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The world after the American Empire.(24 posts)

The world after the American Empire.czardonic
Dec 2, 2002 6:13 PM
Found this interview with the author of "The End of the American Era" on Salon. []

Makes some very interesting points about America's likely place in the world of the near future, and particularly in its relationship with the E.U., which he argues will increasingly rival the U.S. on the world stage.

The author seems to advocate "liberal internationalism", whereby the U.S. abdicates its primacy in other hemispheres to local super-power coalitions. But towards the end, he suggests that a world without an imposing U.S. presence will be an scary and unstable place.

Any opinions on which is true? Or preferable?
re: The world after the American Empire.tao
Dec 2, 2002 11:18 PM
Great link, first one from here I've made it past the first paragraph in a while. I don't know that the two views you mention are necessarily opposed, because of the time frames involved. That is, he argues liberal internationalism is an advantageous policy for the US once the EU becomes a valid super-power coalition (w/ England) and can handle the responsibility of its local conflicts. Once that happens, it's really not so scary and unstable for the US to divest its position abroad (at least for greater Europe), compared with the US pulling out right now. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

One super power seems better than none, though I kind of miss the days of the mighty USSR and the ironic stability that Mutually Assured Destruction provided.

It's interesting that he argues Bush is a neo-isolationist, which I agree with. I wonder what OBL thinks about that one...
Thinking more about China/Japan/Korea/Taiwanczardonic
Dec 3, 2002 10:41 AM
The China/Japan example stuck with me more than the situation in EU. It seems unlikely that Japan, sharing a hemisphere with the likes of China and Russia, will relish the idea of US withdrawl from the region (even less so Taiwan). Given the long standing rivalries in that region (and perhaps others?), it's not hard to imagine significant instability without the US to keep everyone in their own corner of the sandbox.

I agree about the silver lining to MAD. Checks and balances are beneficial even under those dire circumstances. One would hope that the US of all nations would recognize that.
InternationalismCaptain Morgan
Dec 3, 2002 6:45 AM
One quote from the article that I disagree with:

"The other problem is that terrorism is a very weak reason upon which to build American internationalism."

I believe that our government must be proactive both inwardly AND outwardly in the war on terror in order to provide maximum protection for its citizens. The 9/11 bombings did bring the country together, but there also was a lot of finger pointing internally about why we didn't prevent it. If our government were to be complacent and we did get attacked again, there would be some serious questions about why we were not more active internationally to rout out the problem.
I think that the point was more that the usual types of polarizieyebob
Dec 3, 2002 8:49 AM
ng things that war affect are not there in this case. It's hard to rally around events that happened 2 months ago. For security/tactical reasons this war is largely covert so the great victories and the firefights just are not seen by us until well after they happen.

PS Can someone answer me this. Are we really at war? I know that Bush was given the go ahead to use force against Iraq, and that tacitly we're going to route out the Taliban/al Queada just about anywhere but did we actually declare war? If we have not, isn't this really not a war?

What swillmoneyman
Dec 3, 2002 7:22 AM
First, the author is predicting the future. Futurists consistently get it wrong.

Second, he makes an incredible assumptive leap in predicting the "Union" of the European Union. While trade has become much more liberalized and the advent of the Euro has gone well, the moment that the EU tells the Germans -or the French, the Belgians, the Spanish or, down the road, the Brits - that they must give up their nationalism for the sake of the EU, its over. The long, long history of adversarial relations between the ever-changing nation states of the European continent would seem to preclude any long-term Eurocentric Empire. They will cut each other's throats at the first opportunity to do so.

Let them put into practice the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court. Those will be great unifying factors until their costs are realized. The expense of complying with Kyoto and the threat to National sovereignty by the ICC will be enough to sour residents of the Continent on a European "Nation".

The US truly became one only after the trial by fire of the Civil War. Not that its been all peaches and cream since then, but we, as a Nation, have agreed to live by the words of the Constitution. That is our history, since 1787 when the Constituion was ratified and we did away with the Articles of Confederation. Europe has no history akin to that experience. Each time Union was offered, it was cast asunder by opportunists seeking greater power. Why should this time be any different?

I disagree with the authors premise and his interpretation of the facts. I think he makes a great case for selling his book, especially to the alarmists and apologists among us. Its always easy to read what you want to agree with.

You're predicting the future...Stampertje
Dec 3, 2002 7:45 AM you must be wrong, too.

