THE FUTURE STILL BELONGS TO AMERICA
Walter Russell MeadWall Street Journal, July 2, 2011
It is, the pundits keep telling us, a time of American decline, of a post-American world. The 21st century will belong to someone else. Crippled by debt at home, hammered by the aftermath of a financial crisis, bloodied by long wars in the Middle East, the American Atlas can no longer hold up the sky. Like Britain before us, America is headed into an assisted-living facility for retired global powers.
This fashionable chatter could not be more wrong. Sure, America has big problems. Trillions of dollars in national debt and uncounted trillions more in off-the-books liabilities will give anyone pause. Rising powers are also challenging the international order even as our key Cold War allies sink deeper into decline.
But what is unique about the United States is not our problems. Every major country in the world today faces extraordinary challenges—and the 21st century will throw more at us. Yet looking toward the tumultuous century ahead, no country is better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities or manage the dangers than the United States.
Geopolitically, the doomsayers tell us, China will soon challenge American leadership throughout the world. Perhaps. But to focus exclusively on China is to miss how U.S. interests intersect with Asian realities in ways that cement rather than challenge the U.S. position in world affairs.
China is not Germany, the U.S. is not Great Britain, and 2011 is not 1910. In 1910 Germany was a rising power surrounded by decline: France, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary were all growing weaker every year even as Germany went from strength to strength. The European power system grew less stable every year.
In Asia today China is rising—but so is India, another emerging nuclear superpower with a population on course to pass China’s. Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia are all vibrant, growing powers that have no intention of falling under China’s sway. Japan remains a formidable presence. Unlike Europe in 1910, Asia today looks like an emerging multipolar region that no single country, however large and dynamic, can hope to control.
This fits American interests precisely. The U.S. has no interest in controlling Asia or in blocking economic prosperity that will benefit the entire Pacific basin, including our part of it. U.S. policy in Asia is not fighting the tide of China’s inexorable rise. Rather, our interests harmonize with the natural course of events. Life rarely moves smoothly and it is likely that Asia will see great political disturbances. But through it all, it appears that the U.S. will be swimming with, rather than against, the tides of history.
Around the world we have no other real rivals. Even the Europeans have stopped talking about a rising EU superpower. The specter of a clash of civilizations between the West and an Islamic world united behind fanatics like the unlamented Osama bin Laden is less likely than ever. Russia’s demographic decline and poor economic prospects (not to mention its concerns about Islamic radicalism and a rising China) make it a poor prospect as a rival superpower.
When it comes to the world of ideas, the American agenda will also be the global agenda in the 21st century. Ninety years after the formation of the Communist Party of China, 50 years after the death of the philosopher of modern militant Islam Sayyid Qutb, liberal capitalist democracy remains the wave of the future.
Fascism, like Franco, is still dead. Communism lingers on life support in Pyongyang and a handful of other redoubts but shows no signs of regaining the power it has lost since 1989 and the Soviet collapse. “Islamic” fanaticism failed in Iraq, can only cling to power by torture and repression in Iran, and has been marginalized (so far) in the Arab Spring. Nowhere have the fanatics been able to demonstrate that their approach can protect the dignity and enhance the prosperity of people better than liberal capitalism. The heirs of Qutb are further from power than they were during the first Egyptian Revolution in 1953.
Closer to home, Hugo Chavez and his Axis of Anklebiters are descending towards farce. The economic success of Chile and Brazil cuts the ground out from under the “Bolivarean” caudillos. They may strut and prance on the stage, appear with Fidel on TV and draw a crowd by attacking the Yanquis, but the dream of uniting South America into a great anticapitalist, anti-U.S. bloc is as dead as Che Guevara.
So the geopolitics are favorable and the ideological climate is warming. But on a still-deeper level this is shaping up to be an even more American century than the last. The global game is moving towards America’s home court.
