Sunday, February 22, 2009

John Bolton and the Decline of America

From John Gray's as yet unpublished collection Gray's Anatomy: 'The US is in steep decline, its system of finance capitalism in a condition of collapse and its vast military machine effectively paid for by Chinese funding of the federal deficit.'
Frank Rich: 'For all the gloomy headlines we've absorbed since the fall, we still can't quite accept the full depth of our economic abyss...'
As I've said before, the last thing I want is the decline of America, all the alternatives being so very much worse. But it does seem to be a nation in denial, not least among the anti-conservative Republicans who rose to power under Reagan and flourished under Bush II. I've been watching the superb BBC4 series Iran and the West. I was happily discounting the usual anti-American bias - it isn't actually that bad - until John Bolton appeared in the second programme. Has there ever been a more foolish and inept man at the highest levels of world diplomacy? Cheney's puppet, he scuppered his own case by refusing to do what he was supposedly paid to do - diplomacy. Bolton is the political equivalent of one of those now not quite humbled enough alpha male bankers. I am not anti-American myself, but, sometimes, I can see why others are.


  1. But is it not odd that you have to state that you are not anti-Yank. Rather than that you like the place flaws and all.

  2. Bolton came across as an ass, but the Iranians, with 'death to america' on their rockets and manipulative behaviour at their various negotiations are hardly exemplars either. With its division of powers between the supreme leader and president, it's an incredibly tricky regime to deal with. The more I watched, the more I was convinced thay wanted to dupe the Europeans.

  3. But do you not find it somewhat amusing that instead of distressed homeowners posting the house keys through the letterbox on some bank. Now we have the banks posting the keys.

  4. "I say, let this Iran burn. I say, let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."
    - Ayatollah Khomeini

    As I understand it, the deal became let us have nuclear technology and we'll stop killing your troops and undermining your efforts in Iraq. Maybe Bolton was right?

  5. And this is confided to America? Has a British Politician said yet "you know what its our fault, we lent the money, we got lazy, we got decadent, we got stupid, the rights culture that's emerged over the past decade is over, its time to roll your sleeves up"

    And for whatever problems lay ahead for America they are not a tenth of what lays ahead for Europe, at least America has demographics on its side to pay the bills off.

    And those well regulated European banks leveraged themselves at 61-1 and lending the money to the East Europeans, thats not looking a great idea at the moment is it?

    America eventually after exhausting all other alternatives will do the right thing, the Europeans dont even understand the concept of what could be right or wrong, its all relative to them.

    And as someone who has visited Iran, it needs to be stopped from getting nuclear arms and if it does it needs to be invaded at once, and not a second thought should be given.

  6. I recently had the opportunity to chat with John Bolton. The contrast between the very bright, unassuming and funny person I spoke with (who gave a sharp lecture on the foreign policy problems that would be facing the new administration, a lecture that has so far proved correct) and the caricature I have read of in print could not have been more striking. Also, given that the Obama administration seems to be keeping its predecessor's terror policies pretty much intact (Obama's Pentagon just determined that Guantanamo meets standards set by the Geneva Accords, the administration also seems comfortable with extraordinary rendition, among other things) Bolton et al. must have been right after all - otherwise The One would change things, right? As for Frank Rich, he was a lousy theater critic. He is a worse political commentator, and for the same reason: Spleen is no substitute for thought and taste.

  7. I'm sorry, Frank, but you are profoundly wrong. The sole criterion of diplomacy is effectiveness and, in that, Bolton failed miserably. Yo say he is charming, clever, right about this or that is irrelevant. He was wrong about one big thing - as were many others - the belief that America could do what it liked after communism collapsed. His entire posture was, explicitly or not, based on that view. This is wrong not just practically - the neocons ineptly executed military adventues proved that conclusively - but also politically. It was based on an assumption that people wanted to be American. This, not to put too fine a point on it, is not true. Bolton is a political and diplomatic vulgarian who is now being accorded the obscurity he has worked to hard to attain.

  8. I think you will find Bryan that Bush handed over the Iran issue to the Europeans to go with the "soft power" offensive, which seems to have proved not just ineffective but played right into the Mullahs hands.

    So how can you criticize him for not doing any diplomacy? and If doing diplomacy is drinks and canopies at the UN, then I am for one glad he gave it a miss.

    As Frank says, if Bam is not going to reverse the policies then Bush must have been right, but I will admit that Bam is looking very ill at ease in his new post, maybe he is not happy with finding the above to be correct.

  9. "the neocons ineptly executed military adventues proved that conclusively"

    Really? Did Saddam win, is he still funding conflict around the ME? Did not Iraqis just vote in their second election? do the Taliban rule Afghanistan? Is OBL still giving interviews to CNN about America being a weak horse, Has America suffered another attack since or like 9/11?

    Yes of course wars have lives of their own, you will lose battles, you will get things wrongs, but to the idea of the clean war fought from a behind a TV screen or an armchair is an illusion. Wars is by its nature is chaos. We have to decide if the Chaos is worth it.

    So no I dont think us hiding in barracks outside Basra gives us any reason to think America has not or is not succeeding, they went to the sharp end unlike the Europeans in Afghanistan, who have adopted our British Iraq strategy. HIDE.

  10. Well, Bryan, we will have agree to disagree. I think we need to have you interview Bolton. That would one hell of an article, I suspect.
    As for those military ventures, I would still like to know, given the following, what exactly has changed regarding them since Jan 20, 2009: MEET THE NEW BOSS, YADA YADA. Now, I happen to think the current administration is correct regarding this. But I thought the previous administration was also.

