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Does Syria mark the end of American world dominance?

6 September 2013

2:36 PM

6 September 2013

2:36 PM

Will historians see the Syrian war as ‘the start of the historic American retreat’? Syrian media seems to think so, and they’re not the only ones; there’s a big market in ‘America is doomed’ literature, although the fact that lots of people are out there buying books suggests it maybe isn’t yet. I’m sure that, within weeks of the British victory of 1759, some miserablist pamphleteer was saying that Britain won’t last the century.

Yet just because doom-mongers have been wrong in the past, they could still be right now – I call it Weigel’s law.

And America has big problems, on top of the fact that China will soon overtake it as the world’s largest economy. While China has difficulties with corruption and inevitable population decline, as with Japan their low fertility won’t last forever. As the population falls family formation may become more affordable, and as the labour supply dries up they will mechanise quicker than the West. Already China has overtaken the US in the number of patents it produces, a sure sign of where power is heading.

In contrast America and Europe have treated demographic decline with the short-term measure of importing people, which hides educational and structural weaknesses, and brings very high social costs.

Even America’s recent economic bounce masks some serious underlying problems, including growing political polarisation and inequality, two inter-linked problems that are heavily aggravated by the country’s increasing diversity. But diversity is what makes America great, apparently.

Having won an ideological World War and then an ideological Cold War, America has come to believe it stands only as an idea, rather than a nation; its elite embraced the idea of the ‘end of history’ as the American dream, a world where all old ties of blood and faith would erode into a bland, peaceful, democratic utopia.

Yet the rest of the world still lives history, and when it comes to Syria the Saudis fight for their Sunni co-religionists, the Iranians for theirs, and the Alawites for their very lives. Who’s going to win that one? Obama and his abstract ideals or people fighting for their brothers and cousins?

Abstract ideas can win, of course, if people believe in them, but against the Nazis and Soviets we were fighting for freedom and the rule of law; the ideas Obama and the modern American and British Left espouse – diversity, statism, tolerance, non-judgmentalism, sexual freedom – are elite ideas which much of the population treats with cynicism. Cohesive societies and democracies need to be held together by something stronger, if not by the old ties of kinship and religion.

The whole logic behind the Project for the American Century was that countries where the leaders thought more like Americans would be more likely to be pro-American. Faultless, except that the actual number of people who think like us in the Middle East is not large enough to rule any country but Israel.

People are of course likely to side with people like them, and that’s why the Iranians are on one side in Syria and the Saudis the other. Yet when Rand Paul suggests that America’s Syria policy should be directed towards America’s co-religionists, the reaction is one of disgust and horror. That’s discrimination!

America’s foreign policy, like its immigration policy, is based on ‘pathological altruism’, which would be fine if everyone else did it, just as pacifism would be; unfortunately China does not see itself as a proposition nation that belongs to the world, but practises discriminating altruism.

Time will tell, but as imperial powers go, America was surely the most tolerant, liberal and freedom-loving we’ve had – mankind’s last, best hope.

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