Wednesday, January 18

Turns Out You Can Solve Just About Any Problem By Refusing To Talk To Anyone But Yourself

Robert Kagan, "Against The Myth Of American Decline". January 11

IF there's one thing that keeps me going, it is the hope that during my lifetime someone will be able to explain how the United States foreign policy has, for seventy years now, come under the sway of a series of frauds and con men, from Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles through Heinz Kissinger and Eliot Abrams to Dick Cheney and the Kagan Clan.

There has long been a question whether the Republican leadership can possibly be as stupid as it seems. This is certainly not limited to questions of historical accuracy, or competence, or familiarity with the very concept, but it's a fine place to start, seeing as how the costs of printing faux-history texts for Texas, or faux-biology texts for Kansas, or even of incontinent tax cutting for the wealthy, pale in comparison to what we've spent since the end of the Second World War making the world safe and interesting for middle-aged white guys who like to play Risk with real army men.

Just in case you were tempted to slog through all 10,000 words here, well, don't. Here ya go:

"America is not in decline, because if the people who say it's in decline would adopt the arguments I make for them, my cogent analysis would mow 'em down like tenpins. So, in conclusion, cut social spending instead, since that has nothing to do with it."

There. I saved you at least 9900.
The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires and the qualities of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone.

Y'know, there's nothing like being lectured about other people's delusions by an eagle-eyed skeptic hawking Normal Rockwell prints.

And Kagan will be forced, more than once, to insist that America hasn't had its way with the world in the dim past, say, the 1950s (Quemoy and Matsu! No, really.) which is akin to being wrestled to a draw by your own strawman.
During the first three decades after World War II, great portions of the world neither admired the United States nor sought to emulate it, and were not especially pleased at the way it conducted itself in international affairs. Yes, American media were spreading American culture, but they were spreading images that were not always flattering. In the 1950s the world could watch televised images of Joseph McCarthy and the hunt for Communists in the State Department and Hollywood. American movies depicted the suffocating capitalist conformism of the new American corporate culture. Best-selling novels such as The Ugly American painted a picture of American bullying and boorishness. There were the battles over segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, the globally transmitted images of whites spitting at black schoolchildren and police setting their dogs on black demonstrators. (That “used to be us,” too.) The racism of America was practically “ruining” the American global image, Dulles feared, especially in the so-called Third World. In the late 1960s and early 1970s came the Watts riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the shootings at Kent State, and then the government-shaking scandal of Watergate. These were not the kinds of images likely to endear the United States to the world, no matter how many Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen movies were playing in Parisian cinemas.

Somehow the appetite for this sort of thing is never sated, is it? Especially when it can be mooted by the image of "whites spitting at black children"--which somehow omits to mention that some of them spit at black children using dynamite--thereby excusing the American Right from any and all responsibility. Fer chrissakes, even if you've got a specious argument to make, acting as though television is what made American institutional racism a problem, or what drew the attention of a world which had never heard of Jim Crow laws to that point, says a little more than you think it does.

It's funny; the reasoned analysis somehow manages to sound like a remake of the Red Scare with less yelling. Foreigners are malinformed by The Ugly American and television coverage of the Civil Rights movement; foreigners were evidently unacquainted with Americans, or American companies otherwise. The lousy Reds capitalize on this to poor-mouth us to "the so-called Third World"; never mind, of course, the the long history of the United States doing nothing (or worse than nothing) to ameliorate racial injustice and gender inequality was propaganda grist for the Red mill from the 1920s onward, and rightly fucking so. The United States can bring the world to understand and adopt its virtues. Just don't ask it to do the same at home.

Similarly, seventy years of opposition to frankly insane military spending dispositions boils down to some short-sided, short-term grousing:
SOME OF THE ARGUMENTS for America’s relative decline these days would be more potent if they had not appeared only in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.

Yeah. And the financial crisis of 2008 would've seemed a lot more benign if it hadn't been caused by the systematic looting of global financial markets aided and abetted by the United States government.

And let's just note that the argument isn't strengthened by, uh, fudging:
Americans currently spend less than $600 billion a year on defense, more than the rest of the other great powers combined. (This figure does not include the deployment in Iraq, which is ending, or the combat forces in Afghanistan, which are likely to diminish steadily over the next couple of years.) They do so, moreover, while consuming a little less than 4 percent of GDP annually—a higher percentage than the other great powers, but in historical terms lower than the 10 percent of GDP that the United States spent on defense in the mid-1950s and the 7 percent it spent in the late 1980s.

They also do so while spending considerably more than $600 billion, which is a rough estimation of what the Pentagon request looks like. And that doesn't include Iraq, Afghanistan, or a few thousand other little items we don't want on the books.

Nor does it include intelligence; nor does it include military spending's share of the interest on the debt. And it doesn't include the hidden social costs of spending so much tax money on planned obsolescence rather than human beings. It sure ignores what we're still paying for that 7% of GPD insanity during the Reagan decade with no identifiable military threat.

And if it doesn't do your argument any good to, uh, fudge clear facts, it does even less to attach it to the bullshit factory which is Militarize At The Expense Of Everything Else, Inc.:
As the former budget czar Alice Rivlin has observed, the scary projections of future deficits are not “caused by rising defense spending,” much less by spending on foreign assistance. The runaway deficits projected for the coming years are mostly the result of ballooning entitlement spending. Even the most draconian cuts in the defense budget would produce annual savings of only $50 billion to $100 billion, a small fraction—between 4 and 8 percent—of the $1.5 trillion in annual deficits the United States is facing.

Tell ya what, though. If we put enough money into R&D maybe we can figure out a way to turn transparent bullshit into a weapon. Then those foreigners'll be cowering at our feet.


R. Porrofatto said...

The detainment facilities at Guantánamo, the use of torture against suspected terrorists, and the widely condemned invasion of Iraq in 2003 have all tarnished the American “brand” and put a dent in America’s “soft power”—its ability to attract others to its point of view.

Holy crap. Hard to believe this is written not only by a fucking Kagan, but by one of the founders of Project for the New American Century, maybe the biggest proponent of Guantanamo, torture, and that "widely condemned invasion of Iraq." It's like Freddy Brezhnev wondering whose nutjob idea invading Afghanistan was.

Although I have to say, for setting the bar so low it leaves a dent in the ground this bit is hilarious: For all the controversy, the United States has been more successful in Iraq than it was in Vietnam.

Thanks for always ripping these degenerates a new one. I can't explain how they come to such power either.

Weird Dave said...

"IF there's one thing that keeps me going, it is the hope that during my lifetime someone will be able to explain how the United States foreign policy has, for seventy years now, come under the sway of a series of frauds and con men, from Dean Acheson and John Foster Dulles through Heinz Kissinger and Eliot Abrams to Dick Cheney and the Kagan Clan."

Greed and fear. Or is it fear and greed?

Either way I bet I'm close.

Fiddlin' Bill said...

Either America is going to accept that it cannot control the world, or the world is going to convince America on its own terms and methods. In the meantime, watch "Turtles Can Fly" for some much needed perspective, Mr. Kagan. Riley, this is one of your best!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Fiddlin' Bill, there's one more alternative.