Monday, February 4, 2008


What is your view of the U.S. role in the world?

The geo-political ideology that shaped President Bush’s foreign policy imagined a world where the U.S. was the supreme power (economic, political, and military), free do pretty much as it wanted. For many, this ideology has been reality-tested by the invasion of Iraq and found wanting. Would it be accurate to say that there has been a decline of U.S. power and influence during President Bush’s administration?

In his lengthy article,
“Waving Goodbye to Hegemony”, Parag Khanna, a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, puts the issue this way:

Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them.

Before we look at Khanna’s vision of the present and future, we need to look back at the origins of the ideology that shaped President Bush’s foreign policy.

Looking Back:

On September 23, 2003 an article appeared in the Christian Science Monitor under the title, “
A Bush Vision of Pax Americana,” reporting on the just released “National Security Strategy” by the Bush administration. The 31-page document asserted American dominance as the lone superpower – a status no rival power would be allowed to challenge. That article was followed five days later by Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled, “The President’s Real Goal in Iraq,” showing how the new strategy lays out a plan for permanent U.S. military and economic domination of every region on the globe, unfettered by international treaty or concern. And to make that plan a reality, it envisions a stark expansion of our global military presence.

When he was running for President in 1999, now President Bush didn’t campaign on a Pax Americana foreign policy. In his foreign policy debate with Al Gore, Bush pointedly advocated a more humble foreign policy, a position calculated to appeal to voters leery of military intervention.

After 9/11, the attacks were used to justify the new policy; but it had been shaped by persons who had become influential staff in the Bush Administration well before the Trade Towers and the Pentagon were attacked. The views can be found in much the same language in a
report issued in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century, a group of conservative interventionists outraged by the thought that the United States might be forfeiting its chance at a global empire.

Bookman wrote: The 2000 report directly acknowledges its debt to a still earlier document, drafted in 1992 by the Defence Department. That document had also envisioned the United States as a colossus astride the world, imposing its will and keeping world peace through military and economic power. When leaked in final draft form, however, the proposal drew so much criticism that it was hastily withdrawn and repudiated by the first President Bush.

Donald Kagan, a professor of classical Greek history at Yale and an influential advocate of a more aggressive foreign policy—he served as co-chairman of the 2000 New Century project—summed up the ideology: "You saw the movie 'High Noon'? he asks. "We're Gary Cooper." Accepting the Cooper role represented an historic change in who we were as a nation, and in how we operated in the international arena.

Looking Ahead:

Things haven’t worked out for our role as “Gary Cooper”. That self-image we so much wanted was seen by many in the world more like Gene Hackman in his role as the ruthless sheriff in "The Quick and the Dead." Khanna doesn't go for the cinematic images, but he accurately describes what has happened over the last eight years:

Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America’s armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and “asymmetric” weapons like suicide bombers. America’s unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order.

Khanna says that by the end of eight years of whoever is elected in November, there will be a new geo-political reality:

[A] new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.

So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not
India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules — their own rules — without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world.

The Big Three are the ultimate “Frenemies.” Twenty-first-century geopolitics will resemble nothing more than Orwell’s 1984, but instead of three world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia), we have three hemispheric pan-regions, longitudinal zones dominated by America, Europe and China. As the early 20th-century European scholars of geopolitics realized, because a vertically organized region contains all climatic zones year-round, each pan-region can be self-sufficient and build a power base from which to intrude in others’ terrain. But in a globalized and shrinking world, no geography is sacrosanct. So in various ways, both overtly and under the radar, China and Europe will meddle in America’s backyard, America and China will compete for African resources in Europe’s southern periphery and America and Europe will seek to profit from the rapid economic growth of countries within China’s growing sphere of influence. Globalization is the weapon of choice. The main battlefield is what I call “the second world.”


To really understand how quickly American power is in decline around the world, I’ve spent the past two years traveling in some 40 countries in the five most strategic regions of the planet — the countries of the second world. They are not in the first-world core of the global economy, nor in its third-world periphery. Lying alongside and between the Big Three, second-world countries are the swing states that will determine which of the superpowers has the upper hand for the next generation of geopolitics. From Venezuela to Vietnam and Morocco to Malaysia, the new reality of global affairs is that there is not one way to win allies and influence countries but three: America’s coalition (as in “coalition of the willing”), Europe’s consensus and China’s consultative styles. The geopolitical marketplace will decide which will lead the 21st century.

Khamma suggests five steps that could renew America’s competitiveness in the emerging geopolitical world. You’ll have to read his article to see what they are. He concludes:
We need pragmatic incremental steps like the above to deliver tangible gains to people beyond our shores, repair our reputation, maintain harmony among the Big Three, keep the second world stable and neutral and protect our common planet. Let’s hope whoever is sworn in as the next American president understands this.

What do you think? Is Khanna right about the future? Which presidential candidates do you think understand the new world we are entering?

- Milo

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