I have long argued that U.S. decline as a hegemonic power began circa 1970 and that a slow decline became a precipitate one during the presidency of George W. Bush. I first started writing about this in 1980 or so. At that time the reaction to this argument, from all political camps, was to reject it as absurd. In the 1990s, quite to the contrary, it was widely believed, again on all sides of the political spectrum, that the United States had reached the height of unipolar dominance.
However, after the burst bubble of 2008, opinion of politicians, pundits, and the general public began to change. Today, a large percentage of people (albeit not everyone) accepts the reality of at least some relative decline of U.S. power, prestige, and influence. In the United States this is accepted quite reluctantly. Politicians and pundits rival each other in recommending how this decline can still be reversed. I believe it is irreversible.
Read More »
Commentary No. 363, Oct. 15, 2013
In the Bible there is a famous story of Samson, who is a hero. There are many interpretations of the meaning of the tale in which Samson, an Israelite, and someone of God-granted strength, pulls down the temple of the (also very strong) enemy Philistines, dying himself in the process. I take it to mean that an act which seems irrational (Samson dies in the process) is both heroic and quite sensible in that it becomes the way (possibly the only way) in which the strong enemy is defeated and his “people” saved.
Commentary No. 362, October 1, 2013
In the diplomatic negotiations that are now quite unexpectedly blossoming between Iran and the United States, one has to say that the Iranians have shown the greater capacity for verbal formulas that catch popular imagination.
When the new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, suggested that Iran would be willing to engage in diplomacy with what the Iranians used to call the Great Satan, everyone held their breath until we all knew if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would endorse these efforts.
For the past month at least, the world seems to have been discussing nothing but whether, how, and when the United States will engage in a punitive air strike of some sort against the Syrian regime of Bashir al-Assad. Three things stand out about this discussion: (1) It has been full of endless surprises in every aspect of the affair, including and perhaps especially the latest Russian proposal that Syria’s chemical weapons be turned over to some international agency. (2) The degree of worldwide opposition to U.S. military intervention has been extremely high. (3) Almost all the actors have been giving public statements that seem not to reflect their true concerns and intentions.
Let us start with the so-called unexpected Russian proposal, which Syria’s Foreign Minister has endorsed. Was this really the result of an off-hand, unserious remark of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, cleverly seized upon by the Russians the day before President Obama was scheduled to make his plea to the American people to endorse a military strike? It seems not. Apparently, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been quietly discussing such a possibility for over a year.
Commentary No. 360, Sept. 1, 2013
It is almost always bad news when armies are in power. In Egypt, the army has been the deciding force since 1952. The recent destitution by the Egyptian army of President Mohamed Morsi was not a coup d’état. One cannot commit a coup d’état against oneself. What happened was simply that the army changed the way it was governing Egypt. For a short period, the army had allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to make some limited state decisions. When they began to feel that the actions of the Morsi government might lead to a significant increase in Muslim Brotherhood power at the expense of the Egyptian army, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi decided that enough was enough, and acted ruthlessly to increase the day-to-day power of the army.
Armies in power are in general highly nationalist and very authoritarian. They tend to be very conservative forces in terms of the world-economy. Furthermore, the senior officers not only permit the army to have a direct entrepreneurial role, but they also tend to use their military power as a mode of personal enrichment. This has certainly been the case for most of the time since the Egyptian army assumed direct power in 1952 – or shall we say, at least since 1952.
Espionage is an eternal activity of governments. Once upon a time, governments spied primarily on other governments. Today, they spy on everybody, and I do mean everybody. We all have learned recently, thanks to whistle-blowers, Wikileaks, and the British newspaper, The Guardian, just how extensive has become the reach of the United States, which apparently has the most extensive espionage system of any government in the world, in particular, that of the National Security Agency (NSA).
Strange as it may seem to the spyers, many ordinary people who are not themselves spies or engaged in nefarious activity are both surprised to learn that their privacy has been massively invaded and do not appreciate the experience.
What the NSA has been doing is what is called mining metadata. That is, they arrange that the services that transmit emails and telephone calls turn over to the NSA whatever records they have for analysis by the NSA of “patterns” that are presumed to reveal actual or potential “terrorist” activity.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has emerged from intensive discussions with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority having arranged the resumption of so-called peace talks. This is asserted to be a breakthrough. But is it?
On the Israeli side, the Israeli government promised to release some “heavy-weight” Palestinian prisoners (that is, prisoners involved in “deadly attacks”) as a gesture to make possible resumption of talks. But the promise turned out to be very unclear in detail. The release is projected to take place in four stages. The number to be released is unclear. The figure of 104 prisoners is in the press. But is this the total or the first stage? When the first stage will occur has not yet been decided. And the whole proposal was endorsed by the entire cabinet, only after considerable arm-twisting by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We do not know what he promised the very reluctant cabinet about the negotiations in order to get their vote.
The very title of this commentary poses a question. What or who is the left? There is little agreement on this subject. I shall use the term to include any group that claims it is part of the left or at least left-of-center. This is of course a wide group. And, consequently, there is very little agreement among it as to whom to support, morally or politically, in the enormous turmoil that has been shaking Egypt and led to the deposition by the Egyptian armed forces of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt.
As I read the statements and explanations of various groups on the left outside of Egypt, I believe it is a question of priorities: Who or what constitutes the greatest danger in the medium run? I think I discern three basic positions.
There are those for whom “Islamists” of any variety represent the fundamental threat. Of course, there are many different kinds of Islamists. The three principal varieties among Sunni Muslims are the Moslem Brotherhood, the Wahabites/Salafists, and those grouped under the label of Al-Qaeda. All three repudiate the other two, and this explains many of the alliances that emerge in any country with a substantial Muslim population.
Read a book...