The decline and fall of American power?

Richard Cohen says that America just doesn’t have much effect on world events anymore.  He starts with the President’s visit to the oil spill. . .

Everyone knew that Obama was merely showing that he was not George W. Bush. He was not going to ignore a calamity, especially one affecting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. On the other hand, we all knew that he could not reverse the winds or cork the spill. In fact, he could do precious little except show that he cared.

This was a symbolic moment — the tide, menacing the coast with oil, moving its own way, just as events across the globe seem to be. We are accustomed to American presidents being supremely important if for no other reason than that they command the world’s mightiest military. But we ought to appreciate also that presidential importance, in terms of being able to influence events, is slipping.

In the Middle East, nothing Obama has done has made much of a difference. In Europe, the euro teeters. As critical as this currency is, it is far less important than the concept of European integration upon which it is based. We tend to forget that Europe is the home office of awful wars — twice in the last century we got involved — and if you include Russia as part of Europe, as some Russians insist, then we have to count the Cold War, too. As for Russia, it shrugs off American complaints and moves progressively backward — not a European democracy, just something else.

On the periphery of Europe is Turkey, seeking to reestablish some of the influence the Ottoman Empire once had in the region. It may also be reverting to a more Islamic state, possibly concluding that nearly a century of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secularism is enough. Whatever the case, there isn't much we can do about Turkey, either. It no longer needs the United States as a Cold War ally, and it even blocked military access to Iraq at the start of the war. The waning pull of the American present can no longer match the pull of the Ottoman past. Israel,

China, too, is beyond our reach. In some ways, we need it more than it needs us. We owe Beijing money. We buy China’s goods. We respect its growing might. We rue our diminishing power. We muffle our concern over human rights. We are a superpower. But against what?

American conservatives look at the defeats and disappointments, and they fulminate about Obama. They call him weak and inept — and surely in some areas he has been both. But they are wrong in thinking that another person would make much of a difference. Times have changed. America’s power is diminished — relatively, for sure, but absolutely as well.

via Richard Cohen – A superpower — and a president — with declining clout.

Is this just liberal glee at America’s decline?  Or evidence of an ineffective government?  Or is this a good thing, a recognition that some things are beyond our control that is necessary for a realistic approach to the world?

Europe abandoning what America is embracing

From  Europe rewrites its rule book in creating fund to contain financial crisis:

The massive emergency fund assembled to defend the value of the euro is backed by a political gamble with an uncertain outcome: that European governments will rewrite a post-World War II social contract that has been generous to workers and retirees but has become increasingly unaffordable for an aging population.

So Europe is drawing back from the social democratic welfare state JUST AS the United States is adopting the social democratic welfare state.

Statehood for Puerto Rico?

Are we ready for a 51st state? Where would we put the additional star in the flag?

The House on Thursday approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico’s 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence.

The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future. It passed 223 to 169 and now must be considered by the Senate.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote, and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

via House approves bill that would let Puerto Ricans vote on relationship with U.S..

What America owes to Haiti

Pat Robertson callously brought up the old legend that Haiti owed its independence from the French to a pact with the devil. That story probably originated as an attempt to answer the question how could a group of slaves in revolt defeat the French army that had conquered virtually all of Europe? Americans, whose country owes so much–including maybe its very existence–to that slave revolt, should credit not the devil but the Other Side.

In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte, having defeated pretty much every European power except for England, turned his attention to the New World. He sent an army of nearly 50,000 troops to New Orleans to begin an occupation of the French holdings in America west of the Mississippi. His goal was evidently colonization. But some scholars think the reason he sent an army was to attack the British in Canada. While the army might have made its way up the Mississippi and through the wilderness to Canada, an easier way, with a surer supply of provisions, would have been to march through the United States. In fact, if Napoleon wanted to add the new country–which didn’t even have a standing army–to his empire, there was not much to stop him. Americans were on the verge of panic, including President Jefferson, who, though a supporter of the French Revolution, did not know what to do with Napoleon.

On the way to New Orleans, though, Napoleon ordered the fleet to stop first at Haiti to put down the slave revolt. The slaves of that colony, which had earned France much revenue from sugar and coffee, had risen up around the same time as the French Revolution, assuming that “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” applied to them as well. Under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slaves won their freedom and established their own government. Napoleon resolved to crush it and put the slaves back into French service.

The vaunted French army, however, could not defeat the free Haitians! They faded away into the landscape, only to come back at night with their machetes, terrorizing the French soldiers. And then yellow fever struck. Napoleon sent reinforcements, but to no avail. Some 24,000 French soldiers died in Haiti.

With this, Napoleon gave up his American ambitions. Instead, he sold the French possessions in America to the United States, a transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase.

So if you are glad America’s independence was not snuffed out shortly after birth, and if you are glad you are not ruled by the French, and if you live in what used to be the Louisiana Purchase, thank the Haitians. You can do that by helping them in their hour of great need by giving here.

Bushism on steroids?

