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The London Times: "America's might is draining away..."

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  • Tarek Fatah
    January 22, 2005 Ignore the vanity of the Bushites, America s might is draining away By Matthew Parris The Times, London
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2005
      January 22, 2005

      Ignore the vanity of the Bushites, America's might is draining away

      By Matthew Parris
      The Times, London

      WHAT TIME is it for America? If the Boston Tea Party was first light and the
      Gettysburg Address dawn, where between the sunrise and sunset of empire is
      the United States now? To judge from his inauguration speech on Thursday,
      President Bush thinks it is about time for morning coffee: much to be proud
      of but big tasks — maybe the proudest of all — still ahead. To end tyranny
      on Earth is no small ambition.

      Gerard Baker, the US editor of The Times, (“Don’t believe the doubters:
      America’s decline and fall is a long way off yet”) strikes a slightly more
      sanguine note. “A presidential inauguration is a chance for America to
      remind the world who is boss,” he smiles, “to demonstrate that the United
      States is the inheritor not only of Greece’s glory, but of Rome’s reach” —
      but Gerard would not himself go so far: he shares American anxieties about
      the rise of the Asian superpowers. He is confident, though, there are
      tremendous reserves of energy and potential still bubbling beneath the
      surface. “I would not bet on America’s eclipse just yet,” he concludes. For
      his America, I guess, it is around lunch. An afternoon’s work is still

      I think it’s about half past four. For America-2005-Iraq, think of
      Britain-1899-Boer War. Ever-heavier burdens are being loaded upon a nation
      whose economic legs are growing shaky, whose hegemony is being taunted and
      whose sense of world mission may be faltering. “Overcommitted?” is the

      Not that you would hear it in the din of drums and trumpets. More display is
      made in the spending of an inheritance than in its quiet accumulation, and
      the perfumed blossoms of July and August are heaviest after the nights have
      already begun to draw in. Like economic booms or summer solstices, empires
      have a habit of appearing at their most florid some time after their zenith
      has passed. Of the rise and fall of nations, history tends to find that the
      era of exuberance occurs when the underlying reasons for it are beginning to
      weaken. There is a time lag between success and swagger.

      “It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the
      ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the
      Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city
      first started to my mind,” wrote Edward Gibbon in his autobiography. It was
      at Miami airport, on August 17, 2004, as I stood musing for two hours in the
      aliens queue for fingerprints, while contradictory instructions were aimed
      at confused passengers by incompetent officials (and two security men
      started body-searching each other) that the idea that for America the rot
      was setting in first started to my mind.

      In more ways than were betrayed by the battle between Lycra and human flesh
      being waged across the massive bums of the women I saw, America 2005 is
      overstretched. The neoconservative Right dreams about the prospect of a big
      new US military intervention in Iran, or perhaps Syria, but who stops to ask
      whether Washington has the troops for such an adventure? The aim would have
      to be regime change, and that needs ground forces. Simply “taking out”
      Iranian nuclear installations from the air would enrage and reinforce Iran’s
      Islamist reactionaries, and scupper whatever pro-Western reformist movement
      there may be.

      The invasion would have to take place at the same time as maintaining the
      occupation of Iraq. This shows no signs of reducing its call on American
      forces, materiel or money. The Pentagon’s efforts may even have to be
      stepped up after the Iraq election: this newspaper among many has called for
      unstinting and open-ended US commitment to Iraqi security. Whether or not
      you believed Tony Blair when he claimed that American Forces were in urgent
      need of help from our Black Watch Regiment before Christmas, you can see
      that as deaths mount and anarchy continues in Iraq, no US president can be
      thinking in terms of deploying troops away from that country for operations

      In 1995, 13.7 per cent of American troops were deployed abroad. Today it is
      some 27 per cent. America has more than 350,000 troops abroad. They are in
      (among other places) Ascension Island, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Diego Garcia,
      Djibouti, Egypt, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kosovo and South Korea. In at
      least a handful of these places it is fair to say that the country in
      question would collapse without them. I am no military analyst, but it seems
      reasonable to observe that in pursuit of US foreign and military policy, US
      defence forces are being pushed fairly hard. It is fanciful for the Left to
      fear, or the Right to hope, that at the flick of a switch President Bush can
      create large new arenas of American military engagement.

      And, worryingly from the longer-term point of view, many of the more
      significant commitments among that list look like stalemates from the
      military point of view. No realistic president should see reason to hope
      that “mission accomplished” can soon be declared in the Balkans, Afghanistan
      or Iraq. America (and often Britain) is bogged down in such places.

      At the same time, I sense, America’s need for brute force as a substitute
      for moral suasion may be increasing. Mr Bush said “freedom” 27 times in his
      speech. John F. Kennedy could be more sparing with the word because the idea
      behind it shone so brightly for America then, and for the world. Across
      Africa in the past century, US foreign policy goals, which included the
      peaceful dissolution of the British Empire, were advanced without the firing
      of a shot — or the expenditure of more than the few dollars needed to fund
      American propaganda. Arguments are cheap, and America had the best
      arguments, the best visions, and the best tunes.

      Deservedly or undeservedly, America has lost the tune. Just as happened for
      Britain during the Boer War, something has gone unaccountably off-key. We
      British won that South African war in the end by sheer, bloody force; and
      America will not be “defeated” in Iraq, or, I suppose, anywhere else. But as
      armaments are increasingly substituted for arguments, the strain grows.
      Eventually fatigue sets in.

      There is a notion, as beloved of the European Left as of the yee-hah Right,
      that America’s pocket is bottomless, its Armed Forces countless, its
      weaponry infinite, and the only possible constraint upon its Government is
      the will of the people. Europeans speak as though for Washington cost is
      just not a consideration. This is not true of any empire or nation and has
      never been true of America; but it is less true today than at any time since
      the end of the Second World War.

      For the truth is that the US is in relentless relative decline as an
      economic power in the world. The years after the Second World War (the years
      of the Marshall Plan), when the economies of most of its competitors had
      been wrecked while its own was growing strongly — were the noontide of
      American muscle. The Cold War, because its central narrative was that of a
      mortal threat from a Soviet giant of equal power, diminished the appearance
      of American strength, but the narrative was false. The collapse of the rival
      giant has exaggerated America’s apparent strength because it has so much
      more economic muscle than any single rival.

      But for many decades America’s share of the world’s economic output has been
      in decline. Think of a see-saw. America at one end is now easily outweighed
      by any substantial grouping at the other, and most of those powers are on
      friendly terms with each other. America’s modesty in 1945 understated its
      muscle, just as Bushite vanity overstates it today. He has over-reached. His
      country is overstretched, losing economic momentum, losing world leadership,
      and losing the philosophical plot. America is running into the sand.
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