When in history has unification been offered to Europe? The EU is an experiment that started after WWII. Before then, any attempts at unification have been trough agression rather than compromise. I agree that Europe has a long way to go, but to me far-going integration seems inevitable in the long run. The alternative, especially in a world dominated by the US (or China, or whoever), is to fall back to the level of a developing ("3rd world") continent.

The costs of Kyoto and the ICC have been greatly exaggerated in the American press. Much greater threats are immigration, loss of sovereignity and external pressure. I do believe that even these problems will (have to) be overcome. The differences between the nations are not so great that they can not be overcome, especially in the face of a dominant isolationist superpower across the Atlantic. Ironically, Bush may yet turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to the EU.

It's easy to disagree if you won't consider the possability that a different view may actually be right.
You're predicting the future...moneyman
Dec 3, 2002 8:05 AM
I am. I trust in my interpretation of the facts more than the author's. Will I be wrong? Probably. It is most likely that the future will play out entirely different than either I or the author predict.

You agree with me when you say that "immigration, loss of sovereignity and external pressure" are greater threats than Kyoto and the ICC, yet those threats are precisely the cost of adhering to those policies.

I really hate to put myself in an idealogical box, but if forced to do so I would certainly consider myself to be conservative in my political views. Because I do not wish to be closed-minded with regard to opposing views, I read as many "liberal" columnists and opinions as I do "conservative" pieces. I consider many possibilities, and make my own determinations based on my understanding of history and the "facts".

Won't you consider the possability (sic) that a different view (mine) may actually be right?

I don't know. Predicting the future is a tough call...Matno
Dec 3, 2002 4:30 PM
I have a feeling the EU may last longer than will be healthy for many of the individual countries. It already amazes me that those countries who have done well have joined the EU in spite of the fact that they will be bled dry by less affluent EU nations. Their funeral. I guess they figure they need the influx of cheap labor since their own population growth is negative. (Funny how the historically anti-population growth UN is now saying that depopulation is the greatest problem facing the developed world in the next 50 years...) I did read a fascinating series of articles last year about how WWII "reparations" were used to undermine Switzerland's gold standard, thus making the strongest hold-out to the EU less financially independent. I had high hopes for Switzerland (probably the second greatest political system on earth, IMHO), but now I'm worried for them.

Your points are well taken. I don't think anything has ever had as much potential to destroy the due process rights we enjoy in America as the ICC. Hopefully my fears will not come to fruition, but the possibility is more and more real. I went to one ICC meeting where the discussion was on the definition of "extermination" as an international crime. The definition they came up with in that meeting was "any action that is harmful to the quality of life of a group of people." If that's not opening Pandora's box, I don't know what is. As an example, it would make religious leaders subject to trial for "extermination" for teaching their beliefs, even in America. All that would have to be shown is that what they said had a detrimental effect on some group somewhere (how they define a "group" is equally illogical) in a country that had ratified the ICC, and that religious leader would never be able to leave the US again without running the risk of being arrested. Preposterous speculation, I know, but the delegates who approved the language were serious about it. Obviously, the US is not going to ratify the ICC any time soon, as it would toss all Constitutional protections out the window, but politicians have been known to do crazy things...

One other thing really makes me curious about the EU. Why would anybody want to ally themselves with the French without a major war (like WWII) to make it necessary? Many other countries do not love the French any more than we do.
Has it occured to you. . .czardonic
Dec 3, 2002 4:53 PM
. . .that religious leaders and their beliefs may well be guilty of "action that is harmful to the quality of life of a group of people"? For example, by promoting retrograde medical practices that have no basis in physiology. Why should they get off the hook just because they really, really believe? I guess that is one more reason for them to thank their God that he delivered them to secular, liberal America.

Many countries despise the US, too. More than the French, I'd bet. Maybe they are jealous of France's freedom and prosperity too, eh?
Dec 3, 2002 7:22 PM
But I think the language is far too vague, and certainly not applicable to the concept of "extermination." I think (correct me if I'm wrong), that you are referring to practices of members within the religion whose leaders promote "retrograde medical practices." (The only example I can think of off the top of my head would be the ever-popular Jehova's Witnesses and their aversion to blood transfusions, but I'm sure there are lots of examples).

