Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Decline and Awakening

James Kitfield at the National Journal argues that the global decline of America has begun. "Less than a decade ago, the United States was held out as the rarest of historical anomalies, a lone superpower leading the world. Today, such talk of boundless promise already seems part of a receding past."


Mr. Kitfield has not yet grasped that a decade ago America was leading a parade over the edge of a cliff. It was not alone. Ten years ago the trend towards multilateralism and multiculturalism and the inevitability of a European Union were all givens. The smart money was that history, according to Francis Fukuyama who he quotes extensively, was over. If the world faced a threat it was from Global Warming. And to that end the militaries of the world would continue to shrink because they faced no threats -- not from Russia nor from anywhere -- and they would be replaced by treaties and diplomatic action. These were the assumptions of an era which the United States "led" and for which Kitfield wistfully longs. Yet nearly all of these assumptions were wrong.

What was missing from that halcyon world? Any perception of danger from radical Islam. Any inkling that the West faced a demographic challenge. Any idea that multiculturalism was a threat to Europe's social program. Any suspicion that Russia would once again challenge Europe. Any understanding of networked terrorist warfare. A Google search done on these subjects filtered for the years 1990 to 2000 would return very little. It was not an age of safety so much as an era of blinkered ignorance.

What Mr. Kitfield takes for proof of an American decline is simply a set of past due bills which have only now been presented. Nicolas Sarkozy was recently elected precisely because he promised to pay those bills; to address the very issues which even France has begun to belatedly recognize. The challenge of radical Islam -- much of it fueled from "Londonistan" -- declining European demography and out-of-control immigration were nothing to do with American "mistakes" in Iraq. They were everything to do with the mistakes of an old generation of diplomats who now wax nostalgic for the era when they slept upon the watch and declared all was well. How well it was we all know.

In that respect Kitfield's argument is inverted. The alarm clock rang just in time for America to notice the sinister figures poised dagger in hand in the shadows just above the bed. And now we are shaking ourselves awake, fending off the danger and trying to get our britches on all at the same time. If that be a decline it is a decline from fantasy. There is no use bemoaning it, nor listening to the sweet songs that lulled us to sleep.

34 Comments:

Blogger John Lynch said...

For a nation that's been in decline my whole life, we keep having to make all the hard decisions. Where's the new kid?

I'll believe it when we're not 1/3 of the world economy and half the defense spending. Then everyone can go bug China when they have a problem. See what answer they get.

5/22/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger buck smith said...

Good post as always Wretchard. I believe that US democracy functioned as well as a democracy can be expected to function from the peace dividend through the War in Iraq. Peace Dividend cuts at DOD and CIA were bipartisan, made sense to over 60 or7-% of the electorate at the time, I bet. It is a rare public bureaucracy that can take large, true budget cuts and remain effective. The DOD did it, the CIA never came close.

The idea that democracies must elect good, bright strong leaders to steer them on a wise course is a hopelessly unsophisticated view of how democracy can take decisions and survive. It is the feedback loop of repeated elections over ten and twenty years and the mass wisdom of the electorate that makes good decisions.

5/22/2007 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger vogz said...

The lights must never go out,
The music must always play...

5/22/2007 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

In 1989 I recall the standard media assessment was that the U.S. was in decline. The U.S. and the USSR were depicted as two exhausted punch-drunk fighters, leaning on one another to keep from falling over. The two nations would embrace one another, it was argued, in order to keep from collapsing.

Then there were the supposed European attitudes of that time frame. On one TV piece, interviews of indolent Europeans whiling away the day at sidewalk cafes showed they thought that the U.S. was finished – the massive national debt incurred by Reagan would crush us.

Then, a couple of years later, Desert Storm, and the fall of the Soviet Union – and all in ONE YEAR. All other countries supposedly looked fearfully at the U.S. We were TOO powerful. As one Japanese woman explained “The U.S. is a very powerful country; if they wished to destroy us, then there is nothing we could do to stop them.”

