James G. Neuger – “Bushes’ `New World Order’ Is Yielding to `Post-American’ Era”

Bushes’ `New World Order’ Is Yielding to `Post-American’ Era

James G. Neuger | September 15, 2008

Barack Obama wants to take American foreign policy back to the 1990s. For John McCain, the model is the 1950s.

Democratic presidential candidate Obama wants the U.S. to use economic leadership to navigate an increasingly borderless world, as it did in the last decade, while Republican McCain sees military might as the path to continued prosperity, as happened under the cloud of the Cold War’s nuclear standoff.

Whichever man wins, he will inherit what Johns Hopkins University political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “post- American world,” replacing the U.S.-dominated “new world order” that President George H.W. Bush proclaimed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

No longer the “hyperpower” of the 1990s, the U.S. is slipping toward a first-among-equals status, narrowing the foreign-policy options of whoever moves into the White House in January.

For 20 years, U.S. leaders “have assumed American dominance; they’ve assumed that they’re working in a unipolar world,” says Fukuyama, who gained fame in 1992 by declaring that the collapse of Soviet communism heralded the eventual triumph of liberal democracy in the “end of history.” Now, he says, “there’s been this big redistribution of power.”

Georgia and the Torch

Future historians may date the end of U.S. supremacy to Aug. 8, when President George W. Bush sat in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium as two seminal events unfolded.

The first was the lighting of the Olympic torch, a testament to China’s ascendancy. The second — engineered a continent away by Vladimir Putin even as he sat near Bush that night — was Russia’s invasion of Georgia to repel an attack on a pro-Moscow breakaway region, an act of revenge against the decade of humiliation Russians endured following the Soviet breakup.

Both events caught the U.S. in a state of heightened vulnerability, stuck in an economic malaise as it struggles to subdue insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush told NBC Sports of having “very firm” words for Putin, the Russian prime minister, in what Australian leader Kevin Rudd told journalists was an “animated” exchange. Still, Bush maintained a schedule geared to the games rather than a world crisis, the next day visiting the gold-medal-bound U.S. women’s beach volleyball team as the Russian tanks rumbled through Georgia, a U.S. ally.

Depleted

Whoever succeeds Bush will be working with a depleted toolkit. While Obama and McCain have both vowed to step up the war in Afghanistan after inheriting Bush’s “aspirational” goal of pulling out of Iraq by 2011, the two-front war has stretched land forces to the limit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is struggling to ward off recession, stricken by a housing slump that has crippled consumer spending and led 76 percent of respondents in last month’s Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll to say the country is on the “wrong track.”

The run-up of U.S. debt testifies to the shift of the global economic center of gravity. The $127 billion budget surplus Bush took over will melt into what is projected to be a record deficit of $482 billion in the year starting Oct. 1.

During the same span, China’s holdings of U.S. government securities mushroomed to $504 billion from $62 billion. China is now the second-biggest U.S. government creditor behind Japan, with $584 billion. After leapfrogging Britain to become the world’s No. 4 economy in 2005, China is generating the fastest growth of the world’s 20 biggest economies: 10.1 percent in the second quarter.

A Power to Reckon With

China is now “a major power to reckon with,” says Kenneth Lieberthal, a Clinton-era National Security Council official who teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “We can’t tell the Chinese how to govern themselves and what to do.”

China is instead allying itself with up-and-coming economies in the southern hemisphere. When the Group of Eight industrialized nations established climate-change targets at their July summit, the developing world’s Group of Five demurred.

At rival summits in Japan, the G-5 — China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa — rejected the G-8’s call for a halving of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, portraying it as a ploy to suppress poorer nations’ economic advancement.

Staunchest Protectionists

The same north-south split helped torpedo World Trade Organization talks, reflecting increasing worldwide antipathy to free trade. The staunchest protectionists are in the U.S., where only 15 percent deem growing trade ties “very good,” according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a 24-nation survey published in June.

With the Democratic Party likely to strengthen its control of Congress, anti-trade sentiment may swamp the internationalism that marked the years of U.S. ascendancy. During the presidential primaries, Illinois Senator Obama, 47, tacked to the left to court core Democratic constituencies such as organized labor. Like candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Obama wants to add tougher environmental and labor standards to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“If Obama is elected, I’m confident that in the first instance half of the anti-Americanism in the world would disappear,” says Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “The tragedy here unfortunately is that on the economic and trade front, Obama’s policy is quite frightening. If he carries out some of his protectionist rhetoric, we’re in deep trouble.”

Relative Decline

The U.S. has coped with relative decline before. As the last power left standing when World War II ended in 1945, the U.S. accounted for as much as half of global gross domestic product. It then built institutions — the United Nations, the multilateral trading system, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — to spread prosperity and security.

But this time is different, says Fukuyama: “We fumbled our unilateral moment in many, many ways, most importantly the Iraq war.”

In the eyes of the U.S.’s major competitors, the invasion of Iraq legitimized a might-makes-right policy that sidesteps international law. It added to suspicions that Russia harbored after the U.S. led NATO in bombing Serbia, Moscow’s longstanding Balkans ally, in 1999.

`Empowered by Destiny’

For Russia, “there was no new world order,” says Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. “What we saw was a return to a philosophy of bloc confrontation, with one bloc missing and the other bloc assuming that it is empowered by destiny to do anything it wants.”

Now Russia, abetted by its energy exports, is striking back. Putin, 55, sought no United Nations diplomatic cover when his troops pounced on Georgia. The list of Russian grievances with the West also includes the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders and the planned basing of a U.S. anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, two former Soviet satellites.

“In their eyes, this is payback time,” says Jack Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Reagan administration. “We have set some very bad precedents for Russia.”

From Washington to Brussels, the reaction to the battering of Georgia pointed up the West’s limitations. Bush sent Vice President Dick Cheney to Georgia and offered $1 billion in reconstruction aid. Obama sent his running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, and Arizona Senator McCain, 72, sent his wife, Cindy. The European Union, dependent on Russia for 34 percent of its imported oil and 40 percent of imported gas, didn’t venture beyond verbal condemnations.

Bullying Tactics

Russia’s attack on Georgia followed bullying tactics against Poland, Estonia and Lithuania, and may presage moves to reassert influence over the biggest prize in its “near abroad”: Ukraine.

Obama is counting on multilateralism as the solution, saying in his Aug. 28 Democratic convention acceptance speech that “you can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances.”

Meanwhile, McCain — asserting foreign-policy credentials through his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and backing for a “surge” of troops to secure Iraq — was declaring that “we are all Georgians.”

Neither McCain nor Obama “have the slightest idea of what to do about the Russians,” says George Friedman, chief executive of Stratfor, a geopolitical risk analysis company in Austin, Texas. “I know of no policy difference except rhetoric.”

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