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america goes to far
September 28, 2006 7:33 AM   Subscribe

"imperial overstretch" Was a 1988 forecast a bit of a reach or closer to home?
posted by hard rain (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
possible parsings:

america goes to war
america goes too far
america go's two for
america's go for two
posted by sidereal at 7:57 AM on September 28, 2006


Talk about softball questions. That interview was total crap. It just hovered around, letting the dude freestyle all over history and politics, never challenging a single one of his "historical facts".
posted by kickback at 7:59 AM on September 28, 2006


You know, not every interview has to be a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. I read The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and was curious about his take on the current situation, so thanks for the post, hard rain. (Two minor points: I personally find it tiresome when people feel obliged to end their post with an artificial question to "start off the discussion," and as sidereal implies, it might be a good idea to proofread before posting.)
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2006


Good reading. Very insightful. Thanks.
posted by StarForce5 at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2006


never challenging a single one of his "historical facts".

kickback, you're more than welcome to challenge them here
posted by pyramid termite at 8:16 AM on September 28, 2006


The interview kickback would've preferred goes something like this:

Q: How can Arab societies move towards reform and why didn't Bill Clinton prevent 9-11?

Kennedy: The Middle needs an incorruptible legal system to form a basis of commercial law....

Q: ...yeah but Bill Clinton is responsible for 9-11, right?

Kennedy: Terrorism predates any single administration. Just after the Napoleanic Wars for example...

Q: Blah blah blah! Just say Bill Clinton!
posted by StarForce5 at 8:22 AM on September 28, 2006


China will be the new "United States" by the end of the half-century.
posted by wfc123 at 8:32 AM on September 28, 2006


Even a war criminal like Kissinger is against our policies: ...Thus we have a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world. I don't agree with that and my friend Henry Kissinger dislikes it also. He dislikes the neo-conservative crusaders who promote spreading democracy from Saudi Arabia to China. Kissinger sees it does not work. What you want is peace, stability and a chance to give individuals and families opportunity to grow. ...
posted by amberglow at 8:41 AM on September 28, 2006


China will be the new "United States" by the end of the half-century.

My money's on India.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:43 AM on September 28, 2006


China will be the new "United States" by the end of the half-century.

My money's on India.


I've heard several academic discussions on this topic, and most of the speakers gave the edge to China, because India is too democratic.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:49 AM on September 28, 2006


Yeah, it's becoming clear that democracy and hegemony are not compatible.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:56 AM on September 28, 2006


Actually, amberglow, Kissinger is very much not at odds with our policies, and in fact is one of those policies' chief exponents, if you're willing to believe Bob Woodward's new book:

Woodward also reports that the president and vice president often meet with Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, as an adviser. Says Woodward, "Now what’s Kissinger’s advice? In Iraq, he declared very simply, ‘Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.'" Woodward adds. "This is so fascinating. Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will."
posted by blucevalo at 8:56 AM on September 28, 2006


My esteem of Woodward went into a freefall since 2001, when he started suffering from the dreaded "Chris Matthews Syndrome".
posted by clevershark at 9:04 AM on September 28, 2006


Perhaps I expected a different interview based on the .eg domain. I didn't realize that they were both Yaleys, intent on saving the world one posh state dinner at a time.

My issues have more to do with his answer to the Palestine question. He just hemmed and hawed on it, "oh it's terrible" and "hybrid state". "Thanks for nothin'", I say to that.
posted by kickback at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2006


China will be the new "United States" by the end of the half-century.

In what sense? Military dominance? Economic might? Pop cultural hegemony?

China and the US are locked in a symbiotic death embrace. As the US collapses, so the Chinese will also find themselves in a world of hurt. The US will have a much harder time with it, as Americans largely don't know widespread and far reaching poverty. The Chinese do, and if they are headed back that way again, they'll be able to deal.

Beyond this, what will the condition of the world be in 50 years? Torn by sectarian strife? Overpopulated? 300 days of acid rain per year? With many of the important cities of the past 150 years largely uninhabitable (sitting under 3 metres of water a la New Orleans)?

The US does appear to be in a state of inevitable decline, but whoever the next superpower is will not find itself in an enviable position.
posted by psmealey at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2006


actually, i don't believe a word Woodward ever says anymore--he's shown that he himself is willing to write and push anything if it protects his access to the powerful.

Is Kissinger really for spreading democracy like the neo-cons? Or is he doing as Woodward says--refighting Vietnam? Or is he simply for taking control of oil? ...

