I have complained here rather vociferously that many entertainers are ill-informed, naive, and/or just good old-fashioned stupid regarding politics and policy. They are, of course entitled to their opinions, but the danger lies in the fact that entertainers hold much sway over fans, and are at minimum going to have their opinions heard whether they are ill-considered or not.
Allow me to state now that “experts,” with the benefit of vast erudition, research, and time to ruminate and ponder at length, are often just as wrong as dopey rock stars. Some will say all this really means is that I disagree with them – of course that’s what it means, but they’re still wrong.
Anyway, Salon’s Suzy Hansen does a lengthy interview with Charles A. Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era, and a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Pretty snazzy credentials, no? He’s still an idiot:
- In “The End of the American Era,” Kupchan compares the current world situation to past turning points in history — the end of World War I, the federation of the American colonies, the Great Depression — to suggest ways in which the world might transform itself. In some of his most illuminating passages, Kupchan disputes the predictions of such optimistic leading thinkers as Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman, who perceive democracy and globalization as great panaceas, and pessimists such as Samuel Huntington who foresees a “clash of civilizations.” Instead, Kupchan’s global map resembles that of the 19th century, when the reigning empire, Great Britain, gave the rising United States entree as a world power. This time, Kupchan says, it’s America’s turn to make room for Europe.
Make room for Europe?? Is he insane? On what level, other than sheer population, does Europe rival the U.S.? The unity of the EU is surface level only, and is enforced by top-down dictates and regulations that inhibit innovation and flexibility. Decades of appeasement and “sophisticated” equivocation have squandered Europe’s moral capital. Their military capabilities are a joke compared the US – so what exactly is Europe going to ascend to?
- But one of the real dangers that we face at the moment is that Empire Lite might become Empire Heavy and rather than reassure others, we’ll alienate them. Rather than appear as a benign hegemon, we appear predatory. We appear to lose our legitimacy as a great power, which is probably our most precious commodity. If that happens, then all bets are off. Then you really see countries run for cover and join arms against the United States.
Again, are you insane? The exact opposite is true: since there is no leadership coming from Europe in doing what needs to be done, where America leads Europe will follow. What just happened with the Security Council vote on Iraq?
The following statements leave me breathless with their exquisite wrongheadedness:
- What mistakes do historians and scholars make when they say that America is different, that for some reason American primacy will last indefinitely?
Part of it stems from looking at what I would say are the wrong indicators. They look at the GDP and the military capability of the United States vs. other countries. If you do that, it doesn’t look like anybody is going to come close for many decades. I agree with that. But Europe is no longer a group of sovereign countries; it’s coming together just like [the United States] did [in the 18th century]. That’s why you have to talk about Europe as a collective entity and its ability to serve as a counterweight to the United States.
Also, oftentimes historians and particularly political scientists tend to look at the world structurally. They say, “Forget about what’s going on inside states and just look at the relations among states.” The end of America’s dominance will to some extent be made in America. It will come from America’s domestic politics, its own ambivalence about empire and its own stiff-necked unilateralism, which alienates others. In that sense, a lot of where we go as a country will come from internal factors — demographics, politics, political culture, populism. Those are issues that lots of political scientists don’t pay attention to.
First off, America doesn’t have any “empire” – “lite” or otherwise. America is a superpower because of its military and economic might yes, but equally so because of its moral authority – when it leads, the others follow. This is not empire, this is simply leadership.
And by the way, even Europe’s collective military might does not compare to that of the US; and the notion that the EU is coming together the way the American colonies did in the 18th century is absurd. I’ll eat my hat if citizens of Germany, or France, or England think of themselves FIRST as Europeans rather than Germans, French or English even 100 years from now. The EU is an economic marriage of convenience – that’s all.
I’m still waiting to hear what exactly “the Europeans” are going to take over, or supersede us in, or rise triumphant upon: “Yes sir, Mr European, you’re in charge now.”
