US Decline to Normalacy, and its need to accept being Ordinary

Good advice.  America has a proud history and has accomplished many great things.  Defeating fascism, ending slavery, creating a long lasting democracy.  But we need to face up to the fact that we’re only human just like every other damn nation.

From Crooked Timbers (edited and emphasis added)

There was another round of the more-or-less endless debate about the decline of the US …

As a public service, I’d like to bring an end to this tiresome debate by observing that the decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population[1]. Precisely because the US is comparable to other advanced countries in many crucial respects, there is no reason to expect any further decline. [2]

In geopolitical terms, the US spends a lot more on its military than anyone else (in fact, more than everyone else put together) and (contrary to the beliefs of most Americans) hardly anything on development aid or other efforts at promoting global public goods. The amount of sustainable influence generated as a result appears pretty trivial. The number of places in the world where the US can directly determine, or even substantially influence, political outcomes is approximately zero…

On the other hand, it has to be conceded that the record of non-military aid and public good promotion is not exactly one of stellar success either. The fact is that the world is a complicated and intractable place, and running your own country is hard enough – the fact that international efforts work as well as they do is more surprising than the fact that so many fail…

The main implication of all this, for me, is that Americans should stop worrying about relative “decline”, “competitiveness” and so on, and start focusing on making the US a better place to live.

When we forget that and we become fixated with Amercian Exceptionalism, we do stupid things, such as:  trying to impose democracy at gun point.  We become drunk on the idea that we can always shape the world to our liking.  We feel we have the right to do so too.

We also become fearful about losing these powers we didn’t have, and shouldn’t want.  We can’t accept our ordinariness.  It’s a human failing I suppose, after all the Catholic church couldn’t accept that the Earth isn’t at the center of the solar system.  Science once believed that Earth was rarely struck by meteorites, that we were different than the Moon with its obvious evidence of impacts.

Accepting that we are ordinary doesn’t mean that we should never attempt the extraordinary sometimes.  But before we enter onto any extraordinary quest, we should think long and hard.  We’ve entered or slid into a lot of stupid quests since the end of the second world war. 

Vietnam was a war that if we had avoided, I don’t think you can argue anyone would have been worse off.   We’d have the same communist Vietnam and thousand would still be alive. 

Korea given the odious North may have been worth fighting, but if we hadn’t I wonder if a unified Korea wouldn’t include the nuclear capacity wielded by an insane family line as we do now. 

The first Gulf war was I think done right.  We worked with our allies.  We had a clear national interest at stake.  We had a clear and limited objective and a well though out plan to achieve it.

The Afghanistan war started well, but I think may have veered too much into nation building that may be beyond our grasp.

Iraq was and is a train wreak.  We had no clear interest.  We had no plan.  We have attempted something beyond our ability, and even if we could do it, its not clear we should.

One response to “US Decline to Normalacy, and its need to accept being Ordinary

  1. Yep, yep and yep.
    But the US will still be the coolest place on earth – with the best bands and the best movies 🙂

    Also – the old sentiments of isolationism/leaving Eurasia alone from the 1910s will probably return, and perhaps be a relief. We could see a roll-back of the military-industrial complex of Eisenhower – and the whole “stabilizing” of Eurasia/preventing another hegemon has been enormously costly in lots of different ways, not just the finances.

    And side-point; the ones who could suffer the most are the multi-nationals, who’ve been toying the world through the only hyper-power on earth.. buying elections and congress.. China and Germany are not that co-operative/open for special interests..

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