And now we are in decline – again. Except that relative to that year of 1991, NATO has expanded to include most of the Warsaw Pact countries. We have conquered two of the most repressive regimes on Earth and replaced them with governments bearing our likeness. We are putting OUR missile defenses in POLAND, for God’s sake - while the pacifistic Japanese say “We will take one of those, too.” And in Canada, Germany, and now, France they have tossed out the leaders who compared Pres. Bush to Hitler.

5/22/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

So much stuff in the article, so little time. I really liked this gem from the eminate person Brent Scowcroft.

"That the international community no longer trusts our motives is a new phenomenon, and I see it as one of many warning signs of a possible lasting realignment of global power," Scowcroft said. "I don't think we're there yet, but it's certainly possible that we've created such a mess, and alienated so much of the world, that we can never go back to where we were at the end of the Cold War. At that time the United States was considered the indispensable ingredient in any attempt to make the world better. I still think mobilizing the world into cooperative action is our greatest strength and skill. I just don't know whether it's too late to turn back to them."

Who says that the US was indispensable? I heard that from Clinton era Sec. of State M Albright but wasn't that the same time that the French coined the term "hyperpower". And lets review a bit about the end of the Cold War-the First Perian Gulf War, the blow up of the Balkins, the blow up of former Soviet Central Asia, unreformed communists in positions of influence and power throughout the former Soviet Empire, the badly managed transition of the Soviet to Russia, a hot war in the Kashmir, the growth of the AQ Khan Network, the maturation of al-Qeada, and the explosion of the Supernote.

Wasn't Scowcroft that wanted to try and keep the Soviet together because the alternative was "instablity". Wasn't it his advice to not side with the Chinese Democracy movement in 1989 and to not critisize the Chinese for Tienimmien Square because the alternative was "instability"?

RichatUF

5/22/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

I still have my first edition of "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" by Paul Kennedy. In 1987 he predicted the decline of one of the superpowers... guess which one?

Of the other, he said "no great power has ever collapsed without a war..." Then it did, 4 years later. Heckuva prediction.

And guess what country was going to eclipse America? Japan!

Uh, and we're supposed to listen to these people? Based on the record of predcictions, China is doomed.

5/22/2007 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Stand in the Gap 2007 is being organized for this fall (Oct 6) on the mall.
http://www.standinthegap2007.org/pages/

A good way to do is to have your small group of men do a study of Romans timed to reach chapters 3-4 around the Oct 6th time. The next chapters will be an epiphany of major magnitude. Because if you leave off at chapter 3 you are inside the mind of a 1st century roman. climbing out of that mind through the following chapters in the context of the stand in the gap march will just knock your socks off.

5/22/2007 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

I'm trying to remember who said "The Cold War is over Japan won..."

... saw the second coming of the Rising Sun. The conventional wisdom was best captured by Senator Paul Tsongas: "The Cold War is over; Japan won."...

see here. Oops, I suppose Japan's decades long recession required all those experts toiling away in the university and bureaucracy to make up some new menace...Global Warming...neocons...China...we're all doomed

RichatUF

5/22/2007 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

"It was not an age of safety so much as an era of blinkered ignorance."

That's a perfect description of our pre-9-11 era. But, isn't that the mode that our Democrat-led Congress is trying to put back in place?

Pay no attention to the teetering of Musharraf, or of the growing unrest in Londonistan - the only war we need to fight is the war against Global Warming.

5/22/2007 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

I'm being a bandwidth hog-sorry Wretchard-

This is what I don't get about articles like the one here at the National Journal-its like the guy is cheerleading the prospect of "American decline" and only looking at it through the US invasion and reconstruction of Iraq [2003-2007]. Nothing about the decade of sancations and bombing of Iraq before we begged pretty please to go and knock Hussein off. The same ground of "stateless terror groups" as if Iran's support of Hezebollah is some sort of happenstance or that Hamas as a Sunni terrorist group is generously supported by Iran.