I was referring to things that have no direct causation but often are linked by those who feel they are "victims." Specifically, if a religious leader in America were to say "God condemns homosexuality" (which He did in the Bible numerous times), someone who practices homosexuality in France could accuse that leader of the crime of "extermination" because suicide rates are higher among homosexuals. For a spiritual leader to quote scripture is fully within his rights, but many would trample on such rights for the sake of comfort. (On the other hand, it would not be right for him to organize direct persecution of those people). Like I said, this is all potential problems with the ICC, and the language I am talking about will likely not even make it through any sort of ratification process (the meeting that I attended in which it was approved was a closed meeting with limited delegates - only about 25 countries were represented).
In that case, I would agree.czardonic
Dec 4, 2002 10:56 AM
That kind of vaguery has no place in law. Nonetheless, is your objection to the ICC based on this, which you say will probably not make the cut, or are you opposed to an ICC regardless of how succinct the laws are?
Dec 4, 2002 11:58 AM
That language COULD make it into international law. Stranger things have been included in ratified UN documents. I just don't think that it's likely that the entire world would stand for it. (I sure hope not).

I have a lot of reserves about the ICC. I'll just list a couple of the biggest. (Besides the fact that I don't think the ICC is really necessary). My main complaint about the ICC is how it is run, or more clearly, by whom it will be run. Current documentation calls for an appointed 3-judge panel. Problem is, the people who appoint those judges are not elected. For that matter, I think it's very odd that United Nations delegates are almost never elected officials. Usually, nobody even knows who they are. In some countries, they are relatives of the dictator in power. Our own US delegates are usually friends of the president chosen from within the State Dept. Under the Clintons, they were mostly personal friends of Hillary. (That's technically heresay - not to be confused with heresy, but one of them told me that personally. I don't know how accurate it is). With the Bush administration, there has been a big turnover. Under the original charter of the UN, that might be okay, since the UN was supposedly an international forum to discuss peace. Now that it is trying to become a governing body with enforcing power, I think the president himself ought to be directly involved in the negotiating. It would provide a heck of a lot more accountability than our current "system" under which the judges of the ICC would have very little (if any) accountability to anyone but themselves. Also, the appointment of judges doesn't have a specific time limit, which I think would concentrate a phenomenal amount of power into a very small group.

Secondly, the ICC does not have a set of laws to limit its jurisdiction or function. Our Supreme Court theoretically has the sole function of determining the Constitutionality of laws made by others. The ICC has no such body of law or specified purpose. International law technically does not yet exist outside of treaties between specific nations. Thus, the ICC would be self-regulating, with the potential to become a dictatorship of sorts. At present, there are no built in "checks and balances" to prevent the ICC from assuming legislative and administrative, as well as judicial functions. (One example of the kind of unlimited function the ICC would have is already real. People accused of "war crimes" in Yugoslavia were arrested several years ago by UN peacekeeping (sic) forces. Some of them are still incarcerated today. They have yet to be officially charged with any specific crime, yet they are still in prison awaiting a "hearing." Personally, I prefer our system of "innocent until proven guilty").

These are not necessarily issues that can't be worked out (and would have to be before the US could legally ratify the ICC), but I have my doubts whether it could be done without tossing our Constitution. I suppose it's possible that some other system could better protect human rights, but so far I don't think any existing systems do.

What do you think of the ICC (in general)?
Not much.czardonic
Dec 4, 2002 12:48 PM
Other than what you have said, based on which I am pretty ambivalent. I think that there should be some body of International Law to which citizens of all nations are accountable. It should be very limited in its mission, so as to account for cultural and political diversity. What jurisdition it does have should not be arbitrary.

I also think that as long as the US is king of the hill, we will never contribute to creating such a body. This is a great shame because we have a system of law that is near universally admired. Even those that hate our country clamour for "Constitutional Rights" when they get caught. However, the resistance of our politicians to things like the ICC, which they could be shaping in the image of our own system, undermines our legitimacy. It is basically an admission that we don't beleive in the concept of law. By extension, one could assume that we think we are above the judgement of others, or that we have something to hide. Both of these are true to at least some extent.

It could well be that the ICC is not the answer. But I think that there can be an answer, and that answer must be shaped in large part by the US. The US's stonewalling of any system that is not stacked in our favor is unconscionable.
Try thismoneyman
Dec 4, 2002 7:09 AM
Hypothetical: THe UN has determined that abortion is a basic component of women's health care. The Pope speaks out against the decision, not because abortions pose a physical threat to the mother, but purely on moral grounds. The leader of tens of millions of Catholics, the Vicar of Christ, has now committed an "action that is harmful to the quality of life of a group of people" (women) and "promot(ed) retrograde medical practices that have no basis in physiology" (purely moral). The Pope lives in the Vatican, not the US. What time of the day should the ICC police arrest him?