The Washington Times may be fading away, but here is a parting shot from columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner:

The past decade will be remembered as the pivotal tipping point where the United States ceased to be a superpower. Like the Roman Empire in its later stages, America’s imperial grandeur masked moral rot and economic decay.

The beginning of the 21st century promised continued U.S. global dominance. Our economic might seemed unrivaled; the dot-com boom had not yet gone bust. Washington was still basking in the warm glow of its victory in the Cold War. America bestrode the world like a military and economic colossus.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed everything. Like Rome and Imperial Britain, the United States embarked upon costly, prolonged wars in far-away countries. The result is that America remains mired in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two wars have cost more than 5,200 dead and $1 trillion with no victory or end in sight.

The fundamental mistake was made by President Bush. Contrary to popular myth, Mr. Bush was not a unilateralist conservative traditionalist; rather, he was a Great Society Republican who championed nation-building abroad and Big Government corporatism at home. Our goal should have been to smash the forces of global jihad through a strategy of total victory through total war – just as in World War II, when every domestic priority was subordinated to defeating the Axis Powers.

Instead, Mr. Bush tried to plant democracy in the sands of Mesopotamia and the stony soil of Afghanistan. He followed a foolish – and ultimately, destructive – policy of seeking to implement social engineering, nation-building projects. The result was imperial overstretch.

Moreover, he also stressed that America could have both guns and butter.

There was no need to choose. Tax cuts, federalizing education, a massive Medicare prescription drug plan, runaway government spending, soaring deficits, huge bank bailouts and expensive stimulus programs – Mr. Bush’s brand of corporatist Keynesianism paved the way for socialism and reckless spending.

President Obama is making the same mistake. He is not the antithesis of Mr. Bush, but his culmination. Mr. Obama represents Bushism on steroids. He is seeking to erect a European-style social democracy characterized by a bloated public sector, a burdensome welfare state, economic sclerosis and foreign policy impotence.

This is a strong indictment of BOTH President Bush AND President Obama. It is surely an insult to both Republicans and Democrats to say that their guy is the same as his opponent. Does the author have a point? Can you defend your guy against his charges?

The top stories of 2009

Here are the top news stories of 2009 according to an Associated Press poll of the nation’s newspaper editors and news directors:

1. THE ECONOMY: Despite a $787 billion federal stimulus package, much of the U.S. economy continued to sputter throughout the year. The jobless rate topped 10 percent, scores of banks failed, the federal deficit tripled to a record $1.4 trillion, and stocks fell to their lowest levels since 1997 before rallying. Yet investment banks’ profits surged, triggering public anger and efforts in Washington to crack down on Wall Street bonuses.

2. OBAMA INAUGURATION: Inauguration Day in January was a moving moment for many Americans, as the nation’s first black president took the oath of office. But Obama soon confronted the sobering realities of governing as he struggled to get the economy back on track and win support for his ambitious legislative priorities.

3. HEALTH CARE: A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health care system, extending coverage to millions of Americans now without it, was a top priority for Obama and majority Democrats in Congress. But Republicans were almost unanimously opposed, leading to complex, bitterly partisan showdowns in both chambers.

4. AUTO INDUSTRY: It was an immensely challenging year for America’s Big Three automakers. General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, GM’s CEO Rick Wagoner was ousted by the government, and Chrysler was pressured into an alliance with Italy’s Fiat. Ford avoided bankruptcy, but its worldwide sales — like its competitors’ — fell sharply.

5. SWINE FLU: Swine flu struck tens of millions of people worldwide, worrying governments as supplies of vaccine failed to meet demand. In the United States, according to federal authorities, swine flu sickened an estimated 50 million people, hospitalized close to 200,000 and killed 10,000.

6. AFGHANISTAN: Casualties on all sides mounted as U.S. forces, with their Afghan and NATO allies, battled the resilient Taliban. President Obama, after lengthy deliberations, opted to send 30,000 more troops. His decision was complicated by the disputed Afghan election, which prompted allegations of widespread fraud but resulted in President Hamid Karzai taking office for a second five-year term.

7. MICHAEL JACKSON DIES: The “King of Pop” died at the age of 50, triggering grief and nostalgia among his legions of fans around the world. His doctor became the focus of a Los Angeles police homicide investigation after telling investigators he administered propofol, a powerful operating room anesthetic, to help the pop star sleep.

8. FORT HOOD RAMPAGE: An Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, was accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, a sprawling military base in Texas, before being seriously wounded by police gun fire. Investigations were launched to determine if authorities missed warning signs that might have prevented the rampage.

9. EDWARD KENNEDY DIES: Sen. Edward Kennedy, who carried on the family legacy after the deaths of his three older brothers, died of brain cancer after a distinctive political career filled with highs and lows. Though his own presidential aspirations were thwarted, he earned bipartisan respect for decades of hard work in the Senate.

10. MIRACLE ON HUDSON: A US Airways passenger jet, both its engines disabled, made an emergency ditching in the Hudson River, and all 155 on board survived in what was dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson.” The veteran pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, was hailed as a hero for averting a disaster.

What ones would you leave out and what would you replace them with? Are there any other events of the past year that were especially notable or significant?


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