The great trend of this century is the accelerating and deepening wave of change sweeping through every element of human life. Each year sees more scientists with better funding, better instruments and faster, smarter computers probing deeper and seeing further into the mysteries of the physical world. Each year more entrepreneurs are seeking to convert those discoveries and insights into ways to produce new things, or to make old things better and more cheaply. Each year the world’s financial markets are more eager and better prepared to fund new startups, underwrite new investments, and otherwise help entrepreneurs and firms deploy new knowledge and insight more rapidly.
Scientific and technological revolutions trigger economic, social and political upheavals. Industry migrates around the world at a breathtaking—and accelerating—rate. Hundreds of millions of people migrate to cities at an unprecedented pace. Each year the price of communication goes down and the means of communication increase.
New ideas disturb the peace of once-stable cultures. Young people grasp the possibilities of change and revolt at the conservatism of their elders. Sacred taboos and ancient hierarchies totter; women demand equality; citizens rise against monarchs. All over the world more tea is thrown into more harbors as more and more people decide that the times demand change.
This tsunami of change affects every society—and turbulent politics in so many countries make for a turbulent international environment. Managing, mastering and surviving change: These are the primary tasks of every ruler and polity. Increasingly these are also the primary tasks of every firm and household.
This challenge will not go away. On the contrary: It has increased, and it will go on increasing through the rest of our time. The 19th century was more tumultuous than its predecessor; the 20th was more tumultuous still, and the 21st will be the fastest, most exhilarating and most dangerous ride the world has ever seen.
Everybody is going to feel the stress, but the United States of America is better placed to surf this transformation than any other country. Change is our home field. It is who we are and what we do. Brazil may be the country of the future, but America is its hometown.
Happy Fourth of July.
(Mr. Mead is a professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College
and editor-at-large of the American Interest.)
AMERICA TRUSTS ITS CITIZENS
Victor Davis Hanson
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 4, 2011
For the last 235 years, on the Fourth of July, Americans have celebrated the birth of the United States, and the founding ideas that have made it the most powerful, wealthiest, and freest nation in the history of civilization.
But today, there has never been more uncertainty about the future of America—and the anxiety transcends even the dismal economy and three foreign wars. President Obama prompted such introspection in April 2009, when he suggested that the United States, as one of many nations, was not necessarily any more exceptional than others. Recently, a New Yorker magazine article sympathetically described our new foreign policy as “leading from behind.”
The administration not long ago sought from the United Nations and the Arab League—but not from Congress—authorization to attack Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya. Earlier, conservative opponents had made much of the president’s bows to Chinese and Saudi Arabian heads of state, which, coupled with serial apologies for America’s distant and recent past, were seen as symbolically deferential efforts to signal the world that the United States was at last not necessarily preeminent among nations.
Yet there has never been any nation even remotely similar to America. Here’s why. Most revolutions seek to destroy the existing class order and use all-powerful government to mandate an equality of result rather than of opportunity—in the manner of the French Revolution’s slogan of “liberty, equality and fraternity” or the Russian Revolution’s “peace, land and bread.”
In contrast, our revolutionaries shouted “Don’t tread on me!” and “Give me liberty or give me death!” The Founders were convinced that constitutionally protected freedom would allow the individual to create wealth apart from government. Such enlightened self-interest would then enrich society at large far more effectively that could an all-powerful state.
Such constitutionally protected private property, free enterprise, and market capitalism explain why the United States—with only about 4.5 percent of the world’s population—even today, in an intensely competitive global economy, still produces a quarter of the world’s goods and services. To make America unexceptional, inept government overseers, as elsewhere in the world, would determine the conditions under which businesses operate.
Individual freedom in America manifests itself in ways most of the world can hardly fathom—whether…the near impossibility of proving libel in American courts, or the singular custom of multimillion-dollar philanthropic institutions, foundations, and private endowments. Herding, silencing, or enfeebling Americans is almost impossible—and will remain so as long as well-protected citizens can say what they want and do as they please with their hard-earned money.
Race, tribe, or religion often defines a nation’s character. And while the United States was originally crafted largely by white males who improved upon Anglo-Saxon customs and the European Enlightenment, the Founders set in place an “all men are created equal” system that evolved into the racially blind society of today.
