Naked emperor and a conspiracy of silence
America is exceptional - utterly and absolutely exceptional - because the rest
of the world depends on American guns, American money and American mediation in
a way that no other country or combination of countries possibly might replace.
Any other power that suffered the setbacks that America sustained during 2010
under the Barack Obama presidency would have been pushed off the top of the
hill. The reason America still has diplomatic currency to spend in Asia as well
as actual currency to borrow demonstrates its indispensable role: no one, least
of all Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao or Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin,
wants America to fail.
That is why a conspiracy of silence surrounds the observation that the emperor
is naked. But the facts are depressingly clear.
After one trillion dollars and 5,000 casualties, America will leave
Iraq with nothing to show for its Quixotic commitment to build a nation in the
Mesopotamian sand. As Steven Lee Meyers reported on December 18 in The New York
Times, "The protracted political turmoil that saw the resurgence of a fiercely
anti-American political bloc here is casting new doubt on establishing any
enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops
are scheduled to withdraw in the next 12 months, military and administration
officials say." The pro-Iranian government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
will eliminate America's role in Iraq after America's scheduled withdrawal.
Four years after Lebanon's "Green" revolution, hailed by the George W Bush
administration as an exemplar of Middle Eastern democracy, the formerly
pro-Western (that is, Saudi-allied) Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri,
went to Iran as a supplicant in December to endorse Iran's dominant role in
that country. Hariri's government includes men who have come under suspicion of
ordering the assassination in 2005 of his father, the ex-premier Rafik Hariri.
"In contrast with Iran's muscle-flexing, the moderate Arab states, led by Egypt
and Saudi Arabia, appear weak while preparing the ground for new leadership as
their rulers age. Concurrently, America's influence, as demonstrated in
WikiLeaks documents, is on the wane, due to its withdrawal from Iraq, the
deepening morass in Afghanistan and its domestic economic woes, " columnist
Amos Harel wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on December 17.
Russia is holding America's feet to the fire over ratification of the Strategic
Arms Reduction Treaty (START) nuclear weapons treaty which - stripped to
essentials - forces the world's only first-rate power to deal with a vanquished
second-rate power as equals. Russian surface-to-air missiles and other
technology remains an instrument of blackmail against the US.
As US Senator Richard Luger wrote on his website on December 19, "A rejection
of New START would be greeted with delight in Iran, North Korea, Syria, and
Burma [Myanmar]. These nations want to shield their weapons programs from
outside scrutiny and they want to be able to acquire sensitive weapons
America's capacity to punish Pakistan for its ongoing support of the Taliban as
an anti-Indian force in the region has reached the vanishing point. "If America
cut off spare parts for Pakistan's F-16's," an advisor to former Afghanistan
commander General Stanley McChrystal observed, "they'd be flying Chinese planes
the next day".
China wants Pakistan to continue to maintain pressure on India, and has visions
of a warm water port on the Indian Ocean linked by rail to China.
After years of offering Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez all carrots and no
sticks, the South American rogue state is ready to install Iranian medium-range
missiles on its territory close enough to reach Washington, the German daily
Die Welt reported on November 25. No one offered more carrots than Obama, who
went out of his way to shake hands with Chavez at the April 2009 meeting of the
Organization of American States. If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it
well might be able to hit Washington in a few minutes' flight time.
American attempts to contain North Korea collapsed in December when the North
shelled a disputed South Korean-held island, killing South Korean civilians -
after likely being behind the unprovoked sinking of a South Korean naval
vessel. North Korea also presumably is supplying fuel for Iran's nuclear
And last, but not least, at the Group of 20 meeting in Seoul in November the
United States suffered the worst rebuff to its global economic stance since the
Europeans forced president Richard Nixon to delink the dollar from gold in
1971. The Federal Reserve's new "quantitative easing" campaign was a buck too
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described the Fed as "clueless" in a
newspaper interview, and Asian nations began to impose exchange controls to
stop the septic tide of dollars from creating bubbles in their own economies.
It's worse than in 1980, when then Fed chairman Paul Volcker returned from an
October meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Belgrade and pushed the
fed funds rate into double digits. At least in those days criticism of the Fed
was made behind closed doors.
Most ominous is that China, long the mainstay of the US Treasury market, became
a net seller of long-term US Treasury securities in October. The run-up in US
long-term interest rates, which pushed the 10-year Treasury yield almost a full
percentage point above its August low, is in large part the result of Asian
reluctance to continue to buy America's long-term debt.
Never before in the course of strategic events have so few done so much damage
to so many in such a short period of time. The "few", to be precise, are Obama
and the tiny coterie of advisors through whom he runs the government. Obama was
true to his baffling words before the United Nations General Assembly on
September 23, 2009: "No one nation can or should try to dominate another
nation," Obama told the United Nations on September 23. "No world order that
elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of
power among nations will hold."
of a PaxRomana, a Pax Britannica, and a Pax Americana - but no other namable
eras of sustained peace, for the simple reason cited by Henry Kissinger:
nothing maintains peace except hegemony and the balance of power. The balancing
act always fails, though, as it did in Europe in 1914, and as it will in
Central and South Asia precisely a century later. The result will be
suppurating instability in the region during the next two years and a slow but
deadly drift toward great-power animosity. Those who wanted an end to US
hegemony will get what they wished for. But they won't like it.
America's competitors have seen the erosion of American power as if through a
time-lapse camera, and they don't like it at all. Obama's self-shrinkage of
American influence may give us a civil war in Iraq, a new Israeli-Hezbollah war
in Lebanon, a nuclear-armed Iran, a replay of the Cuban missile crisis in
Venezuela, an unshackled rogue state in North Korea, an ungovernable Pakistan,
and - worst of all - another American recession as the US Treasury struggles to
fund a government deficit in excess of 12 percentage points of gross domestic
product. Confronted with the consequences of a naked emperor in Washington, the
other powers of the world can only avert their eyes and hope he will get some
clothes before it is too late.
Having renounced hegemony as well as the balance of power, Obama by year-end
chose to prop up the power balance in the region with additional American and
allied soldiers in Afghanistan. Obama chose the least popular as well as the
least effective alternative. The US president's apparent fecklessness reflects
the gravity of the strategic problems in the region.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman senior editor at First Things
(www.firstthings.com). View comments on this article in Spengler's Expat Bar forum.