On Obama Doctrine Thesis #4 (The world cannot afford…)

(Reply to Atomic Geography, at Ordinary Times)

Atomic Geography: It, and the argument against it, are also perhaps the unifying idea behind the structures of neo imperialism you have explored previously.

We haven’t discussed “neo-imperialism” in these parts [Ordinary Times] very much. Maybe someday.

Sorting out the contradictions that bleed into your description of them would be part of that discussion, and one of its most difficult if not impossible requirements. Understanding them perfectly would require something, really, like absolute knowledge (or we might say “absolute knowing”) of world history. We can see how even our resplendently intelligent, articulate, cosmopolitan, wonderfully informed, by now thoroughly experienced, reasonable and well-meaning president is far from being able to master the case.

The fourth is that the world cannot afford to see the diminishment of U.S. power.

We could, indeed, put the statement in both positive and negative forms and declare them equally true: The world cannot afford the diminution of U.S. power, and, to use your phrasing, the world cannot afford “the continuation of an exceptional America.” One question elided in this formulation is whether, in fact, “continuation” is possible without constant expansion. Since the world keeps revolving and changing, there may be no staying in place, or, to say the same thing, staying in place would require a constant movement forward in two ways. Or we always need to be getting ahead of ourselves in order to keep up with ourselves.

If that proves too much for us – or has already proven too much for us – then the other way to put the observation two-sidedly would be this: The world cannot afford the diminution of U.S. power, but U.S. power is diminishing: The world is therefore in some kind of danger or is going bankrupt or whatever we mean when we say that something is happening to an entity that that entity cannot afford.

I think it means that the world will be, or would be, or is a different world under the diminution of U.S. power. I think it also means that no one should feel too confident about predicting what such a transformation will entail. I think that even if the neo-empire has passed its half-life, there might be still a lot of less-than-half to go, including multiple opportunities for everyone who got what they wished for to beg for a do-over.

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One comment on “On Obama Doctrine Thesis #4 (The world cannot afford…)

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  1. This discussion is so wide ranging that I feel out of my depth in formulating anything other than a moan. So in the spirit of moaning some thoughts:

    The political power of an entity, as a relative quantity, varies not only as an absolute, but in relation to other actors. US’s power has diminished partly because the power of other Powers especially in their own neighborhoods has increased since, say WWII, when the US stood alone as an intact power.

    Still, the military and economic power of the US has grown in absolute terms. Just less market share.

    Leaving aside the economic dimensions of neo-imperialism, I wonder if a significant part of the military uniqueness of the US in both sheer size and sophistication, derives from the dream of being the sole nuclear (and generalized to WMD of all sorts) power in the world. The various non-proliferation regimes all depend on a unique role of the US.

    Bush attempted to extend this monopoly by stressing interdiction of WMD materials as they moved about the world to the practical exclusion of negotiation to contain them. While many nations signed on to the initiative, for all practical purposes it was an American as say the Iraq war. No other power had the reach and sophistication to even attempt it.

    But succeeded probably even less well than the war in Iraq.

    Which is not to say that a negotiation strategy would have worked better. Diplomacy has obvious limits.

    Honestly, I’m having trouble following my own line of thought here, so I’ll leave it hanging unresolved for now, maybe to pick it up later, hoping that this contains something worthwhile.

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