• strength and democracy

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 • strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-06 04:33 PM
owenss wrote (in iraq: the good oil thread):

Take democracy, the USA tends to promote democracy when it feels strong and to promote dictatorship when it feels weak. After WW1 the USA was strong therefor it promoted democracy. In the early years of WW2 it felt weak and therefor promoted anti democrats like Vichy. Remember they installed Dalan when they liberated north africa. When they had won WW2 they felt strong and promoted democracy in Germany and Japan. Then with the rise of the cold war  they felt weak and promoted all sorts of dictators.

 

After the cold war ended the USA felt strong and their support of dictators waned.

 

So where does this leave us with Iraq? I think that when they initiated war with Iraq they felt very strong in the knowledge that Iraq was a basket case.

 

Reality has been very unkind ti George W and he now feels very weak. I fully expect him or his successor to embrace a non democratic solution.

 

I dont see Iraq as the inevitable result of imperialism or the result of Americas democratising mission but as the result of an overestimation of possibilities, which has many precidents in history. I think that the invasion of Iraq must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

It's just amazing how you leave out Vietnam, Israel and 9/11 is your highly selective historical account of the correlation b/w US strength and democracy. Since you are posting at this site and not your own site I would have thought you would have at least had the courtesy to acknowledge our position - and respond to it - in your so-called historical review. Doesn't that represent a minimal standard of discussion principles?

US was permanently weakened by the Vietnam war. US has been weakened by their support for Israel. The chickens came home to roost on 9/11, the homeland was dramatically attacked. How politically weak the US has become, despised by most of the world's people.  This led to a re evaluation of US policy and the neo-con position of supporting democracy in the ME became ascendant following 9/11.

Your position doesn't make any logical sense either. There is no necessary logical connection b/w being weak and supporting dictatorship where the option exists of modifying the dictatorship in a more democratic fashion. The general historical trend is towards more democracy for economic and political reasons. Fascism / Dictatorship does not work well, there are only a handful of such regimes left and they are becoming increasingly isolated. eg. Burma / Myanmar. Bourgeois democracy is just a more sophisticated form of ruling, one which actually suits those who have become lacking in political credibility and / or where military force or fascism doesn't work very well. I'm sure you are already aware of this but you choose to forget it when you analyse. If a bully can't beat up on everyone (weakness) then it makes much more sense to modify the behaviour and to seek other forms of control.

The only logic that follows from your analysis is that George Bush and the current US rulers are incredibly stupid. ie. that their understanding of history is as shallow as yours. That is the popular view of the pseudo left but really represents a very good reason to look for something deeper.

_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-06 06:16 PM

Bill, why in a response to a question from bpors should I acknowledge "our position"?

 

Vietnam didnt get a specific mention in my response to bpors because its covered in the cold war period where the US was feeling weak and supporting dictators.

 

Israel didn't get a mention because I think it holds a unique position in Americas heart.

 

As to 9/11, its your position that this event redirected US thinking about the world. My position is that there were changes in magnitude rather than direction. Instead of lobbing missles into Afghanistan they lobbed an army. Instead of trying to squeeze Saddam they decided to kill him in person.

 

Now Im sure that the US would love to see liberal democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the US felt strong they could impose democracy on these countries like they did with Germany and Japan.

 

Theres a gap between what the US would love to see and what they can do. I think what the US does do is a function of their strength assessment. I think they made a big miscall on what would happen in Iraq, they overestimated their hand as strong. They now know that their hand is weak, it will be interesting to see how they play it.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by patrickm at 2007-10-07 07:42 AM

Perhaps it is 'too early to tell' definitively what has been the result of fighting the American Civil War, let alone launching the way overdue bourgeois revolution in the middle east, but that thought won't help anyone understand the forces involved in these trials of strength! 

 

Imagine several Iraqi men are in a coffee shop (in late 2002) talking about the coming war.  The conversation might have gone something like this...


Sheik al Hadith: We’ve borne enough insults from the meddling Yankees. It's time we made them understand we’ll keep our Shia and Kurds under control with or without their approval.  
Iraq is a sovereign country and Sunni have always run it.


MAN 1:  That's right.


Sheik al Hadith:  The Sunni must assert ourselves by force of arms.  After al Qaeda attacked the Yankees we've got to fight to uphold our Islamic honor and our Middle Eastern way of life.  There's no other way.


MAN2: Fight, that's right, fight!


MAN3: Let the Yankee's be the ones to ask for peace.


Sheik al Hadith:  Don’t forget the Yankees can't fight a long war and we can.


ALL:  You're right!


MAN1: That's what I think! They'll just cut and run every time.