This year a minority of babies born in the United States will resemble the look of the Founding Fathers. Yet America will continue as it was envisioned, as long as those of various races and colors are committed to the country’s original ideals. When International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of sexual assault against a West African immigrant maid in New York, supposedly liberal French elites were outraged that America would dare bring charges against such an establishment aristocrat. Americans, on the other hand, would have been more outraged had their country not done so.
The Founders’ notion of the rule of law, coupled with freedom of the individual, explains why the United States runs on merit, not tribal affinities or birth. Elsewhere, being a first cousin of a government official, or having a prestigious name, ensures special treatment from the state. Yet in America, nepotism is never assured. End that notion of American merit and replace it with racial tribalism, cronyism, or aristocratic privilege, and America itself would vanish as we know it.
There is no rational reason why a small republican experiment in 1776 grew to dominate global culture and society—except that America is the only nation, past or present, that put trust in the individual rather than in the state and its elite bureaucracy. Such confidence in the average free citizen made America absolutely exceptional—something we should remember more than ever on this Fourth of July.
(Mr. Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.)
PATRIOTS, REFUGEES AND THE RIGHT OF RETURN
FrontPage, July 4, 2011
When the War of Independence began, it quickly assumed the nature of a civil war. Those opposing the declaration of statehood fought alongside the organized armies of their kinsmen, which invaded the territory of the infant state from all directions. The fighting was bloody, and the opponents of independence used terrorism against the population seeking statehood. The country was partitioned between the areas of the new state and the territories remaining under the rule of the foreign invaders.
As the fighting dragged on, the opponents of independence began a mass exodus. In most cases, they left because they feared the consequences of staying on as a political minority or because they simply opposed on principle the new political entity.… They fled across the frontiers, moving their families to live in the areas controlled by the armies of their political kin. From there, some joined the invading forces and launched cross-border raids. When the fighting ceased, most of the refugees who had fled from the new state were refused permission to return.
The events described above did not transpire in 1947-49, but rather in 1775-1781. The refugees in question were not Arabs, but Tory “Loyalists” who supported the British against the American revolutionists seeking independence. During the American War of Independence, large numbers of Loyalist refugees fled the new country. Estimates of the numbers vary, but perhaps 100,000 refugees left or were expelled, a very significant number given the sparse population of the thirteen colonies.
While there are many differences, there are also many similarities between the plight of the Palestinians and that of the Tory refugees during the first years of American independence. The advocates of Palestinian rights are in fact clearly in the same political bed with King George`s allies who fought against American democracy and independence.
Like all wars of independence, both the Israeli and American wars were in fact civil wars. In both cases, religious sectarianism played an important role in defining the opposing forces, although for Americans, taxation was even more important. (Israelis suffered under abominable taxation only after independence.) Among the causes of the American Revolution was the attempt to establish the Anglican Church, or Church of England, as the official bishopric of the colonies. Anglicans were the largest ethnic group opposing independence in the 1770s, as were Palestinian Muslims in the 1940s, although in both cases, other religious/ethnic groups were also represented in the anti-independence movement.
Those fearing the possibility of being forced to live as minorities under the tyrannical religious supremacy of the Anglicans and Muslims, respectively, formed the forces fighting for independence. The Anglicans and Muslims hoped to establish themselves with the armed support of their co-religionists across the borders. New England was the center of patriotism to a large extent because of the mistrust of the Anglican church by the Puritan and Congregationalist majorities there. The later incorporation of the separation of church and state into the U.S. Constitution was largely motivated by the memory of would-be Anglican dominance.…
When independence was declared, the populations of the opposing forces were about even in both 18th century America and 20th century Palestine. The exact distribution of pro- and anti-independence forces in the American colonies is not known, but the estimate by John Adams is probably as good a guess as any—namely, one-third patriot, one-third Loyalist, and one-third neutral.