3:36pm GMT (nm)Stampertje
Dec 4, 2002 8:00 AM
Dec 4, 2002 2:38 AM
Hey, cut a foreigner some slack - it's not my native language :)

Yes, you may be right. I certainly hope you're not. I think a strong union will provide a stronger, more stable future for the European nations than independence. Which is not to say that I don't despise many of the purely self-congratulatory efforts of Brussels bureaucrats to even out cultural or financial differences between the member nations.

I can see how the ICC could limit sovereignity, and even how this would be more appaling to the US than to the EU, which is walking that road anyway (I do support the ICC, by the way). But how does it affect immigration? And how does Kyoto figure in the threats we agree on?

To Matno: the European nations have enough immigration from developing countries, war zones and former colonies that they don't need the EU for cheap labour - as far as I understand, the primary motivation is to form a strong trade block. Increased integration on political / juridical levels is necessary to deal with an "open borders" situation. It wouldn't do if a murderer from Texas could not be apprehended in Oklahoma, either. And as for the French, they're not a bad bunch - they're just like Americans with good food (apologies to any Frenchmen or Americans who might take offence). Don't judge the population by a couple of loudmouth politicians.
Tell me somethingmoneyman
Dec 4, 2002 7:17 AM
Would you please clarify the immigration threat that you see? I am a bit unclear on that. I would appreciate it.

Kyoto threatens sovereignty in that a group of nations (the signers of the pact) can force a sovereign nation to limit its economy by regulating the amount of greenhouse gases it can produce. For example, the US, caught in an energy shortage, wants to build more coal-fired plants. The Kyoto pact says no. Hydro, wind, solar and other forms of alternate energy are all good, but not at all viable as forms of massive energy production for the US in place of coal. That restriction has just limited the growth of the US economy in a very direct way, usurping the right of self-determination of the citizens of the US.

So what is your native language? Slack has been cut. ;)

Not immigration per seStampertje
Dec 4, 2002 7:57 AM
My native language is Dutch, thanks.

I understand your pov on the Kyoto protocol. However, I do believe that international standards are necessary, and the US are proof of that (as are the Netherlands or any other country as far as I know): without external pressure, governments are not going to make the investments necessary to reduce pollution. And without government incentives nobody is. Also, when I talk about loss of sovereignity, global treaties are not what I had in mind - unification of European law (in the Dutch case, especially the liberal point of view with respect to issues like soft drugs, prostitution, abortion etc.), standards of manufacture (Brussels' ban on raw-milk cheese comes to mind), financial systems (which generation fills the pension funds?) etc. have either a much larger or a much more visible impact.

Re: immigration, I don't believe immigration per se is a threat to stable integration, but rather the protectionism/isolationism it seems to provoke (witness the rise of populist anti-immigration parties throughout Europe). I don't want to stop immigration, whether it's refugees, family members or fortune-seekers, but it's clear to me that suppressing the debate in the name of political correctness has alienated a lot of people from the leftist/socialist necessity to accept immigrants. The general perception is that "everybody can get in", which is neither true nor desirable, but the "hermetically seal the borders" response is even worse.
The US <i>IS</i> proof!moneyman
Dec 4, 2002 8:57 AM
US is singular, even though it is States!

The state of the US environment is MUCH better than it was twenty years ago, without the intervention of an international treaty or international pressure. It has happened due to market forces. Follow me - Polluting corporations --> Environmentalist pressure to change --> Politicians listening and acting to get re-elected -->laws changing --> corporations upgrading facilities to respond to changing laws and market demands. External pressure (activists/citizens) is applied internally. No need for the rest of the world to tell us what to do.

Immigration? The US was built on it. We are a nation of immigrants. But for the sake of national security, some limits have to be put on. The EU is different. A history of nationalism with a hint of xenophobia does not bode well for immigrants. Add the anger felt by by EU residents towards people of other colors and languages, and that could well be the unraveling of the whole thing. THAT is a problem I can't solve. Sorry.

