We Just Came To Bomb Hello*

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We Americans, blissfully withdrawn in our own continent, focusing on accumulating capital, largely unaware of the tired Lion’s increasingly feeble efforts to maintain its seat.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).

Quick, Think Fast

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.


  1. says

    There’s always the chance of a Sino-Indian conflict over Himalayan border issues, but I think both sides will be satisfied with what they have. Anyway, the Chinese sit on the mountaintops from where it’s hard to shift them.

    I think the BRICS have a post – rather than anti- American agenda and would welcome a recovery in American capabilities to a certain extent. Certainly, I think that Chinese perception has gone from “great, let’s make hay” to “okay guys, joke’s over, who do we talk to to get some sense”. In all aspects apart from itself, the PRC’s a status quo power.
    jamie recently posted..the thmil are mara

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    @Comment One senses a certain jauntiness post Barbour and recent polling? We keed.

    Agree with you that the BRICs (everything is now an acronym, PIGS and all) on their own unlikely can sustain positive coordinated action towards a stable international order beyond Venn overlaps. Their own timing horizons alone would be problematic. Which is a window of opportunity for creative American policy.

    Reference to the BRICS in the thread here related only to identifying potential economies capable of assuming the American linkage role re lender/consumer of last resort to maintain normative system stability. Even there it’s a responsibility most will understand is a burden with real costs.

    The whole notion of declinism (a British import when Oxbridge dons fled for more lucrative perches in New Haven and Cambridge ala Kennedy) misses the point. It assumes that a quasi imperial role ala the sun never sets is (a) the template; (b) desirable to maintain; and (c) an actual direct analogy. After all, contrary to imaginings 2001-2008, the American empire was always one mostly of indirect and intermediary action and suasion unlike any European model.

    A re-calibrated American geo-strategic footprint and economic re-development are in our interest regardless of whether it’s (incorrectly) labelled ‘declinism’, etc. (Or in the American vernacular, conspicuous consumption on the Hill of Kool Aid in non-bio-degradable cups.) The nto so small trick/goal is to accomplish that while supporting an endurable international order that is more likely to favor liberal democratic (small caps) values overall and our national interests in particular without American systemic guarantees.

    As you say so succinctly, ‘we just need some strategy and good policy.’ Amen !

  3. Comment says

    we think Indian and China and Russia will all be involved in heavy war with each other in the coming century and so BRIC unity is not there. there’s no reason we cannot turn things around over time – we just need some strategy and good policy. I’m confident in the medium long term.

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    jamie :

    One point about the BRICS: all of them abstained on the Libya resolution. They don’t think of war as a casual, feelgood aspect of policy, excepting possibly the Russians with their periphery. This is mildly encouraging.

    As the Quote Machine reminds us, Napoleon advised “Never interrupt your [ his ‘enemy’ – today’s ‘rival’] when he’s making a mistake.”

  5. DrLeoStrauss says

    @jamie Hi, Leo please :-)

    Indeed, McCarthy did so, possibly testing the waters. In less than a year he went on to make his “I have a list speech.” Perhaps not unrelated, the American Midwest (including Ohio and Wisconsin) traditionally has the highest proportion of self-identified German immigrant ancestry.

  6. says

    On the SS Viking thing. Didn’t McCarthy get his first leg up into national prominence shilling for Peiper over the Malmedy massacre?

  7. says

    Doctor: interesting point about surplus capital. Our own declinists often seem hard put to know what they regret more – the end of Empire or of Sterling World. Contra that, the general left tradition in Britain always saw the end of empire as an opportunity for a bit of social democracy at home. Maybe that’s the link between teahadists and neocons. Promote rage against a socially just domestic settlement to block that avenue of “decline”. Anyway, if you can make that leap a good many problems solve themselves, or at least impediments to solving them tend to disappear. People think of themselves differently, in a non-imperial mindset.

    One point about the BRICS: all of them abstained on the Libya resolution. They don’t think of war as a casual, feelgood aspect of policy, excepting possibly the Russians with their periphery. This is mildly encouraging.

  8. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Hi Jamie, thanks. Glad you re-posted.

    Nicely put. Especially your conclusion with its perspective:

    America has to be managed down in some way that doesn’t cause it to collapse on the rest of us. After all, that’s what a lot of us thought that Obama was actually for. If he isn’t up to the job, then it falls to others.

    It’s a huge job too: you’re basically talking about ending the American role as the world’s consumer of last resort and leading financier. You’re talking about getting off the dollar standard and crippling America’s ability to project power, while simultaneously planning and compensating for the consequences of all these things, quite a number of which will not be pleasant. It’s difficult to know where to even start, but a start has to be made.

    Encouraging that all involved have vested interests in a graduated trajectory, however framed or internally recognized. Managing Up needn’t be another person’s Managing Down if coincident interests are aligned. After all, it’s essentially what we’ve been telling the Chinese for 15 years.

    The foundation of American power was always surplus capital. The Dawes Plan made that clear to the British fronting for us with the French over the Ruhr. That’s where our Empire really began. In 1923. Born in financial engineering, perhaps fitting if 2008 marked its expiration.

    Recognizing that Waltz formulated several explanatory layers for international relations (and we are not using him as the acme, merely as a referential point), the first step in our view thererfore must be financial re-alignment. America is not insolvent, nor broke.

    As you note, however, our capacity (let alone will) to be the economic Tragedy of the Commons is done. Japan is the world’s most indebted nation and downgraded twice by Standard & Poor’s, most recently in January 2011. The EU we know about. That realistically leaves the BRICs. All here also know how hard it is to get Japanese inspired export assault economies to focus on domestic consumption.

    This period of Managing Up/Managing How One Needs will be unique in that it occurs while global resource constraints are still only dimly perceived. Many here will remember that prominent Neocons in the early 2000s privately agitated for outright seizure and possession of Saudi oil provinces. And that’s just a harbinger of conversations to come in many a kanzlei. Not even the prelude to the prelude.

    Such competition will complicate even a coordinated move away from the dollar. Rumors are floating even now that Beijing is trying to think how it can asset swap out 2/3rds of its dollar position. In an arbitrage environment the right rumor is a 5 megaton MARV. Americans for all our crudity about deficit reduction etc. at least position ourselves away from the German solution of deliberate hyperinflation. Many Americans don’t realize how much kabuki there is now for creditors.

    Here, American saturation with over half a century of ambient mobilization has left an enormous detritus of legacy/installed base thinking. Moreover, our now exposed plutocrats don’t even understand their own wares.

    It’ll be tricky. Maladroit policies from any number of entities could wreak havoc.

    An American Dolchstoßlegende hinted at in your post is not 100% entirely implausible. We believe fears will prove unwarranted. Most of those shadows anyway are cast by people on stilts.

    But to answer your question we’d go back to where it started formally. 1923 (and again in ’29). Although the American tale there could be a caution to some. A pity we paid no attention in the 2000s. Then again, history has never been Americans’ strong suit anyway.

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