Let’s be geopolitically strategic today.
Our writers here make the point that, while we (manifestly!) weren’t paying attention, that superpower status we earned by being the last country standing after World War II, and defended so expensively during the ensuing Cold War, has quietly left the building.
From a new addition to our blogroll, Tom Engelhardt’s TomDispatch.com, comes this bracing wake-up call.
Tomgram: Michael Klare, America Out of Gas
TomDispatch.com | posted May 08, 2008 11:01 am
These days, the price of oil seems ever on the rise. A barrel of crude broke another barrier Wednesday — $123 — on international markets, and the talk is now of the sort of “superspike” in pricing (only yesterday unimaginable) that might break the $200 a barrel ceiling “within two years.” And that would be without a full-scale American air assault on Iran, after which all bets would be off.
Considering that, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, oil was still in the $20 a barrel price range, this is no small measure of what the Bush administration years have really accomplished. Today, it’s hard even to remember not 9/11, but 11/9 — November 9, 1989 — the day that the Berlin Wall fell, signaling that, soon enough, after its seventy-odd year life, that Reaganesque Evil Empire, the Soviet Union, was heading for the door. In 1991, it disappeared from the face of the Earth without a whimper. Until almost the last moment, top officials in Washington assumed it would go on forever; and, when it was gone, most of them couldn’t, at first, believe it. Soon enough, however, the event was hailed as the greatest of American triumphs — “victory” not just in the Cold War, but at a level never before seen. Finally, for the first time in history, there was but a single superpower on the planet….
Almost seven and a half years later, as Michael Klare so vividly indicates below, an observer might be pardoned for wondering whether there hadn’t been two super losers in the Cold War. Had the Soviet Union, the weaker of the two great powers of the second half of the last century, simply imploded first, while the U.S., enwreathed in a cloud of self-congratulation, was almost unbeknownst to itself also slowly making its way toward an exit? And, as a final irony, Klare — author of the not-to-be-missed new book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet — points out, energy has refloated Russia, even as it’s sinking us. Tom
Portrait of an Oil-Addicted Former Superpower
How Rising Oil Prices Are Obliterating America’s Superpower Status
By Michael T. Klare
Nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world’s other superpower. Yes, the USSR as a political entity stumbled on for another two years, but it was clearly an ex-superpower from the moment it lost control over its satellites in Eastern Europe.
Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel crude oil roared past $110 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the $3.50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped $4.00. As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the USA will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation’s economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower-in-the-making.
As I read this, a colorful image popped into mind. From a crime novel of John D. MacDonald’s pre-Travis McGee days, he wrote a scene of a hired killer going after a middle-aged politician, with a very thin, very sharp implement the style and shape of a knitting needle. The assassin “stumbles,” brushes against his target, deftly plunges the slender needle into the hapless victim’s heart, withdraws it and quickly melts away. Meanwhile the 55-ish politician, used to the various aches and pains that are part and parcel of encroaching age, pays limited attention to the brief twinge he feels in his chest (what’s another twinge?), and keeps walking for a short time, bleeding internally. Essentially already dead.
While the U.S. walked in the sunshine, basking in its status of the globe’s only superpower, history brushed against us. According to Michael Klare, we are about to discover that our vaunted status has disappeared.
The Klare piece is quite colorful in its descriptions of exactly what rabbit hole we’ve thrown ourselves down, including allowing Iraq to charge our military market rates for fuel (which our high-tech military is using at the rate of 27 gallons per soldier per day!) while charging its citizens one-third of that. Not exactly superpower behavior.
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
It’s going to require some clear, out of the box reflection to confront the outcome of our new status in the world.
We no longer can depend on our usual, brute force, finesse-free approach to geopolitics to achieve our aims.
Many cogent military writers have noted that World War II, on which our superpower stature was founded, was won not through excellent strategy (the professional officer corps of the Germans was far more competent) or courageous soldiering (the Samurai spirit of the Japanese soldier was unmatched), although there were adequate amounts of both.
Rather, the overwhelming industrial might that put thousands of ships in the water (at one point, one “Liberty ship” oceangoing cargo craft was launched each day!) and aircraft in the air and tanks (not great tanks, but good enough) on the ground, and was simultaneously able to furnish petroleum and materiel to our allies Britain and the Soviet Union in war-winning quantities, was what won the war for the U.S.
That’s not military or diplomatic finesse. That’s brute force. And today’s hollowed out industrial engine couldn’t duplicate such an effort.
We’re in hock up to our eyebrows, dependent on smiling sheikhs for our ability to commute to work, possessing a bunch of fair weather friends who may disappear when the holey state of our umbrella is discerned.
Seems like some new thinking may be required of this country’s leaders.
One of the current three candidates for president seems to be capable of eschewing business as usual (Barack Obama’s refusal to jump on the let them eat cake pandering of McCain’s and Clinton’s gas tax holiday proposal is a promising signal).
Rather makes irrelevant the color of his skin, doesn’t it?
It’s it for now. Thanks,
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