MAN2: The westerners will grow tired of taking casualties, and they have a bourgeois democracy so a peace campaign will work to get the troops withdrawn and the new government will cut and run and then one Sunni can defeat twenty Shia.

MAN3:  After they run we'll finish the Shia in one battle. Sunni can always fight better than Shia rabble with or without westerners.


MAN4:  Yes, Sunni always fight better than Shia rabble.  Just look at our fine Baathist led army almost all are Sunni.


Sheik al Hadith:  And what does the captain of our troop say?


Sheik al Ash:  (owner of the coffee shop) Well,...if we Sunni fight, I fight too.  But like my father I hope that the Yankees will leave us in peace so that we will not have to slaughter our Shia and Kurds.


MAN1:  But Sheik al Ash  ...


MAN2:  Sheik al Ash, they've insulted us.


MAN3:  You can't mean that you don't want war.


Sheik al Ash:  Most of the miseries that befell ruling classes the world over were caused by wars that they got themselves into. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were about.


Sheik al Hadith:   Now gentlemen, Dr. Butros has been to the
USA I hear. Don't you agree with us, Dr. Butros?


Dr. Butros: I think it's hard winning a war with words, gentlemen.


Al Tikrit: What do you mean, sir?


Dr. Butros:  I mean, Al Tikrit, there's not going to be a working factory in the whole of Sunni Iraq.


MAN1:  What difference does that make, sir, to a Sunni gentleman?  We have Islamic brothers that are duty bound to become our allies in
Syria and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and many other places.  They will supply us weapons and fighters.


Dr. Butros:  I'm afraid it's going to make a great deal of difference to a great many Sunni gentlemen, sir.  You see the Persians will arm the Shia, and the Kurds will be well armed by the west, and their 4 to 1 numerical advantage will eventually start to tell.  When that happens our Islamic brothers will be duty bound to come to our aid with troops and when they do the Persians will come to aid the Shia.  What I am saying is there is no way of knowing how big this war can get, as we can all remember from when we last fought the Persians.


Al Tikrit: Are you hinting, Dr. Butros, that the Shia and the Kurds can defeat us?


Dr. Butros:  No, I'm not hinting. I'm saying very plainly that they will become better equipped than we and are far more numerous. The Kurds will get their economy booming... and the US have a fleet and air power that will still bottle up our borders and grind us down. All we've got is arrogance…   Even the oil, is in their regions and Shia and Kurds do our labour now but what will happen after the revolutionary war?  Believe me this will be a revolutionary war.


MAN1:  That's treacherous!


Al Tikrit: I refuse to listen to any renegade talk!


Dr. Butros:  Well, I'm sorry if the truth offends you.


Al Tikrit: Apologies aren't enough. I hear you were not at the mosque Dr. Butros and that you aren't received by any Baathists not even your own family.

 

Dr. Butros:  I apologize again for all my shortcomings. Sheik al Ash, Perhaps you won't mind if I walk about and look over your place. I seem to be spoiling  everybody's coffee and...dreams of victory.  (Dr. Butros  leaves the conversation.)

MAN:  Well, that's what you could expect from somebody like Dr. Butros.  He’s been westernized by all that time spent in the USA and Australia.



The End.

The film/book ‘Gone with the wind’ has much to teach us about perceptions of strength and actual strength as tested in war.  It teaches that ruling elites can be forced to change, and yet despite this change from above, how they will reform themselves as underground ruling elites such as a KKK and drag on their fight in a different form.  

 

But they will die out and change does come.  One hundred years later the civil rights movement exploded.  Almost half a century later who could doubt that 'the times they are a changin.'

 

The film Guess who’s coming to dinner, exposing the shortcomings of liberalism and presenting another aspect of the more ‘subtle’ racism portrayed in the idea that blacks are equal, but not in my family thanks, goes to the heart of the current pseudo-left bankruptcy. 

 

'Cast away illusions prepare for struggle' was the way that Mao put it.  Because one ought not expect to change the individual racists be they ruling elite or pseudo-leftists. 

 

The Kurds and the Shia are never going back to the way it was.  That era is 'gone with the wind' and people will have to get over it.  Western pseudo-leftists will, as we have seen repeatedly in postings at LS will not get over it, and will just have to die out. 

 

The U.S. can't make the revolution for the people they can only 'keep the egg warm', but the revolution is in progress from within. 

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-08 12:42 AM

Bill, in your critique of my contribution you state that the US was permanently weakened by the Vietnam War.

 

This is a breathtaking assertion particularly as you provide no supporting evidence.

