Managing Decline; Pax Americana Is Winding Down

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Managing Decline; Pax Americana Is Winding Down


Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Is the world's balance of power shifting away from the West and moving over to India and China? That's what a number of geopolitical sages are discussing in think tanks from Moscow to Beijing to London to Washington. In a joint SOS piece in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass, warn U.S. leaders to curb the current debt addiction - or global capital markets will do it for them. An age of austerity and draconian belt-tightening - and sudden decline in U.S. power - is upon us. Gridlocked Congress, fiscal train wreck, climbing without a rope, all the stuff of headlines the world over.

The political move to center stage of satirical humorist Jon Stewart with his mass Rally to Restore Sanity is seen by the Globalist online as a throwback to the collapse of Germany's post-World War I Weimar Republic.

But where can the United States afford to disengage and leave heavy geopolitical lifting to regional powers? In some key areas, U.S. power remains indispensable for the indefinite future. The Persian Gulf and its huge oil resources are at the top of the list.

North Korea, faced with total economic collapse, is unpredictable and makes a U.S. Army division-plus an indispensable tripwire in South Korea. Everything else is marginal - and debatable.

America's global military footprint (outside of Iraq and Afghanistan) tops $250 billion a year. There are still 200 U.S. military facilities in Germany 65 years after World War II. U.S. military hospitals as an intermediary stage home for U.S. casualties in transit from Afghanistan and Iraq are important. All else is marginal. If U.S. Central Commandand Special Operations Command can be in Tampa, Fla., why not U.S. European Command in Norfolk, Va., where NATO's Atlantic command is based?

World War II hastened the end of the British Empire, but it took several decades to manage its decline. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 triggered a bloodbath that took 1 million lives.

There were several more last gasps of empire before a British government decided in October 2010 to live within its means, slashing defense to where it no longer could be used to defend the Falkland Islands against another Argentine invasion, as it did successfully in 1982.

In the mid-1950s, British-controlled Aden, Yemen, was the world's largest bunkering port, servicing traffic in and out of the Red Sea and Suez Canal. But in 1967, Britain took another drubbing as it exited Aden. Then, a year later, London, under Laborite Harold Wilson, gave up all of its commitments and obligations east of Suez, from the canal to the Persian Gulf to Singapore. It took another 10 years to turn over Hong Kong to its original owner.

From Oman, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, all the way up to Kuwait, Britain kept the peace until 1972 with the British-officered Trucial Oman Scouts for a total annual outlay of $40 million. The Nixon Doctrine succeeded Pax Britannica in the Gulf, and the shah of Iran became America's proxy.

The shah was overthrown in 1979, and a hostile, obscurantist religious dictatorship has kept the rest of the Gulf in psychological thrall ever since.

The French empire unraveled with 16 years of rear-guard fighting (1946-54 and 1954-62) - eight years in Indochina, followed by a six-month break before another eight years of warfare in Algeria. …

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