- The world I envisage is one where the U.S. enters a period of transition in which it helps other actors build up the capability to do what we’ve been doing. I just don’t believe that, given American politics, we will intervene in [situations such as] Rwanda and East Timor. I don’t think that’s the way the world works. Rather than no one doing it, we ought to work toward a world in which there are alternative centers of authority with the will and capability to do peacekeeping and intervention. I would love to see the European Union get to the point where it can take care of Kosovo and the Balkans. I’d love to see some sort of association of African states that could go into a Rwanda-type activity. The U.S. will no doubt remain willing and able to intervene in the Western hemisphere, but my view is that intervention far afield will diminish over time with a couple of exceptions — where there are clear strategic interests like Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf.
I would love to see this and a Beatles reunion also, but I won’t see either. We don’t do the things we do in the world because we want to, we do them because we have to when no one else will. What is going to give Europeans the WILL to intervene when they don’t have it now?
Finally he tells us what Europe is going to do:
- The main threat is to order. The main threat is to the stability of the world. Everyone right now is focusing on terrorism and environmental degradation, and I’m all for those things. But we’ve gotten complacent about the big picture. We’re used to a world where America runs the show. We may wake up one morning and find that we don’t have complete control, that we go to the IMF or the World Bank or the United Nations, and say, “Here’s our plan for the next week.” And the E.U. looks at us and says, “We’re not onboard. We’re not going to do that.”
In fact, everyone saw the recent voting at the U.N. Security Council as victory for the U.S. But what really happened? The U.S. went in and said, “This is our position, take it or leave it.” Most of the Security Council, save Britain, said, “Leave it.” They locked arms with France rather than with us, which is what they’ve been doing for the last 50 years. That’s just the beginning of what the world could look like — main powers not working together. If it comes to that, then these other threats will diminish in importance and pale in comparison to a world in which the key players are no longer on the same sheet of music, in which Europe sets itself against us, rather than with us.
No, they didn’t say “leave it” – they said, we’ll take it with some modification, much of which was for cosmetic purposes and a show of obstructionism for the folks back home for political reasons. I see no locking of arms – and Europe will be more or less with us when it matters most as they have been since the end of WWll, save for the Soviet Bloc, which doesn’t exist now, by the way. They’re our pals now too.
Working up to a crescendo now:
- The other problem is that terrorism is a very weak reason upon which to build American internationalism. That’s partly because it’s not the type of threat that — similar to the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan — gets us riled up for the long haul. It’s elusive. We’re in this weird zone where we’re being told we’re at war but when asked what should we do about it, we’re supposed to go shopping and take vacations so that our planes have people on them. It doesn’t quite click. Something’s not right about this story. Some of the greatest successes in this battle will be the ones we never hear about — covert operations, the averted attack — and so in that sense, it’s very tough to get this country into a mode of centrist moderate internationalism on terrorism.
I also think — and this definitely cuts against the grain for now — that ultimately there will be a counterresponse. Right now, it’s, “Let’s go get the barbarians,” but over time there will be an alternative voice that says, “Let’s raise protective barriers, let’s get out of some of our overseas commitments.” Going back to the founding fathers, we can, because of our location, enjoy a sort of natural security.
I would say the ONE certain thing we (Americans) have learned in the wake of 9/11 it that there is no “natural security.” What is the name of all that’s holy is “naturally secure” about 3000 people being blown up in the heart of our greatest city? I think the notion that we are no longer secure from the rest of the world on our cozy little continent has been discarded by about 288 million of us – join the in-crowd professor.
The reason Bush’s War on Terrorism enjoys such strong popular support is exactly BECAUSE the nation has grasped that we must track down trouble wherever it may arise: if we don’t deal with it where it is, it will surely find its way to us.
Since the Atlantic and Pacific oceans will never again be insurmountable moats that afford us protection from the outside world, we will never again be in a position to grow complacent about the events of the world – unless we are incredible dumbasses, and I believe the devastation of the WTC is a stout tonic against such complacency. It’s going to be “Let’s go get the barbarians” from now on. This is Bush’s greatest insight and the source of his strength.