 

Since the ending of this war, the USA has gone on to win the cold war, penetrate China with capitalism, foster democracies throughout central and eastern Europe and in a very telling symbol has set up factories in Vietnam.

 

Currently the USA is the only superpower, THE ONLY SUPERPOWER. (Fukuyama should not have said that history had ended, he should have said that we took on Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan, the USSR, the Peoples Republic of China and Vietnam, we suffered some set backs BUT WE WON!)

 

The USA is so dominant in the world that the only challenge in the world of ideas to Liberal Capitalism is religious fundamentalism.

 

 

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-08 02:08 AM
hi steve,

I don't think the concept of strong but brittle or an outer shell of strength concealing inner structural weakness ought to be that hard to grasp or apply to the US. Did you really find my assertion "breathtaking" or is that rhetoric?

btw the name of this site is lastsuperpower so I don't see why you have a need to shout out "THE ONLY SUPERPOWER" as though that is some sort of original insight

inter imperialist contradictions: How does the US compare now with other established and rising imperialist powers? I think people are aware of the rapid economic growth of Asian economies, eg. China. Of course the US is still stronger economical but what is the trend?

US imperialism versus the world's people
: Surely I don't have to prove to you that US Imperialism is despised all over the world - it's hard to make progress when you are so disliked. Iraq is a good example of course, their association with the despised Israel is another. But it's not just the Middle East - look at how much the US is disliked in Latin America.

ability to project their power
: Look at the trouble they are having trying to stop North Korea and Iran obtaining nuclear weapons

Economy: I think it's fairly well understood that the US economy is a mountain of debt

Internal culture: Friedman's book The World is Flat was a cry to change the entitlement mentality. Internal commentators are worried about intellectual flight (I hate Bush, I'm moving to Canada) and how far Americans are falling behind educationally. Some departments of American universities are staffed mainly by Asians and the American students can't understand their accents! ie. how will America cope with globalisation?

I'm not really sure how to evaluate the national liberation movement now that the US supports it - whilst often being despised by supporters of it. Certainly I agree that more analysis is required.

If you really think the US is strong today, compared with where they stood previously,  you must think that mechanically measuring military strength is more important than political or economic strength.

The USA is so dominant in the world that the only challenge in the world of ideas to Liberal Capitalism is religious fundamentalism
As well as being a terrible exaggeration that is also an important point. ie. the main actors on the stage at the moment do seem to be US imperialism on the one hand, religious fundamentalism on the other (al qaeda types).  What are the other types of ideas around:
  • Green
  • Pseudo left
  • Anti US nationalism / pretend socialism
  • Free software styled economic liberation
Yes indeed, what ever happened to the revolution?
_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-08 03:25 AM

Ah I see your argument rests on trends. Well if I have $1 today and $2 tomorrow then the trend is towards me accumulating all the money in the world ah trends.

 

Inter imperialist contradictions. Yes 20 years ago the US stood toe to toe with an imperialism that threatened nuclear destruction. Now the next superpower threat is 20 years away if the trends hold up.

 

Yes prove to me that the USA is despised all over the world, as opposed to the actions of the current administration is held to be in disdain. If the USA was despised then American culture would be despised rather than embraced. (OK Ill take off my Nike shirt while I write this and Ill just get the kids to turn sponge bob off. common kids start despising this stuff)

 

Ability to project power. Last time I looked the USA had 7 Battle fleets the rest of the world has zero. Ive lost count of the number of bases that the USA has in other peoples countries. (did you catch Talibani today saying that the US bases should stay after the US removes 100,000 troops)

 

Yes its hard to stop nuclear proliferation and its going to get harder.

 

Oh I dont know the US economy is under a mountain of debt the sky must fall. Yes in 1987 the US was the biggest debtor nation and Japan was the biggest creditor nation and well the trends wernt good. Of course Japan went on to rule the world and the USA became a pauper nation thats how the trends turned out right?

 

Ive just started to read the earth is flat so Ill have to get back to you on that Im a notoriously slow reader

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by patrickm at 2007-10-08 06:47 AM

Bill, in your critique of my contribution you state that the US was permanently weakened by the Vietnam War.  This is a breathtaking assertion particularly as you provide no supporting evidence.

Like Bill I would like to make some assertions that owenss can label breathtaking if he is foolish enough to.


1.      Britain was permanently weakened by WW2 and I feel no need to provide supporting evidence for this breathtaking assertion.  Britain’s ruling class will never rule India again!  Believe it or not.


 

2.      The USA ruling elite used to throw their substantial weight around in Asia, and they could no more do that now in China; or India; or Vietnam; etc than Britain.  They can’t even do it to Burma.


