Thursday, May 22, 2008

America's Decline: A Matter of Perspective-Part 1

As I read about the decline of America, very fashionable at the moment, I am reminded of the wave of anti-war movies a while back. When they tanked (pardon the pun) the media rushed to interpret their failure as the war's lack of popularity rather than the public's distaste for criticizing the war in medias res, so to speak.

So when I came across an excerpt from Fareed Zakaria's new book, The Post American-World, my hackles were immediately raised. Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly if you were to judge from Zakaria's body of work, he avoids the usual liberal shibboleths. His thesis is more or less that it is not so much that the US is declining, but rather the rest of the world catching up. Bully for them! The piece was thought-provoking and I look forward to reading the book.

Too often in these reflections, however, the doom and gloom crowd is really disguising yet another "blame it on Bush" exercise, as in this piece, also from Newsweek. In my finest Brooklynese, I say "Get a clue, buddy." Yes, I'm sure Mr. Hirsh is very learned and very versed in foreign relations, and he is correct in saying that much of the damage is self-inflicted. I learned all about it in high school. People tend to take you as you present yourself. If we extrapolate, one has to ask how much of our "fall from grace" has been the result of the contemptuous self-criticism emerging from our side of the pond.

How can we expect anyone else to respect us when we have lost all respect for the office of president and the interests of our nation? I am not referring to differences with policy. I am referring to personal vituperation that goes far beyond the pale, being paraded across TV screens, magazines, blogs, etc... and to the unwise and immediate disclosure of sensitive and damaging information. Not only is it unseemly, but it has conceivably had much greater impact. I was struck by a Sunni Muslim in Fallujah who speaking of the much vaunted "awakening" said something to the effect that they had "discovered" Americans weren't that bad after all. Seems they believed the press. They thought we were going to take their oil, could not conceive that we would just want out. Can we say Abu Ghraib? Blood for oil? I'm sure it's not about being liked. I'm sure they hate us. It's about being respected.

There have been mistakes aplenty made, and there is much room for criticism, but it is the form that criticism takes, as well as the time frame, that has international repercussions. Yeah, they've always grudgingly admired us, but that's because we were sure of ourselves and our place in the world. Now we are a nation in middle-aged angst unsure of ourselves and desperately trying to be liked. Is it any wonder we are losing cache?

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