  11. Out flew the web and floated wide-
    The mirror crack'd from side to side;
    "The curse is come upon me," cried
    The Lady of Shalott.

  12. 'The sole criterion of diplomacy is effectiveness...' Well, on thta basis, and bearing in mind the problems sanctions have given them, you could argue that Iranian diplomacy has been woeful. Also, how many diplomatic triumphs has the EU had?

  13. Oh, and I should have added, Bryan, that I certainly don;t support the notion that America should act as if can do anything it wants now that Communism is gone. Nor do I think everyone - God forbid - wants to be American. But I don't think Bush's policies were based on either. I think he was responding to what he took to be an act of war on Sept. 9, 2001. Many think his response was effective to the extent that no such attack has taken place since. Many also think it is good that Saddam and his sons are no longer with us, and that Libya's WMDs are a thing of the past, and that al Quaeda seems largely dead.

  14. Just to add, on the demise of America, one of the strengths is that we have the food and the resources to keep the population alive, even if less of us have wide screen TVs for a while. Basic needs can be met.

    The wars and occupations in Iran and Afghanistan have drained our budgets, as if we created a very large credit card debt for ourselves, a debt that can be met as long as we are working. Now less of us are.

    One big thing that's hurting America right now, is that we are waiting to see what the game is going to be, where we each fit into these bailout and stimulus plans. All of us who have a little money in the bank have become tightwads, unwilling to loosen up.

    We had to have the Obama phenomenon, it seems. We had to find out that there was no one with a big S under his shirt to save us from the advertised doom. When everyone gets sick of all the newscasts, and all the fingerpointing, and all the legislation, we'll start coming out of this. There'll be pangs, such as inflation from an unpredictable and unmanageably fluctuating economic base, and there will be national security issues that have to be addressed with failure when deciding how much cash to allow in, and how to pay whom with what. It will be painful, but we will get there.

    But the true insiders are not the bankers, nor the media or university pundits, nor the CEOs, but the people. Most everything else is smoke in our eyes.


  15. Al Qaeda dead! I don't know where to start with that one. Perhaps William Dalrymple in the New York Review of Books. Stronger than ever might be nearer the mark.

  16. Well, Bryan, "Al Quaeda dead," when googled, brings up an awful lot of headlines about dead Al Quaeda leaders, and also the news that 40 succumbed recently to bubonic plague. No one on this planet has more reason to demonstrate that he is alive and well than Osama bin Laden and I don't see him making an conspicuous public appearances. If al Quaeda is stronger than ever, they seem to be keeping that to themselves. The Taliban, now, they may be regaining some strength, but Obama promises to take care of that, right? Then there's this from a Feb. 7 piece in the Kuwaiti Times: "The success of Sunni Arab parties in the Jan. 31 vote in Iraq's Nineveh may have made the still-violent northern province more inhospitable to al Qaeda in Iraq at a time when the group's cohorts overseas are also losing interest in the country ..."

  17. "The US is in steep decline, its system of finance capitalism in a condition of collapse and its vast military machine effectively paid for by Chinese funding of the federal deficit."

    I see what you mean about Gray being funny.

  18. As Faulkner said, "The past isn't dead; it isn't even past." And America is far from dead, though in decline -- perhaps. Half the people I know are out of work right now (one of my brothers lost his job yesterday), but no one is out of food. People are still doing their thing: Walking their dogs, eating their dinners, watching games with their friends, the Oscars tonight.

    I'll tell you what about America...We are hopeful. People are moaning now -- with good reason -- about the economy, the housing market, and much else, but they're not hopeless. Even when people say this recession is starting to look like the Great Depression, it's not said in a terrified way. Those of us whose parents and grandparents lived through it mention not just the deprivation, but the way people helped each other. Everyone was in the same boat and the stigma on being poor and/or unemployed disappeared. Community blossomed.

    Could be this "crisis" is the best thing that could've happened to us after the excesses of the last 20 years.

  19. I'd be very surprised if America doesn't suffer another terrorist attack in the next decade. It just takes someone willing to strap a bomb to themself and walk into a shopping centre. Anti- Americanism is at fever pitch in the middle east- it doesn't take a genius to realise this bodes badly for British and American cities.
    There's an excellent documentary called "the power of nightmares" which debunks the notion that al Qaeda was a single- strong organisation:

  20. Bryan, I don't think William Dalrymple is anyone you would want to quote in favour of your argument. He ceased to have a considered, dispassionate or unemotional view some time ago. I struggle to think of anything he has written since his book on Eastern monasticism that has not been a reflection of his biases and wishes, rather than reality.

  21. Recusant is dead right.

  22. Just to be clear, al Qaeda was at the time of 9/11 an organization with a central leadership and considerable wealth and strategic planning capabilities. That organization basically no longer exists. In its place are all sorts of "baby al Qaedas," if you will, that are very dangerous - suicide bombers and such - but that DON'T pose a strategic threat to the West. That, I take it, is what Frank Wilson meant, and he is - Bryan's petulance notwithstanding - absolutely correct.

  23. "Al Qaeda dead! I don't know where to start with that one"

    Well Bryan, I would not say dead but dying it is, have a read up about this guy Sayyid Imam al-Sharif.

    Across the middle east and especially Egypt this story is big.

    This is a link

  24. Two notes of agreement. 1) An amazing series indeed. 2) Bolton. It would be hilarious if it were not so scary that this guy has at various points in time had so much power.