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May 16, 2004 - We lost Iraq - so the Chinese win? Could be.

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Oswald Spengler wrote The Decline of The West in 1922 – and there you will find this:


The future of the West is not a limitless tending upwards and onwards for all time towards our presents ideals, but a single phenomenon of history, strictly limited and defined as to form and duration, which covers a few centuries and can be viewed and, in essentials, calculated from available precedents.  With this enters the age of gigantic conflicts, in which we find ourselves today.  It is the transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism, a general phase of evolution, which occupies at least two centuries and can be shown to exist in all Cultures.  The Chinese call it Shan-Kwo, the "period of the Contending States."  In the Gracchan revolution, which was already [133 B.C.] heralded by a first Servile War, the younger Scipio was secretly murdered and C. Gracchus openly slain -- the first who as Princeps and the first who as Tribune were political centers in themselves amidst a world become formless.  When, in 104 B.C. the urban masses of Rome for the first time lawlessly and tumultuously invested a private person, Marius, with Imperium, the deeper importance of the drama then enacted is comparable with that of assumption of the mythic Emperor-title by the ruler of Ch'in in 288 B.C..

The place of the permanent armies as we know them will gradually be taken by professional forces of volunteer war-keen soldiers; and from millions we shall revert to hundreds of thousands.  But ipso facto this second century will be one of actually Contending States.  These armies are not substitutes for war---they are for war, and they want war.  Within two generations it will be they whose will prevails over all the comfortables put together.  In these wars of theirs for the heritage of the whole world, continents will be staked -- India, China, South Africa, Russia, Islam called out, new techniques and tactics played and counter-played...

The last race to keep its form, the last living tradition, the last leaders who have both at their back, will pass through and onward, victors.

The idealist of the early democracy regarded popular education as enlightenment pure and simple -- but it is precisely this that smoothes the path for the coming Caesars of the world.


Well, damn, here we go again.

Martin Jacques this weekend makes the argument that the invasion of Iraq may well come to be seen as the apogee of the idea of the "moral virtue of the west.”  This is our Waterloo.  The end.  The west has lost.  But curiously, the west has not lost to the forces of Islam.

See Our moral Waterloo
The claims of western values are mocked by Iraq and the rise of Asia
Martin Jacques, The Guardian (UK), Saturday May 15, 2004

Here’s the set-up, as this fellow starts with the photographs of our troops humiliating those Iraqi prisoners for whatever reason…


… President Bush claimed last week: "People seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."  On the contrary, they are an integral part of its "true nature and heart": a society that was built on the destruction of the indigenous peoples; that practised racial segregation until 40 years ago; that still incarcerates many of its young black people; that killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese; that has a messianic belief in the applicability of its own values to the rest of the world; that is willing to impose its model by force; that believes itself to be above international law.  These too are American values.  In this light, the behaviour of the US forces, nurturing a deep sense of racial superiority combined with a disdain for international law, is entirely predictable.


Geez, this guy is harsh!  But if you do not accept the basic premise of American superiority perhaps you actually can come to these conclusions.  Accept the basic premise, obvious to most Americans, and you cannot.

But here’s the nub of his argument – accept the premise or not.  We are at some sort of turning point, what I would call an Oswald Spengler moment.


The growing sense of crisis that now pervades the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq could well herald a global shift in perceptions about the "moral virtue of the west".  The idea that the coalition was a force for liberation rather than occupation is already a distant memory and is becoming more absurd by the day.  There is, though, another and different reason that may lie behind such a growing shift in perceptions.  The emergence of the US as the world's sole superpower, which has commanded such worldwide attention, represents only one aspect of a much more complex global picture.


Yeah, yeah – complications and nuance!  Bush doesn’t do nuance, as he has said.  There are bad guys and good guys.  We’re the good guys, and when we do really bad things, we’re still the good guys – because that’s not like us.  So it’s us against the radical Muslim madmen.

