Sunday, July 01, 2007

The End of the American Empire?

Undeniably, the U.S. is internationally in a weaker position today than it was in 2000. It would also be hard to deny that this is mostly the result of the mismanagement of the Bush administration.

The problems are multiple: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Abu Ghraib; Guantánamo; the Arabs' rejection of the American project of democratization; the instability in the Middle-East; the U.S.’s neglect of the Palestinian crisis; the emergence of China as a competitive economic power; the resurrection of bellicose Russia; the Chávez-led resistance to American capitalism in Latin America; the fear of massive immigration in the U.S.... and a few more!

As a result, isolationism, nativism and Arab or China-bashing are on the rise among Americans.

Despite all that, The Economist believes that this is not the sign of deep weakness but simply “the short-term failure of the Bush administration”. In other words, they believe the U.S. is still the indispensable power and is likely to remain so for some time:

In all sorts of areas—be it the fight against global warming or the quest for an Arab-Israeli peace—America is quite simply indispensable.

The surveys that show America's soft power to be less respected than it used to be also show the continuing universal appeal of its values—especially freedom and openness. Even the immigrants and foreign goods that so worry some Americans are tributes to that appeal (by contrast, the last empire to build a wall on its border, the Soviet one, was trying to keep its subjects in). Nor is it an accident that anti-Americanism has fed off those instances, such as Guantánamo Bay, where America has seemed most un-American. This is the multiplier effect that Mr Bush missed: win the battle for hearts and minds and you do not need as much hard power to get your way.

With a typical business-metaphor, they conclude:

If America were a stock, it would be a “buy”: an undervalued market leader, in need of new management. But that points to its last great strength. More than any rival, America corrects itself. Under pressure from voters, Mr Bush has already rediscovered some of the charms of multilateralism; he is talking about climate change; a Middle East peace initiative is possible. Next year's presidential election offers a chance for renewal. Such corrections are not automatic: something (a misadventure in Iran?) may yet compound the misery of Iraq in the same way Watergate followed Vietnam. But America recovered from the 1970s. It will bounce back stronger again.

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