And another question has been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while-and maybe some of those eminent persons so worried about "American decline" and wanting to turn back the clock to the great 1990's can answer-what happened to the cadre of Arab and Muslim assets that the KGB trained in the Middle East, North Africa, and seeded all over Europe (and the US)? They had to go somewhere...

RichatUF

5/22/2007 08:51:00 PM  
Blogger David Levine said...

Richard:
Great post!
If I could add to your great post, I would just add that what is happening now is that a seeming majority in the West still believe in that world and want to escape back into it. Read and Pelosi and most of Europe still act that way. Wolfowitz's ouster was a proxy hanging of George Bush in effigy. I think that's what your post "Realism" was about.

5/22/2007 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Our current enemies were the first to proclaim our ascendancy as the lone super power. They are now the first to point fingers and claim that we are not worthy of the honor. How clever a thought, now the peace dividend has quickly coalesced into a revisionist belief that the cold war was invented by the US vast military industrial complex. But in reality, how soon it was until the next bad actors, a B rated movie sort, have managed to exploit our greatest cultural weakness by pandering to the vast commercial media complex for attention.

5/22/2007 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Much of current events including America's so called "decline" are understandable if seen in the context of "peak oil".

I strongly recommend reading the blog "The Oil Drum" at http://www.theoildrum.com/

In the context of "peak oil", our role as surviving super-power is sort of like being captain of the Titanic.

5/22/2007 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

eggplant says...

...Much of current events including America's so called "decline" are understandable if seen in the context of "peak oil"...

See, we're all doomed in the end. "Peak Oil" crowd predicted TEOTWAWKI in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. I suppose one day they might get it right-

RichatUF

5/22/2007 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RichatUF said:

"See, we're all doomed in the end. "Peak Oil" crowd predicted TEOTWAWKI in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. I suppose one day they might get it right"

I definitely believe in "peak oil" but I believe too much in nuclear power to be a true "doomer".

It has been argued by some of the "Peak Oil crowd" that the OPEC induced oil shocks of the late 1970s created energy efficiencies that pushed back "doom" by about 15 years give-or-take five years. I personally believe there will be a major recession due to peak oil before 2020. However I'm optimistic that nuclear energy will keep us from reverting back into the 18th century.

IMHO, the big ifs concerning peak oil are whether we can contain the resultant regional wars to the Middle East (establishing our presence in Iraq was a good idea) and whether we can build nuclear power plants fast enough to replace fossil fuel based energy supplies. Low energy density and low EROEI schemes like wind energy, photovoltaics, corn-ethanol, etc. will not save our bacon.

5/22/2007 11:58:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

America has never really paid much attention to what the world chattering classes think about us. They don't have a clue what our country is really all about. They always see us through the prism of their own phobias and fantasies. One minute they think we are more than what we are and the next minute less.

It would be a mistake to take them too seriously. From time to time they work themselves up into violence and we have to keep our wits about us.

I wish this had a happy ending for America but I've read the Bible and it doesn't look good. Perhaps so many Christians are Raptured from America that it ceases to be. I hope that's the answer.

Thanks Charles for the strategy. I'll try to check it out. It doesn't seem to make sense to me from what you've said so far.

Regards,y'all.

5/23/2007 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

buck smith said..
The idea that democracies must elect good, bright strong leaders to steer them on a wise course is a hopelessly unsophisticated view of how democracy can take decisions and survive. It is the feedback loop of repeated elections over ten and twenty years and the mass wisdom of the electorate that makes good decisions.

So true.

But when the feedback loop is attenuated by leftoids, MSM, multicultis, the process breaks down.

ADE

5/23/2007 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger buck smith said...

ADE,

I am more optimistic than most here that the US will stay in Iraq or some parts of a partitioned Iraq. We will see...

