Sunday, October 5, 2008

Those were the days...

"Those who today proclaim that the United States is in decline often imagine a past in which the world danced to an Olympian America's tune. That is an illusion. Nostalgia swells for the wondrous U.S.-dominated era after World War II. But although the United States succeeded in Europe then, it suffered disastrous setbacks elsewhere. The 'loss' of China to Communism, the North Korean invasion of South Korea, the Soviet Union's testing of a hydrogen bomb, the stirrings of postcolonial nationalism in Indochina -- each was a strategic calamity of immense scope, and was understood to be such at the time. Each critically shaped the remainder of the twentieth century, and not for the better. And each proved utterly beyond the United States' power to control or even manage successfully. Not a single event in the last decade can match any one of those events in terms of its enormity as a setback to the United States' position in the world."
-- Robert Kagan, "The September 12 Paradigm: America, the World, and George W. Bush," Foreign Affairs (Sept/Oct '08), p.38.

Well, the rise of "postcolonial nationalism in Indochina" was not "a strategic calamity" until the U.S. turned it into one. And if you don't find the last sentence of the quoted passage at least debatable, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you.

p.s. For a link to the Kagan article, see the first comment.


hank_F_M said...

We thought they would never end.

I would think that because of the improvement in many countries positions relative to the US a smaller setback today is of much more impact than forty years ago. But neither then nor now should we allow a setback to put us in Chicken Little mode.

Agree with his points or not, he has produced another great article.

Thanks for pointing it out.

LFC said...

Thanks for providing the link to the article -- I read it in hard copy and was too pressed for time and/or lazy to find the link myself.
Although not a fan of most of Kagan's views, I will concede that he writes fairly well. And interestingly, one of his concluding thoughts in this piece is that the U.S. should welcome a world of "pooled and diminished sovereignty". I wonder how *that* will go down w his neocon buddies??

Nick said...

'Loss' of China was always a piece of McCarthyite anti-state department hysteria, presuming that the outside influence of the US was somehow pivotal in a domestic struggle involving hundreds of millions of people. The idea that a few million dollars and a handful of advisers can predictably redirect the course of life and death political struggles in foreign countries led to the disaster in Vietnam.

LFC said...

Relatedly (and I'm sure you already know this), the right-wing/McCarthyite reaction in the U.S. to the 'loss' of China was something Kennedy and especially Johnson remembered vividly and were keen to avoid a repeat of with a 'loss' of Vietnam.

I've been reading David Milne's book 'America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War' (Hill and Wang, '08), worth looking at if you're interested in the period.