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Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, The Waning of America

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This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

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This has been the week of American decline at TomDispatch. On Sunday, Michael Klare considered that decline in the context of the rise of China as an energy superpower. I gave a muted cheer-and-a-half for it on Tuesday. Today, Dilip Hiro, who has been following the subject for this site, lays out what our power outage means in geopolitical terms. The last time Hiro (author most recently of After Empire: The Birth of a Multi-Polar World) appeared at TomDispatch, he noticed a striking stylistic sign of American decline in action, what might be called the Obama flip-flop. In one case after another, from Central America to China, Israel to Afghanistan, the Obama administration would pressure a foreign leader to bend to Washington's will, threaten dire consequences, and then, when he refused to back off, move into a placatory mode. Strangely -- a sign of domestic power outages as well -- it hasn't been hard to spot a similar style in action at home.

This was evident recently in the case of the "mosque at Ground Zero" (even if it's neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero). If you remember, the administration's position on this, when it was still a simmering controversy, was clear enough and enunciated by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs more than once: it was "a local matter" and not appropriate for the president to weigh in on. That was a perfectly reasonable, even understandable, political decision.

Then, on Friday August 13th at a traditional White House Ramadan Iftar dinner, President Obama shifted course and offered a strong statement of support for the Park 51 center. ("But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.") Again, fine. This seemed to be another kind of decision (described by Washington insiders as "a willingness to jettison calculation when core beliefs are in play"). The only thing it couldn't have been was a decision taken without knowing that, as the first "Muslim" president, you would be roundly attacked by all the usual suspects.

When those attacks promptly and expectably arrived the next morning, however -- Ã la Hiro's analysis -- the president backed off. He "clarified" his statement. ("I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.") It mattered little how the White House explained his clarifying remarks -- they could only be taken by his enemies as a visible sign of weakness and so, under the circumstances, were politically incomprehensible. And that flash of weakness, pure blood in the water for the sharks circling to his right, may have been the actual spark that turned the fire of the mosque debate into a five-alarm blaze. Keep that style in mind and consider that it's as noticeable to other countries as to Obama's domestic opposition. Tom

America Is Suffering a Power Outage
"and the Rest of the World Knows It

By Dilip Hiro

"Make poverty history!" A catchy slogan, and an admirable aim, it was adopted by world leaders at the United Nations summit in New York on the eve of the New Millennium. A decade later, it is America which has made history -- even if in the opposite direction. The latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that, in 2009, one in seven Americans was living below the poverty line, the highest figure in half a century. Last month's 95,000-plus home foreclosures broke all records.

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These were only two of the recent glaring signs of the sagging might of the globe's "sole superpower," now heavily indebted to Beijing. Other recent indicators include its failure to corral China into revaluing its currency, the yuan, against the dollar, and to compel Russia, China, India, or even Pakistan to follow its lead in suppressing the oil and natural gas trade with Iran. With Washington failing to impose its monetary or energy policies on the rest of the world, we have entered a new era in history.

America's Struggling Economy

It's crystal clear that jobs and the economy have emerged as the key preoccupations of American voters as they approach the November 2nd midterm Congressional elections.

The economic "recovery" is proving anemic. An already weak gross domestic product (GDP) growth figure, 2.4% for the second quarter of 2010, was recently revised downward to 1.6%, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, consisting of the globe's 30 richest countries, has predicted a paltry 1.2% U.S. expansion in the fourth quarter of the year.

Soon after retiring as vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, where he served for 40 years, Donald Kohn summed up the dire situation in this way: "The U.S. economy is in a slow slog out of a very deep hole."

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Consider one measure of the depth of that hole: between December 2007 -- the official start of the Great Recession -- and December 2009, the American economy made eight million workers redundant. Even if the job market were to improve to the level of the boom years of the 1990s, it would still take until March 2014 simply to halve the present 9.6% unemployment rate and return it to a pre-recession 4.7%. Little wonder that James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, warned of the American economy creeping closer to the black-hole years of deflation experienced by Japan in the 1990s.

By now, the Obama administration's $862 billion stimulus plan has largely worked its way through the system without having had much impact on job creation. And keep in mind that the high official unemployment rate is significantly less than the real figure. It doesn't take into account part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs, or those who have stopped seeking employment after countless failed attempts. In the end, the administration's policy makers seem to have failed to grasp that a recession caused by a banking crisis is always much worse than a non-banking one.

China Roars Ahead

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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