 

  1. China had a counter revolution.  Capitalism was restored by the Chinese ‘communists’ who overthrew the very revolutionaries that are in owenss world hated most.   The US has not penetrated China with capitalism.   China is self driven.

 


 

 

  1. There were 2 superpowers, so when one fell over naturally and the other was still left but the idea that it won because after all it is still holding together (and it says it won) is just the sort of analysis that can be expected from a person who believes that a now obvious 180 direction change in the Middle East is nothing of the sort.

 


 

  1. The only thing that could have happened when the police states of Eastern Europe were overthrown was for some form of Bourgeois revolution to break out.  There was zero possibility for a return to the old pre-war societies, and zero prospect for a proletarian revolution.

 


 

  1. Some form of capitalism is running in Europe and it produces the political leadership of that continent, an elite that is largely both domestically liberal and less revolutionary in what it seeks for the Middle East than is the current US administration.  It is bankrupt against the English speaking US / Brit / Aust Coalition of the willing.

 


 

  1. Owenss has just demonstrated exactly what the pseudo-left is all about - surface appearance is taken to be the essence of issues.  The USA is the last superpower, not the only superpower, and yet it is the only superpower.  Owenss will point out that the designation ‘last’ is unknowable, but the current ‘only’ is knowable because it is the surface appearance.  Useful political analysis from current realities is unusable in his world view because we have to acknowledge that tomorrow a King might be restored to France.   Logic will not help.  Perhaps it is too soon ever to tell the future, let alone the results of the past!

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-08 07:43 AM

Patrick Britain was fatally weakened by WW1, WW2 just confirmed that the body was dead.

 

The USA used to throw their weight around Asia financed Chang Chi Shek, pushed Japan to ruin, invaded Korea, bankrolled France in Vietnam, invaded Vietnam. They now don't throw armies at Asia they throw dollars. Massive investment in China and in Vietnam, during the Asian economic crisis big American companies moved into take over big Korean companies. You think that America is only projecting power if its sending in armies to me sending in armies is an admission of failure sending in dollars is a sign of strength.

 

They have little influence over Burma because Burma is a closed society. The one advantage of being a closed society is you don't have to please foreigners.

 

To claim that the US has not penetrated China is like claiming man has not landed on the moon or the earth is flat (sorry Bill) Yes the US has not penetrated China.

 

The Soviet Union fell over by itself. Well I think there are 4 Presidents who vie for the title of greatest. Washington for taking on the Brits, Lincoln for repairing the mess that Washington left, Roosevelt for winning WW2 and Regan for defeating the Soviet Union without firing a shot. Ill accept that the Soviet Union fell over of its own accord if you will accept that so did the British the Confederacy and the Nazis.

 

You say that the Middle East has had a 180 degree turn. Say it again it might be true. It must be self evident because you provide no supporting evidence.

 

Your points 5,6and7 are best left unresponded to, I'm sorry but its just rubbish.

 

PS you claim that I hate the revolutionaries that lead China prior to Deng. My real position is that I have sympathy for them because they were trying to drag their society into the future. I have the advantage of hindsight to realise that their actions were misguided and compounded by their inability to learn from them. Capitalist restoration whether we like it or not was the way forward. The evidence is that 20 years of Maoist rule resulted in stagnation 20 tears of Capitalism has resulted in an economic miracle. You are free to argue against reality its not a crime.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-08 04:40 PM
What this thread is about:

Is the USA, the last or only superpower, strong or in decline?
What is the connection b/w strength and democracy? ie discussion of steve's claim:
USA tends to promote democracy when it feels strong and to promote dictatorship when it feels weak
Historical, economic, political, cultural and current analysis of the above points

I'll delete any further discussion about historical internal developments in China that are not connected to the above themes, by the authors.
_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-08 07:25 PM

Bill if you think that the USA is in economic decline then heres an update

http://ksghome.harvard.edu/~jfrankel/usperform-washc-cbg.pdf

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-08 08:56 PM
steve:
The USA used to throw their weight around Asia financed Chang Chi Shek, pushed Japan to ruin, invaded Korea, bankrolled France in Vietnam, invaded Vietnam. They now don't throw armies at Asia they throw dollars. Massive investment in China and in Vietnam, during the Asian economic crisis big American companies moved into take over big Korean companies. You think that America is only projecting power if its sending in armies to me sending in armies is an admission of failure sending in dollars is a sign of strength.
What you initially said was:
So where does this leave us with Iraq? I think that when they initiated war with Iraq they felt very strong in the knowledge that Iraq was a basket case.
You had to add in that part about Iraq being a basket case because the US invasion contradicted your general thesis that when the US is strong they promote democracy. But now you are also saying that if they send in armies it is "an admission of failure"

You followed up with:

Bill, in your critique of my contribution you state that the US was permanently weakened by the Vietnam War.

