves beyond Obama," Financial Times, 13 November 2010, p. 2.
THE FOREIGN POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF THE RECENT AMERICAN ELECTIONS
"Mr. Robbins is an Imperialist. The British proletariat is not. It is interested in the Beveridge Report [id est. 'the welfare state'], not in international planning. We must fashion our foreign policy accordingly."
Sir Orme Sargent [Deputy under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office], circa 1943, quoted in The Memoirs of Lord Gladwyn, 1972, p. 124.
The recent American elections, as were widely predicted were rather disastrous for the American President's party. Both in Washington and in the various local elections. No doubt the main reasons are an intermingling of: i) the horrendous unemployment rate (above nine percent for longer than at anytime in the last seventy years); ii) and a widespread revulsion at the American President's policies by a good portion of the electorate. The latter factor having been whipped up by (to use Dean Acheson's formulation in his memoirs, 'Present at the Creation', pp. 354-361) 'the primitives'. Meaning the assorted groupings known as the 'Tea Party' movement. As per the first variable: this is a problem which may or may not solve itself in the next eighteen months. If the past is any clue it should do so. Whether economic history will follow the patterns of prior recessions in this rather extraordinary one, is at this point any one's guess. Obviously, if the 'Japanese' scenario of a decade of stagnation is indeed upon us, then this will not be the case. And, come the elections of 2012, the unemployment rate will probably remain above nine percent and most likely the current American President will go down in his own sort of electoral Titanic. As per the second variable: the charges made by these political primitives seem too fantastic to take any real notice. Of course one must say at the outset that in many ways the upsurge of popular discontent with our rulers is to some degree understandable. With a President, whose name and appearance betray an essential 'foreignness' to the American heartland, it is not surprising that we have had the type of political childishness & hysterics that we have had in these past eighteen months. Especially, since by definition the current American President is a parfait symbol of all the cultural and societal changes of the past forty-five years, which many Americans, nay indeed many in the Western monde, have difficulty accepting. That is au fond the secondary causation of this rather macabre type of political foolery that we have been seeing and hearing. Again, if the economic situation were to turn around in the near term, then and perhaps only then will the animal force of the primitives subdue itself.
With all of the above being said, what will be the foreign policy implications of the recent American elections? In essence my own surmise is that the American administration's policy will not change very much. At least in overall form. In many areas, such as say the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, or the Persian problem, the parameters of American policy will become narrower & and more constrained due to a fear of incurring a political firestorm back home. Indeed, in the case of the former, it is now scarcely possible that the American Administration will have the strength of will to serious pressure the Israeli government to offer up concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Something which as we have commented recently, the policy programme of Mr. Dennis Ross of the National Security Council Staff, does not see the need for in any case. Similarly, in the case of Persia, it is hardly possible to imagine that the American Administration will be willing to make any more concessions in order that Tehran climb down, over its insistence upon retaining its current nuclear programme. Indeed, it would appear that to the contrary there will be increasing pressure as time goes by, for the State Department and the White House to increase pressure on the regime of Mullahs in Persia. In the case of Russia, it is possible that if the American Senate fails to ratify the recent accords signed by the American President and his Russian counterpart, Mr. Medvedev, in the next two months, that they shall never be so. With all of the negative after effects that this will imply upon the American Administration's 'reset' of policy vis-`a-vis Moskva. The same likely paralysis can be said for any policy towards the Castro brothers regime in Cuba. Lastly, given the state of the American economy, it is scarcely possible that there will be any serious attempts to negotiate a new, multilateral trade regime. Certainly, not while the economy does not show signs of a complete recovery.
Oddly enough the only area where the American administration will have more room for maneuver in policy terms will be in Afghanistan-Pakistan. With the incoming Congress much more likely to support the war effort in the one, and military and economic assistance in the other. Indeed, if nothing else, the recent elections tend to show that for the vast majority of the American pays reel, the war in Afghanistan is pretty much a non-event. If and only if, the American administration endeavors to stage a hurried and premature withdrawal prior to the next general elections in 2012, will there be any political fireworks associated with American policy in this area of the world. Especially, if the military where to make it clear that they are not convinced of the correctness of the policy in question. Whether & how the Administration will look upon matters in this crucial area is difficult to tell at this juncture in time. With for example the Woodward book on the decisions made by the American President and his advisers in 2009-2010 concerning Afghanistan painting a not very attractive picture of half-hearted commitment to the conflict. A commitment that it would appear from the same source, the current regime in Washington would much rather be rid of. How things will turn out, only time will tell.