5/23/2007 06:02:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Wretchard is spot on point that all was not well with the America of the Clinton era, which snoozed through its "peace dividend" without any effort to make use of it -- by stopping problems such as Bin Laden before they became too big to easily kill. I also believe, along with most of the commenters, that it's a bit early to start talking of decline.

That said: we have some serious problems we need to address. First, we have a cultural elite here and in Europe that hates US power, and which has much too much influence over the media, and thus over policy. What we do about that, I do not know: but the consistent opposition of this group has undercut our efforts in Iraq, much as in Vietnam.

In general, I think this ties into a broader cultural illness -- maybe we've been too rich, too long, and are too focused on consumption and the here and now, and not on production and on the future. The Lefty attitudes I'm denigrating here -- without turning my comment into a post -- look to me like the products of an attitude that just assumes that this society will be rich and prosperous forever, and that nothing can affect it. I'm thinking of the sort of people who go out and yammer about imperialism while driving their imported gas-guzzler cars, drinking Colombian coffee and Chilean wine, all paid for with the credit card.

Second: we have large numbers of unassimilated immigrants, mostly from Mexico, and the recent activity of Congress notwithstanding; we have no real plan to (1) slow down the flow of illegals, and (2) integrate those that we have.

Third: we have a military force that needs to be expanded and refitted all at once after it gets out of Iraq -- I don't just mean the Army, the Navy is going to need a bunch of new ships.

Fourth: we clearly have a financial problem (will be bigger after dealing with problems 2 and 3).

Fifth and finally, we need some new allies. Japan and Australia are a good start: but we need to unass NATO. Europe's a rival. We need to get on terms with India.

We can address all our problems: there is no reason for an American decline. But we as a people have to want to do it.

5/23/2007 07:14:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

This is ridiculous.

The one rule of life: things change. Those best suited to weather or adapt to changes of season will survive and prosper. I would say a hyper-wealthy, hyper-powerful democratic republic with 225 years of institutionalized memory, thousands of years of accessible memory, and 300 million freely associated and connected creative microprocessors -- i would bet such an entity would continue to prosper long into the future.

5/23/2007 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

eggplant...

Sorry about being so snide in my previous comments. The "peak oil" thesis is a bat some of the eminate persons at UF are using for the "sustainability campaign".

The problem is that OPEC is a major driver of the model and nearly all of the members have state-run industries (they have monopolistic like powers and can keep potential supply at bay). Our biggest problem is that global infrastructure can really only support about 95-100 mbd curently and the political infrastructure is are ready taxed. And the "recoverable" definition used by the SEC will always show that the hubbert curve is about to peak about 10 to 15 years out...(kind of like the hockey stick graph for the global warming crowd)

I have some links and papers, but I'm not on my usual machine. The "peak oil" thesis is another scare tactic for the envirocult, the very same people that told us we were going to run out of copper, silver, magneseium, etc in the "Limits to Growth" and "Blueprint for Change" powwows in the 1970's.

RichatUF

5/23/2007 07:47:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/23/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

5/23/2007 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/23/2007 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Hear, hear, John Lynch.

While not to deny our profound challenges, we've been hearing wishful thinking about America's decline -- masquerading as sober analyses -- for decades.

Recently, we've heard far too much from people like Scowcroft, Brezinski (sp.), Carter and the other mandarins of mediocrity who are largely responsible for the problems we now face.

Scowcroft's mewling about America's image is pathetic -- like a teenager who thinks it's more important to be well-liked than to do the right thing -- all too symptomatic of our spineless, easily-snookered so-called leadership classes.

Apparently, for Scowcroft our esteem rests upon pandering to people who've created the messes we've been cleaning up for nearly 100 years -- people who have no business lecturing anyone on matters of global order maintenance.

Scowcroft's critique is also a red herring -- presented as a self-evident tautology. Global elite political and media classes have been bellowing at America since the 2000 election. They have presented to their various publics a ceaseless narrative of American wickedness, then offered this manufactured global animus as the sober reflection of 'world opinion'.

