Email from Leif, author and Grad School Professor:
The United States should practice "golden rules of behavior" when mitigating world conflicts because its international preeminence is dwindling, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark told a crowded Salomon 101 Monday evening.
Wesley Clark is right, but, perhaps, for the wrong reason(s). In a piece in The Week recently (December 1, 206, p. 3), there appeared the following sentence: "While the United States is the last remaining superpower, it will never get its way -- not in North Korea, and not in Iraq -- through unilateral bullying."
The United States, because of the role we have inherited in the world, that is, leader, cannot avoid "mitigating world conflicts." It is what we must do because of who we are -- "mitigate world conflicts." The last remaining superpower is like the person with the biggest club on the island; that is the one who has to handle (mitigate) the conflicts.
Sometimes the person with the biggest club is enlisted by conflicting others to mitigate. Sometimes the person with the biggest club mitigates because (s)he decides it is in the best interest of the whole to do so. In both cases, the person with the biggest club is resented. When (s)he is asked, the asker resents having to ask. When (s)he is not asked and mitigates anyway, the rest resent because their influence is not part of the mix. In both cases, finally, the mitigation is unilateral, if not in literal fact, certainly in perception, and perception is reality to the perceiver.
So the United States has inherited a role that virtually by definition leads to its demise. Clark didn't describe it correctly. The international preeminence is not "dwindling"; it is gone, and it has been gone for several decades. The press didn't lose in Vietnam, nor the hippies or anyone else on whom we want to blame the catastrophe. The United States lost because it is no longer possible to prevail in a conflict (mitigation) on another's soil. It has never been a slam; now, history tells us, it doesn't happen. It didn't happen in Vietnam, it isn't happening in the Middle East, it didn't happen for the vaunted Soviet military machine in Afghanistan, nor for France in IndoCina. It is hard to find an instance in the last five to six decades when a military mitigation has prevailed in any significant geopolitical problem.
And now it is worse than it has been before for the United States. We have big guns and good military personnel, but we are on the verge, if not there already, of being unable to pay our way out of debt. We are seriously weakened by the economic cancer within. We can't launch an effort to mitigate world conflicts, and the world knows it. The loonies are out there tweaking the United States knowing full well that the United States can't do a thing about it.
No, that isn't precisely correct. We can, in fact, incinerate most of the world. Now isn't that a happy thought?