Martin Jacques says, well, not exactly…


The sudden collapse of European communism, together with US military might and the emergence of the Bush doctrine, has served to highlight the extraordinary power of the US.  But another trend over the past quarter-century, which is at least as important - and, in the longer run, is likely to be more important - is the economic rise of East Asia, above all China, and also India, which between them constitute almost 40% of the world's population.  The power and influence of western values was a consequence of, and has ultimately always depended upon, the economic strength of the west.  The rise of China as a key global player, and probably the next superpower, will be the prelude to the growing global influence of Chinese values.  Further down the road, the same can be said of India.


Oh drat!  We’re fighting the wrong people in our quest to rule the world – or at least in our quest to bring them Starbucks and Wal-Mart and Republican fundraisers?  Seems so.

Here’s the reasoning:


Western hubris hitherto has seen the economic growth of these countries as simply an affirmation of growing western influence.  Countless BBC news items coo about how western the Chinese are becoming.  Well, yes, in some respects, but in others not at all. Modernity is not just composed of technology and markets, it is embedded in and shaped by culture.  We will slowly wake up to the fact that the west no longer has a monopoly of modernity - that there are other modernities, not just ours.  The story of the next quarter-century will not simply be about American hyper-power, but the rise of Asian power and values.


Everyone won’t be like us?  Oh no!

Jacques’s conclusion?


The invasion of Iraq may well come to be seen as the apogee of the idea of the "moral virtue of the west".  One year of occupation has already profoundly eroded that claim.  If 9/11 and its aftermath …  suggest that we have entered a simple world of American power and moral virtue, a more balanced view of global development suggests that we stand on the eve of a very different world, in which western values will be contested far more vigorously than at any time since the rise of Europe five centuries ago.  It is true, of course, that communism, especially in its heyday, represented a profound challenge to western values, but the nature of this threat was always political rather than cultural: and culture is far more powerful than politics.


Yep, Oswald Spengler was onto something, wasn’t he?

Okay, I have nephew who recently married a Jordanian woman (actually she’s Circassian) and at the wedding I met her family – fine folks, gracious, warm and welcoming.  But a was lost in the swirl of Arabic, hanging on as best I could.  And my nephew converted to Islam.  Fine.  No problem.  I respect that.  But a few years ago when dating a half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese woman (actually one of the boat people who got out of the last major war we screwed up, and got out the hard way) I found myself in an ethnic karaoke bar in Burbank watching some really bad amateur singers work on Cantonese and Vietnamese love songs, and really shoddily at that.  Ah, thin, high, screechy music done badly.  When it came to be my turn I did "Great Balls of Fire" (in English) - channeling Jerry Lee Lewis to the amusement of all.  Well, life is an adventure.

And of these two odd new worlds, Islamic or Asian, in which will we live in ten years, even if things do, to the surprise of everyone around the world, turn out well for us in Baghdad?

I can hardly wait.




But hold on a moment.


Are we really the bad guys?


See Shadow on the U.S. Beacon

Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page B07


Martin Jacques in The Guardian lists the awful thins we’ve done, culminating in this prisoner abuse scandal.  Hiatt counters -


Some will say this is all to the good if it diminishes the hubris of what President Bill Clinton called the "indispensable nation."  They will say that slave-owning, Indian-eradicating, dictator-propping America was never anything but a fraudulent champion of human rights.

But if you could ask the dissidents and human rights champions who over the decades, in isolated prison cells and frozen work camps, have somehow gotten word that U.S. diplomats or presidents had not forgotten them; if you could ask the elected leader of Burma, who is still under house arrest; or the peasants who are being chased from their villages in western Sudan, or the democrats being slowly squashed in Hong Kong by the Communists in Beijing -- if you could ask any of them, you might get a different answer. They might tell you that the United States has never been perfect, has never done enough, has never been free of hypocrisy -- but also that if America cannot take up their cause, no one will.


Ah, that’s better.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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