When Number Two Acts like Number One
December 13, 2011 · By Saul Landau
Washington can't seem to grasp a decline, that the rest of the world sees, in its once undisputed world power. It cannot keep its home in good repair, but it still acts as if it can make other nations bend to its will.
In late November, NATO forces whacked 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border. As of November 30, the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had not yet accepted blame; but they were “investigating” and “regretting.”
However, the next day, Iranian demonstrators invaded and destroyed property at the British Embassy complex in Teheran and briefly grabbed some embassy staff. London and Washington expressed outrage.
Obama, however, expressed no sentiments over police behavior in New York and other cities and campuses where police officials (not low-level ones) beat and pepper sprayed unarmed and non-violent U.S. citizens exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. Nor did he or the British ever apologize for staging their joint 1953 coup in Iran, which ousted Iran’s elected ruler and replaced him with a pro-U.S. Shah. Coincidentally, this resulted in a boon for U.S. and British oil companies.
In those days the U.S. economy grew, and what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Bi-partisanship prevailed in Congress! U.S. steel mills belched smoke, and auto assembly lines poured out cars – pre rust belt days, before globalization.
After decades of change, however, neither U.S. rhetoric nor policy kept pace with material reality.
The U.S. military remains the strongest in the world, but it has not protected the country from serious economic and political dysfunction. Bi-partisanship has evaporated with the ozone layers. Recession – now four plus years old – has meant devastation for tens of millions without jobs, homes, health care or hope. But not for the military budget – well, not yet.
The President continues to expand the nation’s imperial commitments. We hear Obama warn about the lack of money to make needed repairs in the infrastructure while we see him simultaneously stride boldly forward to undertake new and costly international obligations. Weeks before the deadly mistake in Pakistan, Obama committed the country to station more troops in a base in Australia to counter the “Chinese threat.” The anti-missile defense pact to counter presumably Iranian (distant future) threats to Europe brought forth a Russian promise to station its missiles near Poland. The new U.S. Middle East Security arrangement involves the most undemocratic nation – Saudi Arabia.
Congress doesn’t notice this asymmetry between its largesse in military appropriations and its abstemious allocations for desperately needed national infrastructure. Congress agreed with the President that previous levels of government spending could no longer continue for schools, clinics, hospitals and social services. Many Members want to cut Social Security and Medicare. They find no funds to shore up levees and bridges; some cities even declared bankruptcy.
What’s wrong with the thinking of the Washington policy crowd? The Cold War is long dead, the world is reeling from recession, but U.S. “strategic” thinking ignores these elements. “We’re still number one,” remains the axiom of official rhetoric. The statistics, however, reveal the dramatic decline of U.S. predominance in education, health and social welfare and a dramatic increase in poverty, and an unequal distribution of wealth.
Similarly, the rise of the Indian and Chinese economies seems to have bypassed the strategic consciousness of U.S. policy makers and Members of Congress.
George W. Bush started – with Congressional approval – two wars based on the notion of overwhelming U.S. power. The cost in human life and money has yet to be estimated. But Obama couldn’t just walk away – “weakness,” his opponents would scream. And so the conflicts drag on, and naturally in war “shit happens” like “friendly fire” killing 24 Pakis.
Hey, Pakistan was disobedient. It didn’t toe the line against the Taliban. Its intelligence service even cooperated with our enemy in Afghanistan. Shape up or else, ordered Joint Chiefs of Staff boss Admiral Mullen. Did no one notice that China has begun to assist Pakistan?
Do Washington analysts think the U.S. can continue killing Pakistanis, sending in lethal drones and invading its turf with Seals to execute our enemies (Osama bin Laden)? Tens of millions of Pakistanis, including high military officials, began to scream “enough.” A leading Pakistani army general, Ashfaq Nadeem, accused NATO of staging a "deliberate act of aggression."
On November 29, Pakistan withdrew in protest from a scheduled meeting in Germany to discus Afghanistan’s future. It closed the supply routes the U.S. and NATO uses for troops and operations in land-locked Afghanistan.
The meeting’s goal was to forge a joint effort to stabilize Afghanistan as NATO combat forces begin to leave in 2014. Indeed, Pakistan’s government raised questions about future cooperation with the U.S. and NATO on Afghanistan.
U.S. policy rests on false assumptions. Pakistan, Washington decided, has no choice but to obey its aid-giving ally. The Chinese, however, understand the possibilities that will open to them as Washington marches to the beat of imperial ignorance.
China has moved resources and advisers to Pakistan, including nuclear experts. Washington can’t seem to grasp a decline, that the rest of the world sees, in their once undisputed world power. It cannot keep its home in good repair, but it still acts as if it can make other nations bend to its will.The 24 dead Pakistani soldiers might become the symbol for the beginning of the end of U.S. empire.
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