Sunday, February 10. 2008
Fred Kaplan: Downsizing our dominance. Another piece on the shrinking of American hegemony abroad. Kaplan sees this as the inevitable result of losing a common threat with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suspect that most former allies never took the military parrying all that seriously, but sought to curry favor with the US to tap into economic power and technological prowess. That position has been eroding for some time now, even if it's only become obvious since Bush took office. Even now nations suck up to us much more than seems warranted, probably because it's cheap to be deferential and our egos demand it. The real fall is still to come. As Kaplan notes, presidential candidates prefer to skirt the issue: the American people would rather hear about dawn than decline and fall. That actually leaves an opportunity open, if anyone is smart enough to take advantage of it. All we'd have to do is ditch the sole-superpower horseshit and take a lead in pushing for multilateral, shared solutions to real problems: to pursue peace and justice through the UN, to seriously tackle global warming and other environmental issues, to restructure free trade along lines that benefit poorer countries most. Didn't Gandhi say something to the effect that he has to follow wherever the people go because he's their leader? The US can't lead selfishly because the world won't follow. An alternative would be to just get out of the way, but that might be even more unpalatably ego-deflating.
William Astore: In the Military We Trust. A former Air Force Lt. Colonel, Astore gives two reasons why the military is still regarded by most Americans as an honorable and trustworthy organization. One is that demographically it is much more like America as a whole than most other organizations -- he picks on Ivy League colleges in particular -- so many Americans find it easy to see themselves in the military. The other is that the notion of public service is engrained and catered to in the military, especially for males who find it a particularly helpful way to define their masculinity:
Astore further argues that antiwar people need to understand these points before they can possibly, well, do what? That part isn't clear. It seems to me that the military is trusted mostly because people are very ignorant about its real skills and liabilities in today's world. That actually has very little to do with the character or discipline of those in the military, even if the romance of atavistic war is what draws them in. Still, the problem isn't how to "engage" the military to make them less harmful and more useful. The whole function needs to be rethought from the policy end down. Maybe that involves building different organizations that tap into the qualities Astore recognizes. But it starts with recognizing what is dysfunctional about the military we have, and that's bound to hurt some egos both in and near to the armed forces.
Robert Kuttner: The Recovery Plan America Needs. Argues that the stimulus package Congress is working on falls way too short of what is needed:
Kuttner's solution to the "Housing Mess" makes a lot of sense. So does more public sector spending on things like infrastructure, although by looking at all government spending as stimulus he fails to note how dysfunctional US war spending really is. As for reversing long-term trends toward inequality, his heart's in the right place, but I wonder whether letting the recession do its damage might not be more effective. Much of that inequality is in the form of bubbled up real estate prices, stock prices, dollars even, and one effect of the recession will be to bring that inflation back toward reality. The poor may suffer more, but the rich have a lot more to lose (which is why they've only started panicking now as stock prices started to fall).
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