 
This is a breathtaking assertion particularly as you provide no supporting evidence.


One thing we are saying is that the US ability to project power by sending in armies is much reduced in the post Vietnam era. So, from your first quote you are in agreement with us.

US lost the Vietnam war because of the combined struggle of the Vietnamese people, their international support (eg. from China, USSR and massive protests around the world) and because eventually as the war progressed the protests at home grew to mammoth proportions, the US itself was thrown into significant turmoil.

I remember back in those days there was thinking along these lines:
  • that the US would use nuclear weapons in Vietnam
  • that the US would never give in, that the situation might even lead to revolution in the US itself as the only way to stop the war
We now have a situation where the majority of people in the US want troops withdrawn from Iraq, Bush is despised and already supporters of the Democrats are signalling for the new campaign against Hillary that will have to be launched if she becomes next president (because the writing is on the wall that she won't withdraw the troops) - whilst also saying that don't rock the boat too much now because that will help the Republicans

That's my main argument about why the US is in decline. There are some things in the world you can't change by economic means. War at any rate is an extension of economics (clausewitz doctrine).  It just wasn't possible to start the process of draining the swamp in the ME by economic only means. And the US ability to go to war has dramatically declined since Vietnam.

So we seem to agree that:
  • the US is the only superpower
  • that their ability to successfully project military power since Vietnam has dramatically declined

_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-08 09:52 PM

Bill I wasn't trying to promote an iron law. I just wanted to answer a question to bpors.

 

Despite your claim that my answer is illogical I am prepared to stand by it.

 

As to their dealing with Saddam with force when my general schema would suggest the use of soft power the answer is quite simple. The USA felt quite strong in comparison to Iraq but the use of soft power would have been ruled out due to the unresolved nature of Gulf war 1 see no contradiction.

 

As to the USA being unable to use its military might well you need to see it in context.

 

The USA was able to launch a massive effort in WW2 including conscription because the population at large shared the war aims.

 

The USA was able to launch a massive effort including conscription in Vietnam because initially the US population saw this cold war engagement as justified.

 

With the War on Terror the administrations problem is convincing the population that the goals are worth the effort. Despite this from a narrow military perspective the US armed forces have operated pretty efficiently in Bosnia, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. An impressive demonstration of military might.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-09 11:38 PM

Bill you think that we are in agreement , "that their  ability to successfully project military power since Vietnam has dramatically declined" I don't agree just as I don't agree that the USA is in decline.

 

The USA has always had certain difficulties about projecting military power that well predate Vietnam.

 

Example one : The USA entered WW1 only after the Lusitania incident. Clearly this was necessary to enter WW1

 

Example two: The tide of popular opinion was strongly against entry into WW2 and Roosevelt had to wait until Pearl Harbour before he could project military strength.

 

So I am arguing that the Vietnam syndrome was temporary, that foreign military adventures have always needed a nation unifying event to proceed successfully. ( there are exceptions when the target is very small like Panama and Grenada)

 

So now can we agree that there has been no permanent change to their ability to project military strength.

 

We could then agree that the spread of Capitalism, and or Liberal Democracy across the globe, the resurgence of the US economy, their domination in forums such as the UN, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation leave the USA not in decline but in ascendancy.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-10 06:59 AM
You are correct of course that a country can go to war if the population is supportive - and there is more support for the war in Afghanistan than in Iraq. My position here is that populations and media are far more critical, the scrutiny is much higher, of US military actions than in the past.

You mentioned Bosnia. That was a NATO bombing campaign (no ground troops). The nature of that intervention I think supports my argument more than yours. ie. the reluctance of America since Vietnam to sustain casualties

Example two: The tide of popular opinion was strongly against entry into WW2 and Roosevelt had to wait until Pearl Harbour before he could project military strength.

 

So I am arguing that the Vietnam syndrome was temporary, that foreign military adventures have always needed a nation unifying event to proceed successfully. ( there are exceptions when the target is very small like Panama and Grenada)


Well, in the case of the Iraq war there was a "nation unifying event" equivalent to Pearl Harbour - remember 9/11?


Developments have indicated that the American people and some allies will support the war effort while things are going well - victory looks assured and casualties are light - but that the mood quickly changes when the going gets tough


Here are some American casualty figures from the Vietnam war:

Country Year of Death Number Killed
USA[5]

1956-1964 401

1965 1,863

1966 6,143

1967 11,153

1968 16,592

1969 11,616

1970 6,081

1971 2,357

1972 641

1973 168

1974-1998 1178

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties#United_States_Armed_Forces

Look at the numbers from 1966 to 1970. Are you seriously suggesting that the American people would tolerate these levels of casualties in the Iraq war?


