"Decline Is a Choice" (Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard, 10/19/09)

Here is a thoughtful piece that I think intelligently makes the case for the neo-conservative worldview. Certainly Krauthammer relies on a number of premises I disagree with. U.S. governments *have* committed grave moral misdeeds in the world -- perhaps not more than other great powers, adjusting for relative capacity to do harm, but more than the governments of most countries. Honesty and maintaining moral status requires acknowledging this, as Obama appears to be doing (to Krauthammer's dismay). There is nationalism here, although it justifies itself in "Realpolitik" terms and argues in terms of what's good for the world, not just what's good for the United States.

  Yet at the same time, I do agree with Krauthammer's view that the anti-hegemonic trend betrays a certain naivete about power in the world. In particular, I think the decision to pull back on missile defense (the article cites examples in Alaska, Europe, and budget decisions) is particularly dangerous and shortsighted. Not just the U.S., but the world needs the capacity to shoot down nuclear missiles. A reliable missile defense would eliminate the perceived need to maintain vast nuclear arsenals, the continued existence of which still represent the single greatest threat to humanity, in my view. With regard to those arsenals, I do applaud Obama's apparent desire to negotiate further mutual reductions with Russia (if anyone here follows my SFGate comments, now readable on the LPSF website thanks to Rob's work, you may have noticed my post about Obama's Nobel Prize in which I state he has done nothing for nuclear disarmament; I subsequently learned that he is apparently doing more in this area than I was aware of). But I believe such disarmament is better accomplished from a position of strength. The U.S. government's military budget *should* be cut way back -- ideally eliminated, as far as a standing army is concerned -- but I think the first cuts should be made in things like unnecessary bases, high-tech offensive weaponry, wasteful procurement procedures, and the like, rather than cutbacks that threaten the ability to deter military aggression by regimes that possess even less concern for human rights than does the U.S. government.

  In some ways perhaps I find Krauthammer's perspective refreshing because it is goes against what I think he correctly identifies as a mood of fearful pessimism in this country. It seems to me that there is an undercurrent of fatalism running through much of the current media coverage about the United States and its place in the world, and I find this fatalism, dare I say it, un-American. To the extent that countries can be said to have national characteristics, the American impulse that "If we can imagine it, and it needs doing, we'll find a way to do it!" has always been one of the most admirable of its attributes, in my view. But there seems to be very little of that can-do spirit going around these days. Rather there seems to be a tacit assumption that U.S. economic decline, perhaps military or even civilizational decline, is inevitable. I sense fear, concern, and trepidation in the U.S. polity about this, and about China's growing economic/military power, as well as about the virulence of fundamentalist Islam (see separate message I'm about to post for a fairly libertarian-minded review of Mark Steyn's book), but little determination to resist or counteract these forces and choose an alternate destiny.

  I do not think there is anything fundamentally, inherently wrong with the prospect of a government based in China becoming the most powerful institution in the world, or Islam supplanting Christianity as the pre-eminent religion. But I would definitely not want to see the current Beijing regime, the more fanatical interpretations of Islam, or anything like them, filling those roles. If the U.S. government were to cede its role as pre-eminent superpower, I would want its replacement to be a power more like the government of, say, Estonia, Switzerland, New Zealand, or another institution whose sphere of control ranks relatively high in overall freedom (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_World_Liberty_Index). If Christianity fades away, I want it replaced by an enlightened humanism, not by an even more anti-sexual, misogynist, and luddite religion (at least as practiced by the average believer in each of the two camps). Just as concern over a potential power vacuum and consequent instability prevents me from embracing full anarchy, so too does concern for what might happen in its absence prevent me from being comfortable with the loss of superpower status by the U.S. government, or the civilizational inertia and demographic and decline of the West, without other significant changes taking place that would make such changes less dangerous for the future of the entire world.

  Anyway, I'm interested in hearing others' views, especially if you have an analysis that goes deeper than simply proclaiming the standard non-interventionist formula on the basis of its superior morality, and are willing to take Krauthammer's (and Steyn's) various points and concerns at face value and address them.

Love & Liberty,
        ((( starchild )))