Stagger on, weary TitanFrom Al-Guardian:
Stagger on, weary Titan
If you want to know what London was like in 1905, come to Washington in 2005. Imperial gravitas and massive self-importance. That sense of being the centre of the world. Hyperpower. Top dog. And yet, gnawing away beneath the surface, the nagging fear that your global supremacy is not half so secure as you would wish. As Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary, put it in 1902: "The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of his fate." The United States is now that weary Titan. In the British case, the angst was a result of the unexpectedly protracted, bloody and costly Boer war, in which a small group of foreign insurgents defied the mightiest military the world had seen; concern about the rising economic power of Germany and the United States; and a combination of imperial overstretch with socio-economic problems at home. Iraq is America's Boer war. A recent article in the New York Times plausibly estimated the prospective long-term cost of the Iraq War at more than $1 trillion. Increasingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran quietly calls the shots in the Shia south of Iraq. As the Washington joke goes: the war is over, and the Iranians won.
China and India are to the United States today what Germany and America were to Britain a hundred years ago. China is now the world's second largest energy consumer, after the United States. In the foreign reserve stakes, the US comes only ninth, after Singapore and just before Malaysia. According to some economists, the US has an effective net savings rate of zero. This country does not save; it spends. If you are, by any chance, of that persuasion that would instinctively find this a cause for rejoicing, pause for a moment to consider two things: first, that major shifts of power between rising and falling great powers have usually been accompanied by major wars; and second, that the next top dog could be a lot worse. So this is no time for schadenfreude. It's a time for critical solidarity. A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded; and to encourage rising powers such as India and China to sign up to such an order. That is exactly what today's weary Titan should be doing, and we should help him do it.