The strategy of bin Ladin and al-Qaida is to bleed America. He believes that the West is soft and won't sustain a prolonged war where casualties are high. In the words of bin Ladin (2004 speech):

This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.


.... So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.

http://www.marktaw.com/blog/FulltranscriptofbinLadins.html


It could be that bin Ladin is wrong but it's a significant point, I would say that the strategic thinking of al-Qaida is relevant to this discussion.

This strategy is successful in some countries which are or were American allies. eg. Spain withdrew its troops for Iraq following a change in government after the 2004 Madrid bombing.
_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-10 07:35 AM

Bill I'm loving this. You are saying that Pear Harbour and 9/11 are equivalent.

 

Lets see from memory Pearl Harbour Day is Nov 7. In 1942 on this day the Empire of Japan allied to Nazi occupied Europe and the Italian Empire plus Hungary, Romania and Vichy France sends aircraft carriers, massed airplane formations and destroys the anchored fleet at Peal Harbour. Within weeks the Empire of Japan invades the American commonwealth of the Philippines capturing hundreds of thousands of American servicemen. (many more than the Japanese expected). Nazi Germany declares war on the US and conducts a very effective submarine offensive along the eastern seaboard. That's what Pearl Harbour meant.

 

You want to hold up some insane guy living in a cave sending out a dozen or so suicidal fanatics as an equivalent to Pearl Harbour.

 

But we have gotten off the main point as you said "is the US strong or in decline"

 

I have put forward an argument that has shown the US military to be an excellent military, the US economy to be experiencing unprecedented growth, the US to be dominant in international forums such as the UN, the WTO and the World Bank. I have pointed out that US culture is the dominant cultural force on the planet. All you have to do is to explain why the USA is in decline

 

Iraq is your only out, however I think your drawing thin (excuse the poker lingo) but as I pointed out the US has some 7 million marines and soldiers** but chooses not to use them. The US could reintroduce conscription but chooses not to. The choice not to escalate the war in these fashions is very wise because before the US can project boots on the ground they have to sell the idea to the American people a task that they have yet to do.

........

correcting an error : I claimed that the size of the US army and marines to be 7 million. I haven't been able to verify this the Wikipedia gives an estimate of active duty personnel plus reserves to be 2,685,713

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_the_United_States

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-10 09:42 AM
I made three points:

1) Pearl Harbour and 9/11 were equivalent in terms of being "nation unifying"
2) The american public today would not tolerate anything like the same levels of casualties that occurred in Vietnam - evidence of their decline
3) The strategy of bin Ladin and al-Qaida is to bleed America - and that strategy has some basis in reality.

You distorted the first one and ignored the other two. My argument hasn't got off the main point at all.
You want to hold up some insane guy living in a cave sending out a dozen or so suicidal fanatics as an equivalent to Pearl Harbour
What are you trying to say here? And compare it with what you said earlier in the thread:
The USA is so dominant in the world that the only challenge in the world of ideas to Liberal Capitalism is religious fundamentalism

There is a difference between arguing a consistent position and playing word games

On the economic questions you just provided a pdf without any elaboration, the sort of pseudo discussion style we have been complaining about. I see the economic questions as important but secondary to the main point - the US ability to project military power has declined dramatically since the Vietnam war

Bill, in your critique of my contribution you state that the US was permanently weakened by the Vietnam War.

 

This is a breathtaking assertion particularly as you provide no supporting evidence.

And when I do provide supporting evidence you ignore it.
_________________________
Bill Kerr

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by owenss at 2007-10-10 07:43 PM

Bill your point 3: I don't disagree I just don't see the relevance of Osama's strategy in assessing whether the USA is in decline.

 

Your point 2 : Who knows what level of casualties the American public would tolerate in a war where the war aims were clear and had wide spread acceptance. As opposed to a war where the American public think they were lied to.

 

Your point 1 : where you want us to accept an equivalent role in national unity between two events, Pearl Harbour and 9/11. Well after Pearl Harbour the USA went after Japan and its friends. After 9/11 the USA went after Osama and his friends and before the mission was accomplished started lieing to the American public about Saddam's WMD and his "links" to 9/11 and created a completely separate war, If it had gone smoothly I'm sure that they would have got away with it but it didn't go smoothly.

 

My point is that Iraq doesn't show us that the USA is in decline it shows that the American public once supportive of the Iraq war will turn against it if it goes badly and there is, in your face evidence that the administration lied to get them into this mess.