The objective -- as in a 'struggle session' -- is to hector and ostracize Americans into voting for leaders more easily seduced by purring European diplomats, more easily conned by third world charlatans and more easily intimidated by totalitarian gangsters.

5/23/2007 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RichatUF said:

"I have some links and papers, but I'm not on my usual machine. The "peak oil" thesis is another scare tactic for the envirocult..."

I would be interested seeing those links.

For me, "peak oil" is an obvious phenomena. I grew up in southern California. I remember the family driving down Highway 99 near Bakersfield and seeing oil pumps and derricks everywhere out to the horizon. Today, they are all gone. Likewise the vast oil deposits in West Texas that fueled the US economy for most of the twentieth century are almost entirely gone. What happened to America's petroleum deposits in the late 1960s is now occurring world-wide.

It's true that radical environmentalists and moonbats are using peak oil to advance their own political agenda. The moonbats are always adding background noise. If our society was truly rational, we would have begun the transition from fossil fuels to nuclear power in the early 1970s. Now we'll have get whacked in the face with peak oil, allow it to damage our economy and then go nuclear as a crash program. Again, my worry is that our economy might be so completely trashed that we won't be able to make the nuclear transition fast enough.

5/23/2007 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"For me, "peak oil" is an obvious phenomena."

Me too, but I also was indoctrinated as a child (70's) that we had to get ready for the coming ice age. In high school and college in the 80s and off and on up to the present day, they've been claiming that shortages of oil, copper, clean water, this or that loomed.

None of it EVER materializes. Ever.

There is a LOT of oil out there. When they talk about "peak oil", they're talking about the stuff that we can extract economically using technology available at this moment. If you include all oil, including that present in shale/sand or whatever, Canada and the US have some of the largest reserves in the world. We've just got to figure out how to unlock it at a price that's better than whatever else is available (biodeisel, electric or whatever).

Also note that the real issue with oil is that if we didn't need it for transportation, then domestic production would more than cover our needs. Transportation doesn't work well directly with nuke, solar, wind etc because batteries are still crappy.

Give me a battery that's holds enough juice in a small, light package and I'll give you flying cars, jetpacks, and all the other wonders that never materialized yet.

5/23/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Dan said...

"There is a LOT of oil out there. When they talk about "peak oil", they're talking about the stuff that we can extract economically using technology available at this moment. If you include all oil, including that present in shale/sand or whatever, Canada and the US have some of the largest reserves in the world. We've just got to figure out how to unlock it at a price that's better than whatever else is available (biodeisel, electric or whatever)."

I urge you to read the articles at:

http://www.theoildrum.com/

The guys writing the better articles at The Oil Drum are petroleum engineers and investment bankers (not screeching moonbats).

The key concept concerning shale oil, biodeisel, electric or whatever is "EROEI" (Energy Returned Over Energy Invested). Many of these alternative energy schemes will not work because the total energy invested is equal to a greater than energy returned.

EROEI numbers can be easily "cooked". Radical environmentalists tend to be liars and are not shy about claiming false EROEI values for pet energy schemes, e.g. wind energy. The same holds true for corn based ethanol energy schemes because there's so much money to be made from government subsidies. Fortunately nuclear energy does have acceptable EROEI values although radical environmentalists will lie about that as well.

5/23/2007 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"The key concept concerning shale oil, biodeisel, electric or whatever is "EROEI" (Energy Returned Over Energy Invested)."

Yeah, but you still seem to be stuck on the idea that we'll never advance our technology. Maybe we'll find a way to extract oil from shale with less energy input. Maybe we'll find a way to use dirigibles to loft solar farms into low orbit and safely beam energy back down (we'll eventually HAVE to do something like that--or figure out cold fusion--or we'll be stopped in our tracks when the fissionables run out). Maybe we'll find a better way to store energy that will make the variable nature of wind energy less of a problem. A single leap in any of these directions could bypass the whole oil issue--destroying the oil ticks in the middle east in the process--and my money says that it will, given enough time and high enough fuel prices. Someone else mentioned that the fuel economy advances during the gas shocks in the 70s delayed the "peak oil" point. Funny what a little motivation can do in a free society, innit?