The administration has given up on democracy in Iraq, btw.
posted by amberglow at 9:06 AM on September 28, 2006


if you're willing to believe Bob Woodward's new book

I haven't believed anything Bob Woodward said since he stopped speaking truth to power and started sucking up to it (and that was a lot longer ago than 2001).
posted by languagehat at 9:08 AM on September 28, 2006


Couldn't China just move on to catering and producing for the EU instead of us? or for India? Aren't they doing so already? As we lose the middle class, there are fewer and fewer here (and fewer each year) able to buy the goods the rest of the world produces for us--all China needs to do is cater to and produce for other markets.
posted by amberglow at 9:10 AM on September 28, 2006


My esteem of Woodward went into a freefall since 2001

actually, i don't believe a word Woodward ever says anymore

I haven't believed anything Bob Woodward said since he stopped speaking truth to power and started sucking up to it


Okay, fair enough. So, then: What motivation would Woodward have to paint Kissinger as tied in with the neocons? How is that sucking up to power?

What conceivable benefit would the Bush people get from it becoming public knowledge that Kissinger is one of their top foreign policy advisers and is gung-ho about the occupation of Iraq?
posted by blucevalo at 9:15 AM on September 28, 2006


What motivation would Woodward have to paint Kissinger as tied in with the neocons? How is that sucking up to power?

That's what one of his Sources told him, and he prints whatever his Sources tell him because that's how he keeps in good with them and keeps them telling him things. If you become a Source, you're a deity to Woodward; if you refuse to talk to him, you get trashed. I don't know or care what benefit this particular Source thought they'd get from slipping him this particular bit of gossip; the point is that there's no reason to believe it.
posted by languagehat at 9:21 AM on September 28, 2006


The realists, from Kissinger to Scowcroft, have enjoyed a bit of a return to credibility when it comes to right-wing foreign policy, thanks to the neocons' absolute lack of it. To be seen talking to Kissinger makes the Administration look "serious" and "not quite as insane" to the Broders and Brookses and Friedmans of the world. Also, they get access to his Magic Murder Bag.
posted by aaronetc at 9:34 AM on September 28, 2006


the point is that there's no reason to believe it.

I don't think there's any reason to disbelieve it. It would make sense that Kissinger would love it to be broadly believed that he is the eminence grise of integrity, practicality, and sober judgment about the Iraq occupation, while in private he is actually fueling the policy fires that prolong the occupation.

I doubt that Mr. Woodward is unique in the practice of cosseting valued sources and trashing those who refuse to talk to him. Woodward took it to new heights, to be sure. But it seems like it's a pretty standard MSM modus operandi.
posted by blucevalo at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2006


His misleading, disingenuous statements on the Valerie Plame investigation didn't help his reputation either.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2006


Woodward's statements, that is.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2006


To be seen talking to Kissinger makes the Administration look "serious" and "not quite as insane" to the Broders and Brookses and Friedmans of the world.

I hadn't thought of that. Good point.
posted by blucevalo at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2006


broadly believed that he is the eminence grise of integrity, practicality, and sober judgment about the Iraq occupation, while in private he is actually fueling the policy fires that prolong the occupation.

Wow. Deja vu Vietnam anyone?
posted by psmealey at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2006


Couldn't China just move on to catering and producing for the EU instead of us? or for India? Aren't they doing so already? As we lose the middle class, there are fewer and fewer here (and fewer each year) able to buy the goods the rest of the world produces for us--all China needs to do is cater to and produce for other markets

My take: in 50 years China will move from being the world's largest net exporter to the largest importer. The breakneck industrialization we've seen (and will continue to see until such time--immanent, IMHO--as the American market exhausts its capacity to pay the bills extreme consumption engenders (or until such time as the rest of the world tires of absorbing our debt)) is a function of the economic bootstrapping necessary to mature its (incredibly huge) own internal markets and "prime the pump" for a subsequent expansion in consumer-based consumption. Given a decade or two, the Chinese peasant who today sews clothes for The Gap, will (if the evolution--slow and marred by numerous recidivist actions as it is--of private property law and governmental support for market transparency continues unabated) make enough (or have saved enough) to want to shop at The Gap. When that happens on a large enough scale, the co-dependent economic relationship China has with America will come to an end. And then, my friends, the chickens will come home to roost.

