Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The loss of our national influence is nothing to cheer

Posted by Charles II on June 24, 2013

Crossposted from a comment on DK

The US has made serious policy blunders under two administrations, leading to a decline in influence. For several reasons, this should trouble and alarm us all.

1. A decline in one power means that power vacuums open up and the likelihood of armed conflict rises. This is most dangerous in Asia, where rising nationalist sentiments in Japan and China, coupled with declining American power, have led to skirmishes. In Latin America, the risk of armed conflict between states is lower, but in Honduras, a narcostate seems to be emerging, Mexico is suffering internal conflict, and there have been confrontations between, e.g. Colombia and Venezuela.

2. All hegemons suck, but some suck worse than others. So far, the U.S. has not been as oppressive as many Great Powers. China, notably, is unlikely to be a benevolent ruler if U.S. power is displaced.

3. A decline in influence means a decline in national efficacy. There are big problems that need to be dealt with urgently (climate change, declining productivity of the oceans, etc.) and on an international level. If the U.S. ceases to be a world leader, it’s difficult to see which nation will replace it. At a time when we need to work together, there could well be anarchy.

The Snowden story is an iconic tragedy. Written large, it is the story of America’s decline. A young, intelligent, idealistic American exercises the greatest of the fundamental freedoms: the freedom to say no, the freedom to speak out in witness against wrongdoing, the freedom to leave a system that he feels has become unjust. The system, instead of taking stock of how the revelations look to the world, behaves in a manner that simply confirms what he has said by failing to explain or perhaps apologize for the alleged abuses, by shouting traitor rather than vowing to end any abuses, and by trying to strongarm other nations into handing him over.

There are many other Americans who have stood up for what they felt was right and have been trampled by the power of corporations and the state. (Based on the literature on whistleblowing) Probably over 1 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed because they have been punished for doing the right thing. Reporters like Bob Parry and Gary Webb tried to stand up against the decline in our media and were trampled. Wal-Mart workers trying to take a stand against unfair labor practices are fired. And so on.

Cumulatively, the uncorrected wrongs they couldn’t stop add up to our national illness.

Punishing Snowden will not cure anything. Our national treatment of him is, rather, exacerbating our national decline.
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Added: The witch hunt atmosphere could also induce Snowden to flip and to divulge everything he knows to the Russians, the Chinese, or whoever, in exchange for asylum. So, what the US is doing is stupid and counterproductive even from the narrow vantage point of achieving what the elites want, namely to arrest Snowden and make an example of him. A successful strategy would have been to low key it to try to keep Snowden silent until he was in custody. No better example of the rampant incompetence at top leadership levels could be adduced.

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7 Responses to “The loss of our national influence is nothing to cheer”

  1. Exactly.

  2. PW said

    china will not be ruling the world anytime soon

  3. richmx2 said

    “There are big problems that need to be dealt with urgently (climate change, declining productivity of the oceans, etc.) and on an international level. If the U.S. ceases to be a world leader, it’s difficult to see which nation will replace it. At a time when we need to work together, there could well be anarchy.”

    You assume that the U.S. has been a leader in resolving any of these issues (it hasn’t) and that change requires coercion of some sort by a “big power”. The solution to these kinds of problems may be solutions (plural) and one size does not fit all. Besides, the assumption is rather pessimistic, suggesting people will only cooperate in their mutual interest. On the other hand, assuming self-interest does rear its ugly head (and of course it does), the U.S. is not the model of environmental or social efficiency, being dependent on an inordinate supply of world resources.

    • Charles II said

      While much of what you say has validity, Rich, I have to disagree with the overall.

      First, I think we can agree that global warming requires an international response. There are financial (cost-shifting) incentives for one nation to delay action, hoping that the costs will fall on some other nation. This is what the US is doing, and so it is acting as a mis-leader. Had the US been serious about climate change, it would have been difficult for China to keep installing coal-fired plants or for Japan to substitute LNG for its nuclear plants.

      Second, what is meant by leadership? Isn’t it providing money for research and early-stage development, as well as tax incentives for specific behaviors that leads to new technologies? Poor countries can lead in a moral sense, but they don’t have the money to research solar panels or to provide tax incentives for installation of these. Germany led on that issue, by providing tax incentives for everyone to install solar panels. China led by subsidizing its solar industry, driving down prices of panels. The US has lagged, providing some incentives, but employing an “all of the above” approach that included such phantasms as clean coal..

      But the leadership by China is an example of mis-leadership. China subsidized these companies in an attempt to destroy foreign competitors and seize the market. In the short term, it promoted solar panel installation, but in the long-term, it shut down promising alternative technologies.

      • richmx2 said

        If anything hegemony has meant a worsening world situation. Would the Chinese have felt the need for massive industrialization if they weren’t in “competition” with a huge energy hog like the U.S.? You somewhat bolster my point when you point to the Germans… a country that had to forego its hegemonic dreams quite some time ago. Sure money helps, but the Chinese “competition” with the U.S. just shows that major powers aren’t necessarily leaders… and there’s no reason to presume that high dollar technical research is the only answer. Small steps… and important ones… come from surprising places. Take Mexico City’s answer to smog… taking cars off the street one day a week. Nothing that required massive R/D, and something that has proved effective in one locality, and could be easily replicated in any urban community. Less intrusive agricultural practices depend less on R/D than just talking to farmers. And so on…

      • Charles II said

        Rich says, “Would the Chinese have felt the need for massive industrialization if they weren’t in “competition” with a huge energy hog like the U.S.?”

        It’s impossible to argue counterfactuals, i.e., if a nation were on a separate planet, would it decide to live in Edenic simplicity rather than industrialize? But I would say that China could not sustain the population it has without industrialization. Just growing food for that many requires farm equipment, hydro projects, and transportation systems.

        Rich says, “there’s no reason to presume that high dollar technical research is the only answer. Small steps… and important ones… come from surprising places [such as taking cars off the streets one day a week in Mexico City].”

        That’s true. Necessity is the mother of invention, and a lot of the best answers to problems involve low-tech solutions. But high tech has its role as well. And that is not going to come from poor nations.

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