Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How Low Did the U.S. Go?

The New York Times on August 1, 2011 declared that the debt limit showdown:
"Chipped away at the global authority of President Obama, who was celebrated abroad when he came to office as a man who would end an era of American unilateralism. Now the topic of discussion in other capitals is whether the Age of Obama is giving way to an Age of Austerity, one that will inevitably reduce America’s influence internationally."
I don't know about anywhere else, but that doesn't seem to apply here in Indonesia, where everyday the front page is dominated by corruption scandals within the ruling party. As I lamented in an article in the Jakarta Globe, these scandals have even crowded out a very important recent regional gathering here in Indonesia. The discussion about the impending American bankruptcy? Buried deep on page 7, if there's any news about it at all.

Not that the world no longer thinks the U.S. is unimportant, but America has been steadily losing global respect. This may upset my liberal friends back in the US, but let me be blunt: if you have anti-war protesters, such as Code Pink, and thinkers and writers dominating the television set, denouncing the government, the army, and the war at the same time, other nations would see the U.S. as a a divided country, a paper tiger that would be defeated after another Tet. It has undermined both the American presidency and U.S. foreign policy.

In fact, many of the anti-American arguments that I have observed in Indonesia are taken straight from anti-war protesters and Noam Chomsky's books. The nuttier the arguments (such as Bush was responsible for planting the explosives in the twin towers), the faster they spread. In fact, Confessions of an Economic Hitman was a best seller in Indonesia and widely quoted as a proof of America's nefarious plots to establish global hegemony, even though the book's assertions are not backed by any fact or data and the author's credibility is seriously questionable.

Another factor to consider is the sub prime mortgage mess that lead to the Great Recession. While many careful observers would point out that the wrong-headed housing policies and derivatives wizardry were to blamed, others quickly pointed out that the wars had bankrupted the U.S., even though the percentage of defense spending (including the Iraq war) was relatively constant compared to its GDP. Guess, which chart the foreigners will believe?

It is true that when Obama came on stage, many believed he would "restore the U.S." The problem is Obama's lack of details in his presidential campaign meant that each country in the world had its own view on what a restored America under Obama would look like. Arabs in the Middle East believed that Obama would look at the region differently, unbiased by the "Israel Lobby." African states believed Obama would increase America's disbursement of foreign aid to his ancestral continent. Europeans believed they finally found their fellow liberal. In fact, they were so hopeful of this that they handed him the Nobel Peace Prize on a silver platter almost immediately after taking office. In Indonesia, there was a brief period of Obama-mania, with books written about Obama's childhood in Indonesia and a statue erected in Obama's honor. (it got taken down in a few months after some protests).

When those hopes were dashed, and Obama was preoccupied with his health care battle, continuing many of Bush's policies, and finally caught flat-footed during the Arab Spring, well, hell hath no fury like a hope dashed, with Obama's popularity ratings now even below Bush in the Middle East. The continuing economic recession, debate on heath care and the budget showdowns simply confirmed to the world that the America's power is declining rapidly and the country will soon go bankrupt due to imperial overstretch.

In short, the debt limit showdown did not destroy America's credibility abroad. It was a succession of blunders and bad-timed policies (mostly by Obama) that hurt both the U.S. presidency and America's credibility abroad.

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