And BTW: I predict that in the next 20 years, you will see a great deal of Chinese investment in Africa. I wouldn't be surprised if The Horn didn't look a little like Guangdong Province in 30 years time. A huge pool of cheap labor (located, conveniently enough, near much of the world's most productive oil fields and important mining locales) is just waiting there to be exploited. All it will take to tap that resource is the deployment of capital startup costs and a willingness to bring a semblance of civil order--by whatever brutal methods are deemed necessary--to the region. The Chinese have banked up a fair amount of experience in both departments.
posted by Chrischris at 9:47 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Many thanks for posting an enlightening interview. Paul Kennedy is a true scholar, unlike that media-whore Niall Ferguson, current pet imperial historian of the neo-cons. What PK says about immigration and population pressure in poorer countries is profoundly important in today's world. Countries with low or negative population growth rates will likely have to accept folks from poorer countries. The present European fear-mongering towards Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, and bemoaning the lack of integration, I believe is a red herring. It's not like those countries have an open door policy for African immigrants from predominantly Christian countries in Africa. The stumbling block is the same: racial and cultural prejudice, which Europe has known before.
posted by Azaadistani at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2006


Chrischris: You're right, I think. China combines the worst of capitalism and communism: economic exploitation combined with an ability to mobilize and repress the populace. Along with its massive territorial and population resources, China has historically had incredible expertise in co-opting and absorbing invaders. Once it was the Mongols and the Manchus, now it's the capitalists.

But Africans have fantastic enterpreneurial skills. If they're handed an infrastructure and an industrial base, as well as political stability, you can bet that they'll replace China far quicker than China will replace the US.
posted by nasreddin at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2006


Paul Kennedy is a true scholar, unlike that media-whore Niall Ferguson, current pet imperial historian of the neo-cons.

Azaadistani: I don't know much about Ferguson and his stances, though I've glanced at a couple of his WSJ op-ed pieces. There was a book of his that I was thinking of reading, but I'm interested to hear more about your take on him. Please elaborate.
posted by blucevalo at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2006


I went to hear Kennedy speak in, I guess, '89 or '90, and I was very impressed by many of his arguments and very unimpressed by his eloquence -- very wooden, uncharismatic public speaker, for a superstar academic. but he's one of the good ones, even I'd never trade Kennedy for Spengler


and that was a lot longer ago than 2001

yeah, The Agenda, all about how the evil incompetent libruls were keeping Clueless Bill from launching a much-needed all-out Republican platform wasn't Woodward's best moment -- he's never been much of an analysis man anyway. but still, for all his obvious sucking up, he still gets a lot of access.

and frankly, the scene in The Agenda where he quotes Clinton yelling to his aides, "we're all Eisenhower Republicans now" is, well, Clinton's (very successful) presidency in a nutshell. it's like a haiku that contains eight years of policy
posted by matteo at 10:19 AM on September 28, 2006


re: Ferguson
look, the Rothschild books are very good, same for Paper and Iron. and his WWI-related work (esp The Pity of War) is awesome. and "media whore" is not very generous. he's become too prolific, yes, and I wish he'd write less op-eds, but he's brilliant and very readable (Empire, I'm not much of a fan of). I haven't read War of the World or whatever its name
posted by matteo at 10:24 AM on September 28, 2006


If they're handed an infrastructure and an industrial base, as well as political stability...
Well, who's gonna do that?
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:34 AM on September 28, 2006


DenOfSizer: The Chinese, probably--or the Indians. When China finally breaks down and starts valuing the yuan at the real rate, Chinese labor will largely cease to be as cheap as we need it to be. The next wave of labor investment will probably be Africa, especially politically stable and prosperous countries like Kenya and Nigeria at first, but moving outward eventually. Labor will probably not move to India because of the social pressure against manufacturing jobs; instead, the Indians will probably inherit most of the Silicon Valley-style technological light industry, since being a programmer is, socially speaking, roughly equivalent to being a doctor, and requires considerably less investment of time and money.
posted by nasreddin at 10:52 AM on September 28, 2006


Thanks, matteo.
posted by blucevalo at 10:57 AM on September 28, 2006


His misleading, disingenuous statements

Isn't it a tad more efficient to just say "his bald faced lies"? I know disingenuous is all the rage these days, but it lacks a certain...clarity.
posted by slatternus at 11:00 AM on September 28, 2006


The US does appear to be in a state of inevitable decline, but whoever the next superpower is will not find itself in an enviable position.
posted by psmealey at 9:05 AM PST


Yes, most of the easy oil will have been used up. (that easy oil helped win WWII)
With an EROEI of 100:1 (at one time) storability and ease of transport... its hard to beat oil. Old, oily habbits are hard to break.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2006


I don't think there's any reason to disbelieve it.