 

I still stand by my point that the US military can project boots on the ground military strength. Gulf War 1 was very efficient, the invasion of Iraq was very efficient. True the occupation is hard but that's because of the political mistakes that were made rather than a lack of military capacity.

 

That the US can't defeat the insurgency doesnt detract from my argument. Insurgencies are notoriously hard to stamp out because they are part of the fabric of a society ask the Brits in Ireland or the Israeli es. In a war between countries the USA military is still number one. 

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by arthur at 2007-10-10 08:32 PM
The discussion would be more clear without the conflation of the US with US imperialism or the last superpower.

US imperialism and the last superpower is in (sharp) decline. The USA and the American people are not.

The decline of US imperialism is based on a strengthening, not weakening of the American people as well as the world's people and likewise strnghening of the USA as a country as well as of the  nations of the world (although at the same time a reflection of the reduced significance of nations and nation states as the world becomes more globalized).

The American people are a great people and when the left rises they will be quite capable of vigorously fighting revolutionary wars (as they have before). Their weakness in the current war is due to the state of the left and leadership from the right, not due to either a strengthening of US imperialism or any victory by reaction in  Iraq (where in fact the reactionaries are being defeated and progress is developing although proving more arduous than expected).

What makes confusion about the decline more intense is the even sharper decline of the left.

Instead of an easily understood decline of imperialism together with a rise of the left, we are seeing (or having difficulty seeing) a decline of imperialism in a period when the masses are becoming more  progressive but left forces are in total disarray.

patrick's literary efforts on imagined conversations among Iraqi Arab Sunni "gentlemen" conveys some of the contradictions. What others see as Iraqis growing stronger are naturally seen by these "gentlemen" as Iraq being destroyed whereas what is actually being destroyed is Iraqi fascism.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by Lupin3 at 2007-10-11 08:12 AM
The Weekly Standard recently ran an article called "A Demographic Theory of War," which illustrates a theory being advanced by Gunnar Heinsohn.  Heinsohn describes the ability of a nation to project military power in demographic terms.  In short, he suggests nations rely on a store of human resources which, more than wealth or technology, is necessary to wage war.  In his words:

"LOOK AT IT THIS WAY," Gunnar Heinsohn said. "Your family is in a shooting war with a family across the street. Your forces consist of a father, mother and one child, perhaps two. The other family has a father, mother and seven children, perhaps eight or nine. For your family, the loss of one person would be devastating. The larger family can take casualties and continue fighting..."

"My point," Heinsohn continued, "is that the strength of a nation's military is affected by the size of a nation's families. Falling birth rates in Western countries mean that even light casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan bring cries of pain in Europe and America. But Iraq and Afghanistan are growing rapidly. Their populations are swollen by youth bulges. Their average family has five or six children. They are in what I call 'extreme demographic armament.'"

A demographic comparison of the Vietnam war to the Iraq war reveals a clear reduction in the store of human resources for the US, despite a much larger overall population.  Intuitively, one recognizes the importance of the baby boom, which began immediately following the end of world war two, on the store of human resources for the Vietnam war which, by 1965, had exceeded in one year the total mortality for US troops of the entire Iraq war.

According to the Population Resource Center, "{a}fter reaching a peak of nearly 3.8 in 1957, the total fertility rate (TFR)declined steadily to reach a low of 1.8 in 1983."  By 2000 the TFR had increased to 2.1, however, the store being drawn upon by the needs of the Iraq war is somewhere close to half of it's level in the mid to late 60s.  This means that in addition to a smaller relative "youth bulge," the US now, despite having more families generally, has fewer children per family to draw upon.  So, in addition to having a smaller proportion of human resources in store today than in 1968, the store is also less accessible, as per Heinsohn's illustration above.  Other factors contribute to this effect as well, such as a population which is both increasingly well educated and economically mobile, as well as decreasingly eligible for military service.

The US is aware of the problem, and has introduced various means of coping with the reduction in manpower, such as integrating women to a higher degree than ever before, offering paths to citizenship through military service, as well as increasingly relying on technology to offset the manpower reduction with as near an equivalent increase in efficiency as possible.  The level of automation in semi-robotic attack/reconnaissance aircraft is an example of this. 

But while these changes allow the US military to continue it's war-fighting advantages, the degraded capability for imperialist occupation is clear.