When fighting broke out, civilians were often the first victims in both wars. The Tories formed terrorist units and plundered and raided the territories under patriot control. The southwestern frontier areas of the colonies, like the southwestern border of Palestine, were scenes of particularly bloody terrorism. In South Carolina, the Tory leader Major William Cunningham, known as “Bloody Bill,” became the Ahmed Jibril of the struggle, conducting massacres of patriot civilians.…
Terrorist raids were particularly common along the New England coast and up the Delaware River. General Sir Henry Clinton organized many guerilla raids upon patriot territory. Loyalists also launched assassination plots, including an attempt to murder George Washington in New York in 1776. Among the terrorists participating in that plot was the mayor of New York City.
There were Loyalist insurrections against the patriots in every colony. Tory military activity was particularly severe in the Chesapeake, on Long Island, in Delaware, in Maryland, and along the Virginia coast. As violence escalated and spread, the forces of the revolution took countermeasures. Tories were tarred and feathered. Indiscriminate expulsions sometimes took place. Tory areas were sometimes placed under martial rule, with all civil rights, such as habeas corpus and due process, suspended.…
In some colonies, Loyalists were excluded from practicing law and from some other professions. Tories were frequently stripped of all property rights, and had their lands confiscated. In colony after colony, “Acts of Banishment” forced masses of Loyalists to leave their homes and emigrate. The most common destination was the Canadian Maritimes, with others going to the British West Indies, to England, and to Australia.
In both the Israeli and American wars for independence, anti-independence refugees fled the country in order to live in areas under the control of their political allies. Many who opposed independence nevertheless stayed put. After the wars ended, these people generally found the devil was not as bad as they had feared, and were permitted to live as tolerated political minorities with civil rights. (This in spite of the fact that many refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new states, sometimes for decades.)
The colonies/states that had banished Loyalists refused to allow them to return, even after a peace treaty was signed. In most cases, property was never returned. There was fear that returning Tories could act as a sort of fifth column, particularly if the British took it into their heads to attempt another invasion. (Such an invasion took place in 1812).…
The Tory refugees were regarded by all as the problem of Britain. The American patriots allowed small numbers to return. Others attempted to return illegally and were killed. But most languished across the partition lines in eastern British Canada, mainly in what would become Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The refugees would never be granted the “right to return.” In most cases, they would never even be granted compensation for property; Benjamin Franklin was among the leading opponents of any such compensation.
At this point, the similarity between the Palestinian refugees and the Tory Loyalists breaks down. The British, unlike the Arabs, did a great deal to settle their refugees, rather than force them into festering camps, and allotted $20 million for their resettlement. The Tory refugees quickly became a non-problem, and never played any subsequent role in British-American relations.
Nevertheless, an interesting thought-experiment might be to imagine what would have occurred had the British done things the Arab way. Tory refugees would have been converted into terrorist cadres and trained by British commandos. They would have begun a ceaseless wave of incursions and invasions of the independent United States, mainly from bases along the Canadian frontier. The British, Hessians and their allies would have launched a global diplomatic campaign for self-determination for the Loyalist Americans. They would have set up an American Liberation Organization (ALO) to hijack whalers and merchant marines and assassinate U.S. diplomats.
Benedict Arnold would have been chosen ALO chairman and would have written the Tory National Charter under the nom de guerre of Abu Albion. The British would have organized underground terrorist cells among the Loyalist population that had not fled. Britain and her empire would have boycotted the new country commercially and pressured others to do the same, asserting that the national rights of the Loyalist people were inalienable and eternal, no matter how many years had passed since the refugees fled. International pressure would have been exerted on the U.S. to give up much of its territory and to internationalize Philadelphia.
For more than fifty years, the position of the American State Department has been that Israel should grant the Palestinian refugees the “right to return,” that Israel is liable for the suffering of the refugees and should be responsible for their resettlement. The State Department also thinks the refugees should be represented at Middle East peace talks. The State Department is sympathetic to calls for recognizing the rights of the refugees to self-determination and political expression.
The State Department, in other words, is exhibiting Loyalist Tory sympathies. A large portrait of Benedict Arnold should grace the office of every “Arabist” at Foggy Bottom.