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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Idea - The real Bush damage

I was watching a video about the BC Persian empire last night, and got to thinking in terms of empire.

Perhaps the biggest sin of the Bush administration wasn't 9/11 happening on their watch, or the botched wars and policy in response. It wasn't the disaster of Katrina, showing the people of the world America unable to help, or the financial crisis showing America's hollow "miracle."

Perhaps the biggest "empire" sin of the Bush administration was that they punctured the view of American invulnerability and laid bare some of the weaknesses in front of the world.

We frequently mark the end of empires on a single significant battle, but the end of an empire becomes inevitable long before the barbarians arrive outside the city gates.

The erosion of American power began long before Bush, rooted in the shifts of the global economy, but the mistakes of the Bush administration, on many fronts, laid bare so many of those weaknesses.

We could now face the very ugly period of provincial resistance and insurrection where, in the American version of empire, our "allies" and those countries under our influence (like Latin America) fear American levers of power less and less and begin to make new relationships both among each other and with the putative imperial rival (China.)

This historical trajectory was ordained well before the Bush administration came to power, but, their abrogation of international process, they're incompetence in executing wars against minor nations, they're failure to manage endemic economic problems has revealed a substantial weakness that has hastened America's return to "nation among nations."

In theory, the Obama administration could paper over some of this through good stewardship, trying to indicate the Bush years were simply a matter of incompetence, but in many senses, the damage has already been done.

For all their talk of tough, the Bush administration revealed mor weakness than any Presidency before them.

The world now fears America much less as a force. That soft power is eroding.

(This is part of a longstanding grievance (2, 3) I have with the Bush admin, that they screwed up by abandoning the Bush Sr./Clinton path of trying to build international legal structures to our advantage while we were still such a dominant power. Instead, the Bush administration burned all of that work, embracing the radical and now discredited neocon ideas of the Project for a New American Century.)

Just needed a screed this morning.


  • 'The world now fears America much less as a force.'

    If you mean military force I think the fear is still there. What has gone is the moral authority.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:26 AM  

  • As a country of the rule of law, we expose our weaknesses when we allow our leaders to corrupt our laws.
    It's bad enough when we misuse our power and innocent people and our own soldiers get killed, but when those leaders are not held accountable for the lies and mistakes for that decision through our legal system, then we have truly lost our moral leadership in the World and rightfully our ability to influence the World to believe or follow the good laws and moral beliefs that are the basis of our government.
    In WW II (even with the killings committed within the carnage of war) we toppled dictators, then rebuilt the lands we had destroyed, and left the World a better place for humanity.
    Actions truly do speak louder than words.

    By Blogger Time, at 1:07 PM  

  • Anon, Sort of. What they've learned is the tactics that minimize the US technological advantages.


    And, as you both mention, I didn't include the loss of moral authority. That's been a strong source of soft power.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 1:36 PM  

  • You said 'the world now fears America much less as a force'. Is it the US versus the world? Anyway I think you're wrong. A lot of people, and not just the 'bad guys', are scared of America.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:25 PM  

  • Two things.

    1) as a hyperpower/empire, yes, the power balance is measured US versus those it tries to influence. However that's not a unilateral measurement on either side. Look at the cold war. The US benefited hugely from the addition of allies, but I think the US was certainly driving.

    2) To me, the loss of influence is a much bigger deal among those measured around neutral rather than friends or enemies. And I don't mean military force here, I mean the collection of influences, usually backstopped by economic power.

    Use (non-Venezuela) Latin America as an example. They listen alot less to the US now than they did a decade ago. We were never going to use overt military force, but there was a collection of measures that kept those nations more tightly under US influence/control than now.

    And, yes, alot of people are afraid of the US as in what they might do in a broad sense to destabilize the world, but alot of those countries in the middle no longer really fear economic or diplomatic reprisals as much as they did.

    This post isn't about whether we could level a country. It's about whether and to what degree the US influences the shape of the world's relationships.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 4:11 PM  

  • Influence and control. You make it sound like some great mission. Ever wondered why other people resent being influenced and controlled?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:42 PM  

  • I understand completely, but we're talking empire here, and that is what empires do.

    Countries exert influence over other countries, even small countries influencing smaller ones. I understand the ideal, but that's the way the world works.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 5:08 PM  

  • You're right of course. But the empire is judged by its subjects. From outside it sometimes seems the US only cares about itself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:22 PM  

  • We're definitely inside ourselves.

    By Blogger mikevotes, at 9:51 PM  

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