BTW, a person who does make one of these leaps will be rich beyond all imagining. Something to think about if you like to tinker with things in your garage.

5/23/2007 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

I used to think the "Peak Oil" argument was true.

But its not.

Its not about how much of any resource you have, but how efficiently it is used and how many other options you have.

The ultimate resource is people.

In this respect, no other nation can touch the United States due to our freedom on all levels.

I was struck by this when talking to a business owner from the EU about how people have jobs for life and how you can't fire anyone. He has to figure in a 10% absentee rate EVERY DAY in his operations.

EU citizens are amazingly educated and have supple minds, but this amazing human resource is locked up by stupid laws that tie everyone's hands and then dull their motivation.

While some Nations look fine on paper like China or Russia, utlimately the state control and constraints will limit their ability to adjust to changing conditions leading to what occurred in Japan.

The ultimate resource a nation has is its credibility. If we stay the course in Iraq, then we will exit the crisis with enormous credibility. Russia and China will look like fools for not supporting the Iraqis.

Look at our reputation in Poland or the rest of Eastern Europe.

The key is to look at fundamentals and not to panic, either in the short or long term.

5/23/2007 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

"For me, "peak oil" is an obvious phenomena. I grew up in southern California. I remember the family driving down Highway 99 near Bakersfield and seeing oil pumps and derricks everywhere out to the horizon. Today, they are all gone."

The oil's not gone. The fields were shut down, for political reasons. And they're still not working, for political reasons.

I grew up in SoCal, too, surrounded by the wells, fields and refineries around Santa Fe Springs and south.

5/23/2007 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

eggplant...

"I would be interested seeing those links."

I have some time this evening so I'll dig up what I can [traveling so my bookmarks and papers are elsewhere]. Check back here at 10ish (GMT-5).

RichatUF

5/23/2007 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger RichatUF said...

pro, but a balanced article, well researched

http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/energy/Companion/E12.4.pdf.xpdf

http://www.patternliteracy.com/apocalypse,not.html

skeptical

http://www.hubbertpeak.com/Lynch/

viszulations

http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001kE&topic_id=1

http://economics.about.com/cs/macroeconomics/a/run_out_of_oil_2.htm

Department of Energy Study->

http://www-cta.ornl.gov/cta/Publications/Reports/ORNL_TM_2003_259.pdf

lots of graphs, some good commentary

http://www.trendlines.ca/npc.htm

http://www.cera.com/aspx/cda/public1/news/pressReleases/pressReleaseDetails.aspx?CID=8444

I'm still looking for a paper (from a Stanford economist I think) that expanded on the Lynch comments that the design of the equations used will always produce a peak some 35 years after delta-t (the time when all the infrastructure is in place and production has ramped up to capacity)

Also Wretchard had a great article up::
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/103/5/1650

Don't know if this is relevant for the article in the National Journal, but its 10ish and these are the links I found. I'd need my papers to have something better

Maybe I should start my own blog instead of hogging up W's bandwidth.

RichatUF

5/23/2007 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

RichatUF,

Thank you for the links. I'll refer back to them after I've had the opportunity to fully comprehend them and when the topic of peak oil comes up again in this forum.

I'm providing the following link with some reluctance because it is not of the same quality as the links that you provided. Also I have issues with the following link because it advocates the "doomer" point of view which I do not subscribe to. However the link does do a reasonable job of replying to some of the standard "cornucopian" responses to Peak Oil.

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

Thanks again.

5/24/2007 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Patterson said...

Even Cato the elder was right that Rome was going to hell in a handbasket. It just took a slight delay of over 500 years to be proven right.

5/25/2007 11:31:00 PM  

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