Oh, I don't either—I just don't think the fact that Woodward says it gives it any greater weight.

for all his obvious sucking up, he still gets a lot of access.

I think you mean "because of his obvious sucking up, he still gets a lot of access." No suck-up, no access. Of course, you could always do actual reporting from available documents without hanging out with Important People, the I. F. Stone way, but I realize that's out of fashion.

Clinton yelling to his aides, "we're all Eisenhower Republicans now" is, well, Clinton's (very successful) presidency in a nutshell.

How true, how very true!
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2006


I have to somewhat agree with kickback and matteo - I didn’t much care for the q&a here. Just fairly standard fare - f’rinstance:

“My argument is that economic power goes hand in hand with military power. If your economy is becoming less competitive, in the long-term your military position will become less easy to sustain.”

And only a mere two thousand and fifty-odd years after Cicero said the same thing.
( “Endless money forms the sinews of war”)
And he goes on to explain (like Cicero) how a republic operating with restricted and outmoded institutions can no longer cope with vast territories containing multifarious populations. So...?

The Amartya Sen bit was interesting but I’d like to know the ‘how’ of it. The “selfless nobility of successful individuals through Senatorial consensus” if it runs anything like this.

Not saying they’re bad ideas. I’m merely saying they’ve been there a long time. And indeed if Bush is a Yale man he should be rolling in them (since apparently Cicero’s ideas are big over there at Yale).
posted by Smedleyman at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2006


Clinton yelling to his aides, "we're all Eisenhower Republicans now" is, well, Clinton's (very successful) presidency in a nutshell.

Sad but true. While the Clinton Administration certainly did kick the can down the road in some instances (bending over on welfare reform, reclassifying SSA receipts to make the books appear better than they actually were, throwing in the towel on national healthcare, etc.), it seemed to provide a pretty fair template on how good and competent government could work, even in the face of a hostile, bitterly partisan opposition.

With Powell, Snow and Cheney - who I then suspected to be a moderate socially, if fiscally conservative - in the cabinet, I had some hope that this ethos would continue past 2000. But, if it didn't die immediately, it was obliterated by 9/12/2001.

Now we have nothing but acrimony, partisan rancor, managerial incompetence and the absolute power of the military industrial complex about which Eisenhower left us with so grave a warning.
posted by psmealey at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2006


and frankly, the scene in The Agenda where he quotes Clinton yelling to his aides, "we're all Eisenhower Republicans now" is, well, Clinton's (very successful) presidency in a nutshell. it's like a haiku that contains eight years of policy.

Never saw this quote before, but it's almost a zen koan. Perfection!
posted by blucevalo at 2:16 PM on September 28, 2006


Is that the same Kissinger who Bush originally picked to head the 9/11 Commission? I'm pretty sure it is.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:32 PM on September 28, 2006


You’re the Eisenhower Republican now, dog!
...couldn’t resist.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:23 PM on September 28, 2006


Paul Kennedy's book, and in particular its final chapter, was widely poked at for failing to predict the fall of the Soviet bloc. It proved nothing other than the truism that historians shouldn't do predictions. So the theory of overstretch was considered unfashionable during the years in which Fukuyama got all the party invites; it's come back into fashion.

What I will say about Niall Ferguson, in contrast, is that he's found a lucrative niche that is well outside of his specialisation. As a historian on empire, he's a very good 19th-century German economic historian.

"media whore" is not very generous.

But I think it's accurate. (And I know how much he's made from his earlier books.) He made a very deliberate decision to fill a particular populist niche, while scratching the itch of his belief that Britain's entry into war in 1914 was neither inevitable nor a Good Thing. A couple of years ago on C-SPAN, he said that his move to Harvard (after a very brief tenure at NYU) would allow him to return to primary history. Since then, he's not done so, and his work would be considered amusing charlatanism among specialists in the period if he wasn't on the television every damn week.
posted by holgate at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2006


You’re the Eisenhower Republican now, dog!
...couldn’t resist.


And how pathetic is it that he's painted as a big liberal along with every single Dem, and everyone to the left of Cheney is also.
posted by amberglow at 8:21 PM on September 28, 2006


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