This is not a good time to be a member of the dwindling band of America's allies. The ranks are thinning fast. Elections in Spain, Italy and Poland have already removed the governments that joined President Bush's misadventure in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's most reliable friend in Europe, is already packing his bags for a departure expected to come in May or June. Photo courtesy AFP.
UPI Editor Emeritus
Paris (UPI) Jan 02, 2007
Not since the grimmest days of the Cold War has a New Year has opened with such a sense of foreboding for the United States. The sky is darkening with the flocks of chickens coming home to roost. The wretched mismanagement of the Iraq occupation has drained American credibility as a superpower and as the linchpin of the global economy.
The dollar's role as the world's reserve currency is eroding fast as the overflowing coffers of the oil-producing states start to hedge their bets against a further fall in its value and start demanding euros and British pounds instead.
And beyond Iraq, the deeper challenges are looming of the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, along with the damage this will do to the American role as the strategic arbiter of events in the Middle East and Asia.
It will take a brave or a desperate Arab leader these days to let the security of his regime depend on the protection or the wisdom of Washington, or on the security of the dollar as a safe haven. And any Asian leader worth his salt will be wondering how best to balance his country's interests against the evident rise of China and India and the equally evident American decline.
Already the Saudi monarchy and its nervous neighbors in the Gulf, faced with the menace of Iran, are beginning to consider their own nuclear options. The Sunni leaders of Riyadh, of Cairo and Amman, are asking openly whether they might have to get involved in the Iraqi maelstrom to defend their fellow Sunni from the revenge of the Shiites.
Whether the sectarian slaughter between Sunni and Shiite in Iraq can truly be called a civil war is being overtaken by the more urgent question whether a wider Sunni-Shiite conflict could yet erupt across the Middle East.
This is not a good time to be a member of the dwindling band of America's allies. The ranks are thinning fast. Elections in Spain, Italy and Poland have already removed the governments that joined President Bush's misadventure in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's most reliable friend in Europe, is already packing his bags for a departure expected to come in May or June.
And there is little confidence that the Bush administration has much of an idea what to do about these various challenges, even if the new Democratic majority in Congress is prepared to cooperate. The signs are the White House will cross its fingers, trust to luck and try more of the same.
At home, it hopes that the Federal Reserve can manage a soft landing for the U.S. economy and avoid a crash in the value of the dollar that would send U.S. interest rates through the roof. Abroad, the Bush team seems trapped in the hope that if 140,000 troops have not been able to stem the violence, then a surge of another 25,000 reinforcements might do the trick. But the evidence of the last three years suggests that holding the line to buy time for the Iraqi police and army to become sufficiently trained and responsible to take over represents the triumph of hope over experience.
The hideous reality is that whatever the Bush administration now does is likely to make matters worse. More American troops mean more targets, more casualties, a bigger and clumsier American presence that whittles away what little claim the Iraqi government has of being in charge of events and able to rally sufficient domestic support to curb the sectarian violence.
But troop withdrawals, or the kind of deadline for precipitate departure that some Democrats are urging, will spell not just defeat but probably an escalation of the Sunni-Shiite slaughter inside Iraq, along with the kind of ethnic cleansing that is likely to draw Saudi and Turkish and Iranian involvement to protect their interests and fellow Sunni and Shiite.
What this all means is that we are witnessing the end of the unipolar world that has endured since the end of the Cold War. For the past two decades, American wealth and power and invention and prestige maintained a broad sense of security that allowed the great miracle of globalization to haul hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians and others out of poverty and into the global economy.
But economic revolutions on such a scale have geo-political consequences and we are now living with them. The erosion of trust in a benign American hegemony has furthered the ability of lesser powers to start pursuing their own national interests in the growing confidence that there is little the American superpower can do about it.
We see it in North Korea and Iran and Venezuela, in Russia's ruthless use of its energy power to bully its neighbors and investors. We see it in the growing nationalism of Japan, in China's bland rejection of American pressure to revalue its currency and we see it in the distancing from Washington that now characterizes the policies of traditional European allies like France and Germany.
We are heading into a new era, whose only parallel is that of 19th century Europe after the Congress of Vienna when the great powers of France, Britain, Russia, Austro-Hungary, Prussia operated a rough balance of power in the interests of a peace and stability that was rudely shattered when the balance was broken in 1914.
The new global pattern is emerging of a world that will depend on the balancing abilities of the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the European Union, with India and Brazil and perhaps Iran knocking on the door of this great power club. Even though America will remain for the foreseeable future as first among equals, this new world is unlikely to be very stable, given the disruptive forces of Islamic militancy, of sharpening environmental pressures and the growing competition for raw materials and energy resources.
As the power with the widest and therefore the most exposed global interests, and one whose will and resources are now so clearly in question, the United States is in a vulnerable position. It may soon have to consider how long and how far it can continue to act as security guarantor for exposed allies like Taiwan and Israel and South Korea, if their defense is to prove too costly and too dangerous for core American strategic interests.
This emergent new world order is the direct result of the mistaken strategic decisions, so costly to American wealth and prestige, taken by the Bush administration after the great shock of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This is the world that Bush built.
Happy New Year.