On thing I really hate about politics is what it does to me sometimes. The bilious nature of the attacks by both candidates, the exaggeration and deliberate ginning up of outrage by partisans, and in this race, the relative weakness of both candidates in the midst of war and economic crisis turns me even more pessimistic than usual.
I fear for the United States not because either candidate would destroy it but because both candidates appear to me incapable of doing the things necessary to save it.
Save it from becoming a second rate power adrift in a world that has been salivating at the chance to take us down. And I’m not only talking of al-Qaeda here. Since the end of the cold war, it has become apparent that most of the big economies in the world have been working to create a counterweight to the United States or even surpass the US in economic influence. The European Union – socialist policies and all – has nevertheless been able to grow enough that it now rivals us in GDP.
In some respects, you have to see the situation from the European’s point of view. They are at the mercy of the US economy in many ways. Globalization has internationalized markets for everything from credit derivatives to tractors. And standing atop the heap has been the United States with the dollar generally recognized as the currency of choice while trading on Wall Street and the commodity markets sets the price for all kinds of financial instruments.
As big as the EU has become, the input they have into this system has not been commensurate with what they feel they are owed. Hence, while there probably isn’t much rejoicing going on about the crisis on Wall Street, I suspect there is a sense of satisfaction that we are getting our comeuppance and being brought down a little closer to their level.
This schadenfreude was also present in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have sought unsuccessfully to make a dent in the dominant narrative after 9/11 that the “world was with us” following those attacks. John Rosenthal writing in the Wall Street Journal on October 17, 2004 demolishes that myth by showing how the famous Le Monde editorial “We are All Americans,” written by the left wing publisher Jean-Marie Colombani of that newspaper was not a paean to solidarity but rather an anti-American screed that blamed US government policies for the attacks.
Since attention was first called to it in the Times, the title of Mr. Colombani’s post-9/11 editorial has been widely cited in the rest of the American media and on the Internet. Its content, however, has been largely ignored. (The only exceptions of which I am aware are an op-ed I published in Newsday on Sept. 27, 2002, and several articles published by Fouad Ajami the following year.) Thus are legends born. For the solidarity ostentatiously displayed in the title of Mr. Colombani’s editorial is in fact massively belied by the details of the text itself.
By the fifth paragraph, Mr. Colombani is offering his general reflections on the geo-political conditions he supposes provoked the attacks:
The reality is surely that of a world without a counterbalance, physically destabilized and thus dangerous in the absence of a multipolar equilibrium. And America, in the solitude of its power, of its hyperpower, . . . has ceased to draw the peoples of the globe to it; or, more exactly, in certain parts of the globe, it seems no longer to attract anything but hatred. . . . And perhaps even we ourselves in Europe, from the Gulf War to the use of F16s against Palestinians by the Israeli Army, have underestimated the hatred which, from the outskirts of Jakarta to those of Durban, by way of the rejoicing crowds of Nablus and of Cairo, is focused on the United States.
The last sentence is grammatically no more coherent in the French original than in English. But it amounted to the first, albeit awkward, suggestion in the French press that America had perhaps merely got what it had coming. In the following paragraph, Mr. Colombani went on to add that perhaps too “the reality” was that America had been “trapped by its own cynicism,” noting that Osama bin Laden himself had, after all, been “trained by the CIA”—a never substantiated charge that has, of course, in the meanwhile become chapter and verse for the blame-America-firsters. “Couldn’t it be, then,” Mr. Colombani concluded, “that America gave birth to this devil?”
Then there was the famous incident in Great Britain when the BBC show Question Time was aired in the days following 9/11 and the American Ambassador was brought to tears by an audience who booed him when he tried to defend the US against their attacks. There too, the Ward Churchill/Jeremiah Wright suggestions that our “chickens came home to roost” on 9/11 was the dominant feeling – and not just in the audience. William Shawcross found similar feelings among ordinary Brits wherever he went that week.
Obviously, Mr. Bush, taking office just 9 months earlier, had not been given a lot of time to become hated so something else must have been at work. Gee…do you think that maybe a very large segment of the world was not “with us” following 9/11 after all and, in fact, celebrated this hit against our pride and prestige?
Not if you listen to Democrats. The point being, that this financial crisis is one more indication that there are those who do not wish us well – even among our friends – and that there will now be a concerted efforts by our rivals to kick us while we’re down. In my opinion, neither John McCain or Barack Obama is capable of dealing with this situation. Obama could very well end up grovelling and apologizing to most of the planet while McCain ends up bombing the crap out of Iran and isolating us further.
On the domestic front, does anyone seriously believe either candidate can “reach across the aisle” and heal the gaping wounds that we inflict upon each other? The Democrats will be angry and frustrated if Obama loses to the point that they will be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during the Clinton years – perhaps even more so given their unhinged base that will demand everything from War Crimes Trials to a whole slew of investigations into Bush era crimes, real and imagined. A President McCain would have his hand cut off if he tried anything approaching bi-partisan consensus building.
And President Obama? What reason would he have to “reach across the aisle” when he would have such solid majorities in both houses of Congress? The man has never – repeat never – reached across the aisle for anything in his short, unproductive senate career. Why should he change when he will hold all the legislative cards?
Meanwhile, defense spending will almost certainly have to be cut by either man thanks to eye-popping budget deficits down the road that could approach half a trillion dollars a year. We will probably have to say goodbye to missile defense, the new generation fighter (or at least a dramatic slowdown in production), and say hello to a Rumsfeldian force reduction and the decommissioning of any number of carrier battle groups. In short, our ability to project our power will be diminished and our military will be generally weaker all around.
Put this all together and you have the US under siege abroad and disunited and weak at home. An economy in the toilet for the foreseeable future no matter who wins with tighter credit, less investment, and fewer jobs being created. And a continuation of partisan gridlock in government.
Can anyone honestly say either man is up to the job ahead? What I have just outlined is not just my native pessimism coming to the fore but rather some cold, hard, projections from leading economists. Can they be wrong? I suppose so. The future is never set in stone and I guess there’s a chance that increasing or lowering taxes, increasing or cutting spending, apologizing to the world for our “sins” and meekly accepting a lead role for the UN might avoid a downturn in our fortunes here and abroad.
But I’m doubting it. The forces of history that are driving the Chinese miracle, the Islamic fundamentalist revolution, the ascension of Europe to a position of near equality with us, the leftward lurch in Latin America and other massive changes in our world wait for no country. You either deal with the changing world or you watch as the panorama slides by, waking up a decade later wondering “What happened?” Right now, these forces of history are working against the United States. Can we adapt and make the right decisions that will keep us strong, safe, and pre-eminent in so many things?
If you are honest with yourself, you will agree that neither John McCain or Barack Obama have the ideas, the courage, or the foresight to bring us through to the other side of this epoch safely and still the dominant military and economic power on the planet.