How will America handle the fall of its Middle East empire?
(The Telegraph) -- by Peter Oborne --
Empires can collapse in the course of a generation. At the end of the 16th century, the Spanish looked dominant. Twenty-five years later, they were on their knees, over-extended, bankrupt, and incapable of coping with the emergent maritime powers of Britain and Holland. The British empire reached its fullest extent in 1930. Twenty years later, it was all over.
Today, it is reasonable to ask whether the United States, seemingly invincible a decade ago, will follow the same trajectory. America has suffered two convulsive blows in the last three years. The first was the financial crisis of 2008, whose consequences are yet to be properly felt. Although the immediate cause was the debacle in the mortgage market, the underlying problem was chronic imbalance in the economy.
For a number of years, America has been incapable of funding its domestic programmes and overseas commitments without resorting to massive help from China, its global rival. China has a pressing motive to assist: it needs to sustain US demand in order to provide a market for its exports and thus avert an economic crisis of its own. This situation is the contemporary equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the doctrine which prevented nuclear war breaking out between America and Russia.
Unlike MAD, this pact is unsustainable. But Barack Obama has not sought to address the problem. Instead, he responded to the crisis with the same failed policies that caused the trouble in the first place: easy credit and yet more debt. It is certain that America will, in due course, be forced into a massive adjustment both to its living standards at home and its commitments abroad.
This matters because, following the second convulsive blow, America’s global interests are under threat on a scale never before seen. Since 1956, when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pulled the plug on Britain and France over Suez, the Arab world has been a US domain. At first, there were promises that it would tolerate independence and self-determination. But this did not last long; America chose to govern through brutal and corrupt dictators, supplied with arms, military training and advice from Washington.
The momentous importance of the last few weeks is that this profitable, though morally bankrupt, arrangement appears to be coming to an end. One of the choicest ironies of the bloody and macabre death throes of the regime in Libya is that Colonel Gaddafi would have been wiser to have stayed out of the US sphere of influence. When he joined forces with George Bush and Tony Blair five years ago, the ageing dictator was leaping on to a bandwagon that was about to grind to a halt.
In Washington, President Obama has not been stressing this aspect of affairs. Instead, after hesitation, he has presented the recent uprisings as democratic and even pro-American, indeed a triumph for the latest methods of Western communication such as Twitter and Facebook. Many sympathetic commentators have therefore claimed that the Arab revolutions bear comparison with the 1989 uprising of the peoples of Eastern Europe against Soviet tyranny.
I would guess that the analogy is apt. Just as 1989 saw the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe, so it now looks as if 2011 will mark the removal of many of America’s client regimes in the Arab world...MORE...LINK