 • Re: strength and democracy

Posted by kerrb at 2007-10-11 09:40 AM
arthur wrote:
The American people are a great people and when the left rises they will be quite capable of vigorously fighting revolutionary wars (as they have before)
That's a refreshing and important truth in a world where we hear so much in general anti-american sentiment

There is a place where everyone's views in the thread do meet - that governments can wage war and take casualties, including heavy casualties provided the people of that country understand and support the war aims

The LS analysis is that the US Imperialism has got itself into a terrible tangle - after 9/11 having to reverse their long established policy in the Middle East (from supporting reactionaries to supporting democracy) and having to lie about their real aims because of divisions within their foreign policy establishment and having or choosing to go through a protracted process of persuading their allies (Israel) to reverse their previous policies and having to do all this with an army of imperialist traditions. So, in all this confusion and deception the American people definitely have not been mobilised in support of the real war aims

So, Steve, your argument is not contextual:
Gulf War 1 was very efficient, the invasion of Iraq was very efficient. True the occupation is hard but that's because of the political mistakes that were made rather than a lack of military capacity ... Insurgencies are notoriously hard to stamp out because they are part of the fabric of a society ask the Brits in Ireland or the Israelies. In a war between countries the USA military is still number one.
We have never denied that "In a war between countries the USA military is still number one". 

But we are talking about the real world, the post-Vietnam world (where it was demonstrated that protracted guerrilla warfare combined with international support could defeat the world's strongest imperial power), the world after 9/11 (where it was demonstrated that religious fundamentalism could use the instruments of modernity against modernity), and the world in which al-Qaida forces represent something much more dangerous than your dismissive "some insane guy living in a cave sending out a dozen or so suicidal fanatics".

You want to base your argument (America is strong, well, sometimes - actually your position is internally contradictory) on situations where America is strong. Congratulations, you win that argument. America is strong in situations where America is strong - Gulf War 1 and initial invasion of Iraq. But my argument early in the thread was:
I don't think the concept of strong but brittle or an outer shell of strength concealing inner structural weakness ought to be that hard to grasp or apply to the US
That is the real world situation in Iraq. Strong military power becoming bogged down in  complex on the ground warfare, taking significant casualties and the war becoming unpopular at home in a  political situation where the leadership has lost credibility, partly through mistakes but also due to their own internal contradictions

You say you "don't disagree" with my point that the strategy of bin Ladin and al-Qaida is to bleed America - and that strategy has some basis in reality but your comment is:
"I just don't see the relevance of Osama's strategy in assessing whether the USA is in decline".
You don't see the relevance of current reality - you think Gulf War 1 or the bombing of Bosnia by NATO is somehow more relevant than the current world situation. Somehow "some insane guy living in a cave" can mount a real challenge to the "ONLY SUPERPOWER" and that is not relevant

Your response here was:
After 9/11 the USA went after Osama and his friends and before the mission was accomplished started lieing to the American public about Saddam's WMD and his "links" to 9/11 and created a completely separate war, If it had gone smoothly I'm sure that they would have got away with it but it didn't go smoothly.
Let's say that the US ruling class had decided not to drain the swamp, to have remained focused on Afghanistan and avoided Iraq. Would that have changed the world situation in such a way to strengthen your case that the US is strong? No. Because for as long as the Middle East swamp remains not drained the prospect of another 9-11 event remains high, the coming together of religious fundamentalism with WMDs in some way. US Imperialism, in this hypothetical world, would still be a colossus with feet of clay.

I accept arthur's implied criticism of my underestimation of the real latent strength of the American people. ie. they would accept casualties for a war for democracy in which they had been fully taken into confidence about

However, there are some aspects of arthur's post that I don't understand. Arthur makes a distinction b/w US Imperialism, the USA as a country and the American people - and that US Imperialism is in decline but that the USA as a country is strengthening.

I don't understand the country part of this three-fold distinction. How does the concept of a country differ from either its people or its ruling class?

Related to this I am wondering about the possibility of making a distinction b/w the concept of "superpower" and the concept of "imperialism". Western Europe is imperialist (export of capital) but is not a superpower. In economic strength from figures I have seen (Spiegel article) Western Europe and USA are roughly equivalent:

GDP 2005
USA 12.3 trillion (41 thousand per head)
W Europe 11.8 trillion (29 thousand per head)
China 9.4 trillion (7 thousand per head)
Japan 3.9 trillion (30 thousand per head)
India 3.6 trillion (3 thousand per head)
Russia 1.6 trillion (11 thousand per head)

update 12th October: per head figures added, following comment by tomb

What makes US Imperialism a superpower is its political and military capabilities, eg. the structure of its military, its ability to deploy forces across the globe. What makes US Imperialism "declining" is its post-Vietnam inability to wage a protracted fight against a guerrilla war in a situation of political inability to take its own people into its confidence.

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Bill Kerr