September 18, 2007
Adam Gopnik, in a New Yorker profile of Nicolas Sarkozy, points out something I've increasingly noticed of late:
The catastrophe in Iraq has had an unlooked-for effect: not to stoke anti-Americanism in a new generation but to make America seem almost marginal. For almost two hundred years, Americanization in Europe has been synonymous with modernization—that’s why the Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor, as a gift of the Third French Republic, the fraught state that appeared after Louis-Napoleon’s Second Empire failed. It was a gift not from a complacent old world to a nascent new one but from a newborn republic to one that, after its civil war, was firm and coherent. The point wasn’t that Europe would not abandon us; it was that we would not abandon old Europe to the despots.
Our prestige has taken multiple body-blows these past years. Meantime, rather than re-energize and focus anew on epochal shifts like China and India's rise, to take an example or two, our policy-making class instead remains almost wholly bogged down speaking about 'bottom-up reconciliation' in the wilds of Anbar and Diyala. (This is not to say we musn't spend significant time focused on carefully managing a gradual exit from Iraq, but anyways effectively doing so is something largely beyond the skill-set of the current national security team, and not the topic of this post besides).
More on this theme of declining American prestige here.
The US has suffered a significant loss of power and prestige around the world in the years since George W. Bush came to power, limiting its ability to influence international crises, an annual survey from a well-regarded British security think-tank concluded yesterday.
We must be careful not to over-exaggerate any perceived American decline in power. Despite increasingly worrisome recessionary pressures (not to mention the still extant specter of inflation, the sanguine-seeming Bernanke 'put' of yesterday aside) the U.S. remains the world's economic powerhouse. Ditto militarily, despite being bogged down in Iraq, we can project force throughout the world in unparalleled manner. Still, the dollar is quite weak, stagflation could loom, economic competitors are rising, and on the national security front, the Iranians, for instance, have seen how our military fared poorly in Iraq, and to an extent, in Afghanistan too. We are not necessarily some pitiable paper tiger, but we've taken quite a few good upper-cuts of late, resulting in many a bloodied nose. And certainly, if we speak of "soft power", which I know is something sane players in the Bush Administration (read: Bob Gates) realize is critical, our reputation has cratered to an extent the damage done simply won't disappear just because Hillary Clinton comes into office, say. Said damage is real, and it will take a long time to fix, even assuming we don't careen off towards greater misadventures pre '09.
Posted by Gregory at September 18, 2007 09:44 AM
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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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