Friday, November 25, 2011

Eagle's flight loses some loft

Power and human purposes around the globe are shifting toward new patterns, new aims and new necessities. Stephen Walt offers a reflection:

... More broadly, if you compare the era in which most of us have lived to the previous fifty years (1900-1950), there's little question that we've enjoyed a period of comparative benevolence. The first half of the 20th century witnessed two enormously destructive world wars, the worst economic depression in history, and several brutal genocides. The past sixty years has its own share of tragedies, to be sure, but the overall level of violence was much lower, economic growth was fairly steady (until recently), and many of us never had to endure the insecurities, travesties, and sacrifices that earlier generations experienced or that were still common in other parts of the world.

Most Americans ought to be especially grateful for their extraordinary good fortune, and Thanksgiving is an appropriate time for us to reflect upon it. And as I watch Europe teeter on the brink of financial collapse, observe the violent political contestation that is sweeping the Middle East, note the rapidly shifting balance of power in Asia, and contemplate the tragicomic follies of our so-called leaders in Washington, I do wonder how long it will last, and whether I will look back with regret at the tranquility we have lost.

By the end of the year, U.S. troops will have left Iraq. Egypt continues the struggle to define what follows tyranny. Despite the Libyan adventure, U.S. power continues to wane in what we call the "Middle East." Tony Karon at Time summarizes caustically.

It's just as well, perhaps, that the Administration has begun talking of a "Pacific century," moving troops to Australia even as it withdraws from Iraq. Because for better or worse, 2011 will be remembered as the year the Middle East, as a region, declared its independence from U.S. influence.

We aren't good at noticing when long established human arrangements finally begin to crack open. We have a hard time assimilating that the planet itself is changing under stress. But looking away doesn't calm the storms; we're in for unfamiliar seas.

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