From American Empire to American Irrelevance?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 at 08:02 PM

The cavalier discussion of American Empire and the American Century that not long ago permeated many political articles and organizations has died down considerably in light of our predicaments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same predicaments and how we ended up in them, especially Iraq (and now the public discussion of the need to "do something" about Iran), also appear to be having an impact on both how foreigners view the US, and how Americans in the US feel about that view.

A synthesis of published polls on the subject of how Americans view the role of America in the world, performed by World Public Opinion, includes the following summary of how Americans assess world public opinion of the United States:
Large majorities believe that the US is viewed negatively by people in other countries and see this as derived primarily from the current US foreign policy not American values. Most see goodwill towards the United States as important for US national security. Most Americans believe that people around the world are growing more afraid that the US will use force against them and that this diminishes US national security and increases the likelihood that countries will pursue WMDs.
That summary is from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland.

If, as the summary posits, most Americans "see goodwill towards the United States as important for US national security," the following take on how Europeans now see us will not be comforting. It comes from the article The Human Bomb, by Adam Gopnik, on page 42 of New Yorker magazine's August 27, 2007 issue:

...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.To a new leadership class, it sometimes seems that America is no longer the human bomb you have to defuse but the nut you walk away from.

What Brown, Merkel, and Sarkozy all have in common is that they do not want to be defined by their response to America, either unduly faithful as with Blair, or unduly hostile, as Chirac became. Instead, as [Jean-David] Levitte [former French Ambassador to the U.S.] says, they all want to normalize relations with a great power that is no longer the only power. Its military weakness has been exposed in Iraq, its economic weakness by the rise of the euro, and its once great cultural magnetism has been diminished by post-9/11 paranoia and insularity. America has recovered from worse before, and may do so again. But it is also possible that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy may be seen not as the start of a new pro-American moment in Europe but as a marker of the beginning of the post-American era.

If you really think that America and American ideals are, or were, a force for good for the rest of the world, you should probably not be very happy with what our leaders have wrought over the last six years (or longer). If Mr. Gopnik's description of "old Europe's" new attitude is close to the mark, we're truly entering the "post WWII" era for the first time, with the relevance of America being sharply reduced.

What does that reduced relevance really mean? Your guess is as good as--maybe better than--mine. I grew up in the WWII era, with almost all international relationships tinged by that war, and with that war providing the point of reference for almost all international discussions, policies, and concerns. In fact, I feel uneasy about the shift. And I'd feel a lot more uneasy about it except for the fact that I think we truly need to spend a considerable amount of near future energy figuring out where our own country went off the track and, of course, how to get back on track.

How, in short, to make our values and culture worthy of a greater degree of relevance than they likely now are.


So went our cousin, Britania. How long was the fabled "British Empire" afloat? Many moons. What went wrong? Oh, those under the commonweath got a little tired of it, that's what.

Eventually, providing we do not first implode, the many nations around the world will, as their opinion polls are leaning into...become tired of "us" (Pun intentional).

And it cannot come sooner. There is no need for it anymore, it serves nobody, save for Exxon, Boeing, Bell Textron and the fabulous Bush Crime Family, still misusing the public since WW2....