The four poles

ils pointed me to a really interesting article by Parag Khanna in the New York Times on the disappearance of American hegemony:

In brief: the American century is over.  This was always easy enough to predict– our predominance in the 1950s was largely due to the fact that the established powers had all ground each other into dust. 

The subtler point is that the habit of mind of the American Century– bipolar thinking, dividing the world into us vs. them— is just as outdated.  It’s not going to be the Islamic century, nor the Chinese, nor the European.  Nor is American power going to disappear.  Rather, we’re going to have a multipolar world for a long time.

Bush’s unilateralism and military overreach is only part of the problem; a Democratic administration may win back some friends, but it’s not going to restore American hegemony.  For that matter, the most badass nuke-happy Republican can’t do it either.  We might be able to destroy a few Third World countries; we have no leverage against the other major power centers, China and Europe.

Some telling facts:

  • Europe is increasingly the world center for finance, R&D, and development aid; the euro is starting to take over as the world’s currency
  • Twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the US
  • Europe is poised to economically dominate Russia, while access to gas from North Africa and oil from Azerbaijan reduces Russia’s diplomatic leverage
  • The ‘rogue states’ from the US point of view all have strong Chinese support
  • Trade within the India-Japan-Australia triangle now exceeds trans-Pacific trade
  • Brazil is reviving projects to build a superhighway to the Pacific to facilitate trade with China

Khanna focusses on a redefined Second World– rising powers with real economic power, all cannily playing all three superpowers against each other: India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, etc.   Though not unified, these powers are adept at not falling under any one superpower’s influence.

Many Americans worry that the rest of the world hates us.  Some people do, and a less arrogant foreign policy would help with that.  But this is increasingly the wrong way to look at the world.  The real issue is that we are less relevant.  In all too many areas we need to stop pretending to be the leader, and rush to catch up.   In others, there’s nothing we can do except get used to competing with some increasingly competent rivals.

For what it’s worth, I think Khanna pays a little too much heed to theories of geopolitics and clashing civilizations… e.g. the significance of Europe and China being on opposite side of the Eurasian land mass is approximately zero.  The importance of ‘civilizations’ on the three superpowers is not much higher; Europe and the US are the same civilization in any real sense, and China’s rise has little to do with either ideology or its own culture.

Ask Zompist: Republicans vs. Iraq?

Why is Ron Paul the only Republican presidental candidate to oppose the war in Iraq? The 

other candidates aren’t exactly toeing the party line on other issues. So why can’t any 

Republican say the US should pull out of Iraq – without also saying it should pull out of 


—Gareth Wilson


That’s pretty easy: because they’re going after Republican voters.  Republicans still approve of George Bush by large majorities, and about 70% support keeping troops in Iraq.  They’re just not going to get the nomination by either opposing the war, or directly criticizing Bush.


Now, it’s true that the electorate as a whole is sick of the war.  Most likely, then, the nominee will track back to the center after the convention.  It’s hard to imagine that cheerleading the Iraq war will be a winning strategy this fall.  If Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, I’d guess Iraq won’t be a huge issue (since she is not itching to leave quickly).  If Obama does, it will be, since that allows the Republicans to reframe the debate— they’ll sidestep the disastrous conduct of the war and spend the fall talking about Obama “cutting and running”.  

Ron Paul, hate-filled scum

This is about all you need to know about Ron Paul:

In brief: he’s a nasty-minded bigot who calls blacks animals, supports Southern secession, admired Klansman David Duke, hates gays and Jews, wallows in conspiracy theories, praised the militia movement.

No doubt Paul didn’t write everything that appeared in the Ron Paul Freedom Report and his other newsletters, which is his current excuse.  Think about that at face value for a moment: this guy wants to be president, but has a history of his subordinates doing things he repudiates?  This is a defense of the guy?

But Paul’s move is just a standard right-wing dodge: say what you really mean to your supporters, and lie like hell when the mainstream asks about it.  (Arguably the intent isn’t even to snow opponents– though that’s a nice by-product if it works– but to mollify the center right.  If it’s done right, the core supporters will take the incendiary bigotry as real, at the same time the more centrist folks will dismiss it as meaningless eccentricity.) 

