Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Essential Power
Jason over at Voices of Reason brought this Walter Russell Mead article to my attention. The title alone (Failing Upwards: Relax, America will survive George W. Bush) is enough to calm the spirit. The characterization of American foreign policy as a sort of bumbling, stumbling Mr. Magoo that's historically managed to bungle its way to global dominance is pure genius. Then there's this:
This is an analysis of power, not a defense of failure. Had the Bush administration made different choices at key points, both the United States and the world would be much better off than they are. But, fortunately or unfortunately, the foundations of American power have less to do with the wisdom of particular policies than with the way that the priorities of American society and the strategic requirements of American power intersect with the realities of international life. It is not how smart we are; it is how well we fit.
It will take some time to know to what degree the Bush years have damaged America's influence in the world, and whether that damage is permanent or not. But if I had to single out one determinant factor it would be the one that Mead mentions: How well we fit. Mead is correct when he says that the international system is strong, and that the US is its essential power.
But the world has the capacity to change more radically, more quickly now for a variety of technological and ideological reasons. Potential challenges are as diverse as the rapid advances in the developing world to the regressive, anti-modernist movements springing up everywhere from Kansas to Karachi. Toss in the kind of destructive forces that can now be harnessed by non-state actors and the possibility of radical, paradigm-shifting events can't be ruled out.
That kind of volatility demands a commitment to calm, measured policies that provide a benchmark of stability for a world in need of reassurance. Not exactly how you'd describe the Bush administration's legacy. Eight years is a long time, long enough to mark the spirit of a generation. And the generation that has come of age worldwide during the Bush years is a generation that sees America as a problem, and one that has learned to look elsewhere for the solution.
Like Winston Churchill's adage about democracy, the question now is whether it will find a better alternative.