Kinda like this thing but there’s something you should know
we just came to bomb hello
*(revised Azure Sky video edit)
These are dangerous times even without hype. For the first time since 1918, Waltz’ structural architecture of systemic international anarchy (defined not as ‘chaos’ but competitive positioning limited only by viable international means) puts forth a vacating chair. The Continent anticipated and feared the coming American century. The foundations of this entire blog have roots there.
We Americans, blissfully withdrawn in our own continent, focusing on accumulating capital, largely unaware of the tired Lion’s increasingly feeble efforts to maintain its seat. Wilson thusly delivered a double blow — demonstrating the Empire’s implausibility then failing to deliver American power to the systemic framework. Now it is our turn to look back at our ‘Diamond Jubilee’ (you’re welcome to nominate your own candidate) aware that the chair, to which we had become so accustomed to that it felt a very part of us, is wobbling.
It’s become oddly jejune to muse about international theory. First it was
Japan (remember when Summers glommed onto that one in *1990*?). A hard case of the unipolar flu has given way to seeing nothing but China. In spite of Friedman, belatedly we Americans are beginning to realize that BRICs are not just for houses (How’s that for parody? Think it a one off? Here comes another.) We keep one hand trying to steady our chair with almost a trillion dollars a year invested in (usually recognized) negative returns through militarization in all its various guises. The other hand? Why, it’s in front of our faces, frantically searching for something secure to hold on to. (See? No sweat).
Some argue this moment poses risk but also presents opportunity. The Obama Administration’s merely tinkering with the momentum of the 2001-2008 disaster frustrates. These American Great Jump Aheaders urge us to see the de-stabilized Waltzian international order as Kobe Bryant looks down court on a fast break: reacting to what just passed (the old-bi-polar comfort and the briefly hellish uni-polar fever). The analogy is that the U.S. naturally reacts to reality now but seeks to shape fluid events. No excessive dwelling on the last play. (Forgive the sports metaphors. We rarely use them).
Some conversations are fanciful. Most seem unsound. Some might have strategic merit if ever we Americans reconcile national interest with ideals. And it’s not at all clear that a nominal constitutional republic premised on separation of powers will have the wherewithal to think let alone act with the necessary alacrity.
The future usually is more of now, only more so. Or it filters down to Friedmanisms. We’re all a brand doncha know. In the end it’s a variant of leveraging what we can for a best case graceful trajectory in an international order. In Friedman-speak, the least offensive to American consumerism. Recipes may vary but the concoction doesn’t. Mix severely deflated soft power, lingering still, like the aroma of all those grilles from last year, to objectively substantive hard power. Induce ‘buy in’ from the BRICs and other contenders in some version of the post-war small ‘l’ liberal world order. Events since 2001 underscore there’s work to be done conceptualizing non-state actors in this agenda from the post-Al Queda boogymen to Anon, etc.
We bring this up in a casual way today because buy-in assumes the pot is worth the ante to others. And also because recent events underscore how the Continent remains ambivalent as it, too, eyes our wobbly chair. For now, without Germany, Anglo-French designs remain action without traction. The Gallic mind no longer hyperventilates over ‘hyperpower’. Still, like a hangnail, they’re with us. Sometimes a harebrained scheme to intervene in Libya is just a harebrained scheme to paraphrase him. Unwise, nevertheless, to be sanguine.
It’s a familiar quandary to both Old and New Europe. By the early 1920s political and industrial circles on the Continent fretted at their disunity before the then towering American colossus. The Corporal was not alone thinking that only a united Europe would have the industrial and human capital to meet the challenge. One reason the Architect was so successful in increasing industrial output under strain is that finally French, Dutch, Norwegian, Belgian, industrialists saw that rationalization on a continental scale was a possibility. Look under the hood of the embryonic first steps towards Maastricht, the European Coal and Steel Community formed in 1951. You’d be surprised.
We are the Patient Zero when it comes to transmitting the globilization meme devolving at the end into mindless casino capitalism. Now it’s blatantly self-aware crony capitalism. Good for them. Not us. Finances — as before — will dictate a lot of what unfolds. America gave as good as we got in some respects. Starbucks in Paris and Beijing count for something.
Other players eying our teetering chair have the advantage of two hands. Post-1945, many did not abandon their cultural and socio-political traditions. Japan, China and the Four Dragons being just obvious examples. An important distinction. And why, if we were a coherent historical nation state like Great Britain, should we ever fall off our chair it would be particularly hard. Beyond London’s comparative soft landing.
When we officially took over for the Empire in 1947 (or perhaps 1949) we represented a new player in the Game. But it was the same Game. We were all from the same cultural ecumene (China’s seat on the U.N. Security Council then a matter of wishful thinking). The Western mind in some twisted, malign way gave birth to the Soviet Union, although the Georgian flavoring their own. But it was only flavor. Worth reminding Cohen and vanden Heuvel now and again.
True, most Americans didn’t and still don’t think in those terms. But we do know immediately and subconsciously who’s ferrin and those who are really ferrin. Why the Pacific war was so different from both sides from the Western European conflict (and Vietnam much the same). Why the barbarities of the East came so easily to so many. That furtive release against the truly alien ‘other’ is perhaps just another covert reason a former Republican candidate for Congress might find the S.S. Viking division appealing.
Also why the BRICs pose such a challenge to us. Whether clad as old-school 3rd Gen nation states or tribal/cultural subgroupings. All are largely outside our ecumenical comfort zone — which is already the circumscribed reach of a TV remote. However we and our suddenly and very uncomfortably wobbly chair end up, we won’t get to look up and see smiling Ike holding out a hand. An interesting metric for gauging winds will be the age cohorts we develop consciously or in reaction to events in area studies. Combing language, politics, economics and cultural understanding – whether willingly or under some encouragement- will be the yardstick.
We just came to say hello today. Nothing formal or planned about the above. Musings.
When you look out at the world, what do you see? A fast break in the making? The old Redskins workhorse, I-Right 70 Chip running play? Or something else (mercifully non-sports related)? One more reason we look at Libya and see a strategic diversion at best. Realizing a useful return on capital (of all types) likely elusive. We could escape others’ agendas.
If you’re still thinking about a fast break, Kobe has one advantage over all of us. He knows without thinking everyone on his team knows the goal is to make a basket. Beyond the domestic lens the very notion of binding rules and referees anti-thetical to Waltzian anarchy.
Perhaps Bismarck is right. The One Upstairs truly loves fools, drunks and the United States. We sure push our luck.