Wide-open elections

D’oh… 1968 felt wide-open, but a reader points out that, of course, the Democratic nominee was Johnson’s VP.

So, let’s see when was the last election with no sitting president or veep as the nominee: 2004 Bush, 2000 Gore, 1996 Clinton, 1992 Bush, 1988 Bush, 1984 Reagan, 1980 Carter, 1976 Ford, 1972 Nixon, 1968 Humphrey, 1964 Johnson, 1960 Nixon, 1956 Eisenhower… there we go, 1952, Eisenhower vs. Stevenson. 

Though maybe that gets an asterisk, since both Truman and his VP, Barkley (then 75), were in the race for awhile.  So: 1948 Truman, 1944 Roosevelt, 1940 Roosevelt, 1936 Roosevelt, 1932 Hoover, 1928… OK, 1924, Hoover vs. Smith.

The next earlier case was the previous election, 1920: Wilson was incapacitated and his VP, Thomas Marshall, wasn’t interested, nor interesting to others.  Apparently Marshall liked to tell a joke about a woman with two sons: one ran away to sea, the other was elected vice president… neither was heard from ever again.

H or O?

A few people— yes, really— have been asking me about the elections.  And for sure, 2008— which we’ve been enjoying for about a year now— has been an unusually entertaining election season, since both parties are wide open.  Counting sitting veeps as closed, if I’m counting right, we haven’t had that since 1968.

The Republican side is the most fun to watch since I don’t have a dog in that race, and they’re playing it for laughs anyway— cleverly, they’re all running as George Bush.  

In a couple of weeks, though, I’ll have to choose between Hillary and Obama.  At least this year it feels like we’re voting early enough for it to mean something.  I’ve been leaning toward Obama, partly because he’s a sturdy son of the Illinois soil (well, he is now), partly because I think we could use someone who actually inspires people, partly because he seems to have a good grasp of the limits of office.  Democrats have this terrible tendency to nominate smart, wonky, extremely capable people with all the warmth of a junior high science teacher.  The reedy kind with a bow tie.  Confidential to DNC: It doesn’t work. 

I was put off by some of Paul Krugman’s recent editorials, which lambaste Obama’s health care plan and his naïveté about bipartisanship.  Hillary is certainly sensible.  Also smart, wonky, and extremely capable.  

A New Yorker profile this week suggests that she’s also very personable in private (didn’t we hear that about Al Gore too?), more concerned for people than Bill ever was, and tough enough to fight the Republican attack machine.  But she’s also their favorite target, and they’ve had 16 years to perfect their attacks on her.  Nominating her would rejuvenate the Republicans.   I don’t think she’d be a disaster as president, but she would certainly be a hard sell as a nominee.

Punish punish punish

If Israelis wonder why they are not universally loved, they don’t need to look further than this:

In brief, to punish the Palestinians for supporting Hamas, Israel has cut off food, fuel, and jobs.  And when people broke down the border crossing to Egypt, Israel demands that Egypt “solve the problem”.

What person can rationally believe that this sort of treatment will have the desired effect?  Do Israelis feel goodwill to people who abuse them?  When Hamas lobs missles at them, do they think “Say, this punishment is righteous and I think I’ll start doing what Hamas wants!”

Naturally Hamas is wrong for launching missiles.  But Israel seems to have lost interest in doing anything that might decrease the motivation for launching missiles.  It has abdicated the responsibility for taking care of the people under its control.  All it wants to do is punish and punish and punish.  The Bush administration calls this Israel “defending itself”.  This is the opposite of defense.  It’s ensuring permanent war.

Trying this out

OK, I think I might post more if I upgrade from 1995 to 2000 technology.  It’s not that hard to update my HTML rants page, but I can only do it on my Mac, and then I have to FTP it up and update the change log and the RSS feed.  It discourages spontaneity, man.

Comments are off because they weren’t any on my old page, and for good reason.  Every blog that gets anywhere near politics seems to devolve into a nerdwar, with neural activity inversely proportional to the number of posts.  You can contact me through 

  • Ooh, look, rich text!  We’re grooving on that 2000 tech right now!