Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:43 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:43 | SYDNEY

US can take comfort from its critics


Sam Roggeveen


7 October 2008 14:39

Last week I touched on the emerging question of whether the current financial crisis can be seen as a defining moment in America's decline as a global power. The Age yesterday published an op-ed by the English political philosopher John Gray which answers that question strongly in the affirmative. But I think those who would like to see US global predominance continue can take some comfort from Gray's essay, because the evidence he presents for his argument is so weak.

To demonstrate America's decline, Gray sets a standard for American power that it has never achieved in practice. He starts, for instance, by observing that 'Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez taunt(s) and ridicul(es) the superpower with impunity.' But the question begs: what would Gray have the US do in order to demonstrate its power over such 'taunts'? Perhaps they could repeat the Cuba experience of attempted assassinations or an exile-led invasion. But you'll recall those failed efforts demonstrated US impotence pretty well too. What they did not do, however, was seriously damage America's global standing.

Gray pulls the same trick at the end of his essay:

What is evident is that power is leaking from the US at an accelerating rate. Georgia showed Russia redrawing the geopolitical map, with America an impotent spectator.

Again, one wonders what type of US action would have satisfied Gray. And again one can reach easily for Cold War parallels — Hungary 1956; Czechoslovakia 1968 — to show that there have always been limits to US power.

On the financial crisis itself, Gray makes the oft-repeated point that America has borrowed heavily from overseas, which creates a high level of dependency. Gray concludes from this that 'the control of events is no longer in America's hands'. But when have they ever been? Granted, debt levels are now worryingly high from the US perspective, but the interdependency of the world economy is not a new phenomenon, and not even the world's superpower has ever held total sway over global economic conditions.

As an antidote to such thinking, consider this post from one of my favourite blogs, The American Scene. And note also that this subject is being addressed on a new blog: CFR Forum, from the Council on Foreign Relations.