Sunday, August 31, 2008

Colossal Failure

There was a very interesting essay last week in the UK Guardian written by Seumas Milne in which he provides a pretty thorough analysis of just what the recent debacle in Georgia means to US foreign policy. Since the end of the cold war, the US pretty much operated under the assumption that it was the only world power and the rest of the world could either get on board or face the consequences. Russia was apparently tired of the attitude.

If there were any doubt that the rules of the international game have changed for good, the events of the past few days should have dispelled it. On Monday, President Bush demanded that Russia's leaders reject their parliament's appeal to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Within 24 hours, Bush had his response: President Medvedev announced Russia's recognition of the two contested Georgian enclaves. ...

...what is clear is that America's unipolar moment has passed - and the new world order heralded by Bush's father in the dying days of the Soviet Union in 1991 is no more. The days when one power was able to bestride the globe like a colossus, enforcing its will in every continent, challenged only by popular movements for national independence and isolated "rogue states", are now over. For nearly two decades, while Russia sunk into "catastroika" and China built an economic powerhouse, the US has exercised unprecedented and unaccountable global power, arrogating to itself and its allies the right to invade and occupy other countries, untroubled by international law or institutions, sucking ever more states into the orbit of its voracious military alliance.

Now, pumped up with petrodollars, Russia has called a halt to this relentless expansion and demonstrated that the US writ doesn't run in every backyard. And although it has been a regional, not a global, challenge, this object lesson in the new limits of American power has already been absorbed from central Asia to Latin America.
[Emphasis added]

While Mr. Milne quite appropriately points out that Europe (both "old" and "new") hasn't been fully persuaded of the end of the unipolar world, certainly the other regions have noticed. And what they have noticed is that when it came down to crunch time, the US didn't deliver and probably couldn't have. It was simply stretched too thin, especially militarily.

It's not only that the US and its camp followers have trampled on international law and the UN to bring death and destruction to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 1990s, the Pentagon warned that to ensure no global rival emerged, the US would need to "account for the interests of advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership". But when it came to Russia, all that was forgotten in a fog of imperial hubris that has left the US overstretched and unable to prevent the return of a multipolar world. [Emphasis added]

So, are we now facing a new Cold War in which the US and Russia will continue to face off over issues like Georgia, mandating a return to even more excessive military expenditures? Probably not. Neither country can afford it, no matter what the neocons and Pentagon dinosaurs claim. What will happen, it seems to me, is that the next administration will have to re-engage the rest of the world on a more rational basis, one that does not depend on the threats of bombs and missiles. Even more importantly, the US will have to re-learn how to abide by international law rather than flout it.

This multipolar world will demand as much, and, quite frankly, I welcome the shift.

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4 Comments:

OpenID lakelobos said...

First the idea of a single superpower was created by Bush I. It never made much sense and even Bush I actually was looking for consensus rather than a single handed action. bill Clinton, mostly, worked within NATO and used diplomacy intensively.

The problem of Bush II is simple: he is a hoodlum and a moron. There was NATO and universal agreement to the attack on Afghanistan, as opposed to the statement Milne makes. Iraq, going into huge debt and resorting to torture, attacking Pakistan, Obama agrees to that, and unruly behavior brought us to where we are.

Milne ignore most of those factors. Being a superpower doesn't mean that you are the Stalin of the world. If the Russian want to attach George it doesn't mean that we should or could control and stop them. I think Milne's expectation is childish. If you have the moral standing, your objection is much more meaningful, which from our moral cave we couldn't do.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

On this, Lakelobos, I think we disagree, at least to some extent.

I think the days of the "big boys" is over. Too many of the smaller nations have energy reserves that the big boys crave. The US counted on hegemony to get those reserves, but their plans, so shoddy, blew that right out of the water.

Putin is as much a weenie wagger as GWBush, but his army right now is fresher.

China, on the other hand, is sitting back and letting the Euros and US fight it out while it concludes energy deals across the globe.

The US is not the Colossus striding the world (if it ever was, and I'm not sure it was). Neither is Russia.

I think the next era will be one of testing and negotiation, and as I said in the post, I welcome such an era.

5:47 PM  
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