British grammar? Or an exception? (Or I might just be wrong)Stampertje
Dec 4, 2002 9:56 AM
Language issues aside - racism is a problem I can't solve, either, although I try to do my part. Btw., we're talking about a minority of EU residents here, albeit a very vocal minority.

As for your other point, I follow you quite well and don't see how it contradicts the need for international pressure. I'm not sure the state of the US environment is better than it was 20 years ago, although it might not be deteriorating as fast (then again, I was a little too young to be aware of such issues 20 years ago). I do believe that the US is/are the world's largest polluter(s), both in absolute terms and per capita, and that the impact of US pollution is not limited to North America. If you pollute other people's back yards you should expect them to apply pressure. I don't believe the EU or even nations like China or India should get off any easier, but I'm afraid that if all of us keep ignoring the international impact of our actions we're all going to pot.
US environment bettermoneyman
Dec 4, 2002 11:51 AM
From Christie Todd Whitman, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency:

But while our mission is complex, our goal is simple: to make our air cleaner, our water purer, and our land better protected. Many people are surprised to learn that the condition of America's environment has actually improved significantly over the past 30 years -- and is still getting better

I am sorry, but I do not have time to read all the data on the EPA website to give you the compelling statistics, but I am pretty certain they are there.

I wasn't too young twenty years ago. It has gotten much better (best I can do without the data, and it is admittedly anecdotal and not worth a lot.) The number of high pollution days in large cities has decreased dramatically. Our water is cleaner, and wildlife is thriving. Twenty years ago, enviros were seen as fringe-types, extremists in the worst. Today, they are mainstream members of society with an awful lot of credibility and political clout. I can't remember the exact time, but it wasn't too long ago that the Hudson River caught on fire (yes, the river) and swimming in Lake Erie or Lake Michigan was practically suicidal. Today, all three bodies of water support large fish populations and many, many recreational opportunities. There are great problems with large cities (Milwaukee, Chicago) still spewing sewage into these places on occasion, but they are fewer and farther between.

I have very serious doubts about the US being the worst polluter, either in an absolute or a realtive manner. The former Soviet states, for example, have enormous problems with the quality of their air and water.

My argument is against someone exerting control of a sovereign nation from the outside. Isn't that what has everyone so upset at the US? Why is it OK to do that to the US, but not for the US to impose its will on other countries?

Thanks for keeping it on topic and above-board. No name calling here. Well done.

Fair enough...Stampertje
Dec 5, 2002 1:22 AM
I do recall the Chicago harbours being a lot dirtier 10 years ago. Some things have improved.

Perhaps the former Soviet states don't pollute as much since a large fraction of the population doesn't have the money to produce anything but cow patties? You're probably right that an American car or an American plant produces less waste than the Russian counterpart, but there are a lot more of them. In terms of CO2 tonnage, volume of water used per capita per day and I'm sure other statistics you're still number 1.

Yes, imposing your will on sovereign nations is why everybody's so mad at the US. However, a large factor is (perceived or real) inequality - why should Saddam be ousted while Sharon can go on breaking UN resolutions like they don't exist? And what about North Korea,then? Why establish trade relations with China but hold on to an ineffective embargo against Cuba? The US has as much right to initiate, adapt or challenge international treaties as anyone else, but the perception is that they will only stick to their part of the bargain when it suits them (I'm still having difficulties with this US singular/plural thing). The word "unilateral" comes to mind.
flawed premisemohair_chair
Dec 3, 2002 7:34 AM
There is no American Empire to fall. Most American expansion has come through purchasing land (Louisiana, Alaska, etc.), not taking it. America has never fought a war of conquest. (Some might disagree about the Spanish-American war, but remember that America was attacked. Someone sank the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor.)

So comparing America to Rome or Great Britain or Spain or whoever is a waste of time. The issues that caused the fall of the great empires were largely the result of dealing with conquered peoples and far flung provinces.

The biggest problem for America has been solved already. The abandonment of isolationism in WWII eventually led to the worst excesses of the Post War era, in which America propped up dictators all over the world. This was done partly to offset the threat of communism, but also to allow the US to ignore large parts of the world so it could concentrate on more important things, like facing down the USSR. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no need to prop these guys up anymore, and all of them have since fallen from power. The United States isn't interested in doing this anymore.

The United States is certainly THE major force in the world today. It got that way not because it imposed itself on the world (as the great empires did), but because everyone else fell down and left it standing alone.