Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Unimarginal Moment?

Greg Djerejian excerpts from a profile of Nicolas Sarkozy in the New Yorker:

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.

Now, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine modernization as something independent of Americanization: when people in Paris talk about ambitious kids going to study abroad, they talk about London. (Americans have little idea of the damage done by the ordeal that a routine run through immigration at J.F.K. has become for Europeans, or by the suspicion and hostility that greet the most anodyne foreigners who come to study or teach at our scientific and educational institutions.) When people in Paris talk about manufacturing might, they talk about China; when they talk about tall buildings, they talk about Dubai; when they talk about troubling foreign takeovers, they talk about Gazprom. The Sarkozy-Gordon Brown-Merkel generation is not unsympathetic to America, but America is not so much the primary issue for them, as it was for Blair and Chirac, in the nineties, when America was powerful beyond words.

Djerejian points out that the challenges we face, and costs we are incurring, as a result of the Iraq occupation and other global developments are increasing exponentially while we continue to fumble about, locked in what George Kennan called, " the stubborn pursuit of extravagant and unpromising objectives." As Djerejian put it:

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.

His conclusion is cutting:

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.

Hey look on the bright side Greg: in exchange, we now have the opportunity to bleed trillions more, lose thousands more American lives and suffer all the associated costs mentioned above so that we can, possibly, maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq, close to all that oil. Sounds like a pretty sweet, if crude, deal to me.

Go read the rest.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

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