Brian O'Connell

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Response to Prominent Americans (Not in Our Name)

Complexity and Universal Truth

From Multiculturalism to Anti-Americanism in Six Easy Steps

Andrew Sullivan

A Nickel's Worth of Free Advice

Armed and Dangerous

Asymmetrical Information

Beauty of Gray

Belmont Club

Bjørn Stærk blog


Cinderella Bloggerfeller

Cold Fury




Dr. Weevil

Eject! Eject! Eject!



it comes in pints?


Little Green Footballs

LILEKS (James)

Man Without Qualities

Matt Welch

Michael J. Totten

My Two Cents

Natalie Solent

Oliver Willis


Public Nuisance

Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing

Shadow of the Hegemon

Steven Chapman

The CounterRevolutionary

The Machinery of Night


The Truth Laid Bear

Tim Blair

Twisted Spinster

USS Clueless


Winds of Change.NET



A different perspective on American hegemony from Matthew Parris writing in the Spectator:
Has it not yet dawned on the British political class that this is how boss nations behave? What earthly use is it separately to chronicle and individually to deplore every crass or clumsy intervention, every insensitivity to a smaller nation’s point of view, every instance in which the interests of the big power are allowed to ride roughshod over those of smaller ones? These will be the first of thousands. It is what we British used to do.

Mr. Parris ends with the article with this inarguable observation:

America is unchallenged. America is behaving as though she is unchallenged. And your point is?

This would be funnier if the author didn't seem so broken up about it. Ahh, he'll get over it.


A Unipolar Primer

There's a great (if longish) article at Foreign Affairs by Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth that analyzes America's pre-eminent position in the world today and sizes up potential challengers (conclusion: there aren't any). Everyone should read it. Here are a few choice snippets:

To understand just how dominant the United States is today, one needs to look at each of the standard components of national power in succession. In the military arena, the United States is poised to spend more on defense in 2003 than the next 15-20 biggest spenders combined. The United States has overwhelming nuclear superiority, the world's dominant air force, the only truly blue-water navy, and a unique capability to project power around the globe. And its military advantage is even more apparent in quality than in quantity. The United States leads the world in exploiting the military applications of advanced communications and information technology and it has demonstrated an unrivaled ability to coordinate and process information about the battlefield and destroy targets from afar with extraordinary precision.

Of course such dominance begs for a balancing power:
Many who acknowledge the extent of American power, however, regard it as necessarily self-negating. Other states traditionally band together to restrain potential hegemons, they say, and this time will be no different. As German political commentator Josef Joffe has put it, "the history books say that Mr. Big always invites his own demise. Nos. 2, 3, 4 will gang up on him, form countervailing alliances and plot his downfall. That happened to Napoleon, as it happened to Louis xiv and the mighty Hapsburgs, to Hitler and to Stalin. Power begets superior counterpower; it's the oldest rule of world politics."

The article goes on to explain why Europe, Russsia, and China are each unlikely to provide such balance. The authors also note that previous examples of states balancing a unipolar power usually did so while hegemony was in its earlier stages. It's too late for that when it comes to the US. We're already there.

Keeping everyone happy, the article concludes with a call for less unilaterlalism from the US:

Magnanimity and restraint in the face of temptation are tenets of successful statecraft that have proved their worth from classical Greece onward. Standing taller than leading states of the past, the United States has unprecedented freedom to do as it pleases. It can play the game for itself alone or for the system as a whole; it can focus on small returns today or larger ones tomorrow.

The above also supports those calls for American Greatness: a Goldbergian invasion of Africa, for example, or at least the lowering of trade barriers to developing nations. It's definitely something we need to think about. This tremendous power we have has to have a higher purpose than seeing to our own comfort and security.


Ozblog Debate

There's an interesting exchange currently underway among some Australian bloggers. Start here with Paul Wright. Then go here for Don Arthur's response. Paul continues here.

My opinion on this is obvious to anyone who's read me before. The worst of Don Arthur's argument is essentially that the US brought this on itself through its sheer power. Or at least that an attack on the world's preeminent power is understandable in itself. Now there's historical precedent for the view that all states should pile up on the most powerful state if it should become too powerful compared to other states (and there is no question that the US is now far and away most powerful nation on the planet). But this simplistic example of realpolitik ignores the fact that the US and Australia share Western values. I have to wonder if Don Arthur would also support an attack on the West in general even if it did not have one particular state with the most power. Would he excuse an Islamofascist attack on the West if the West were not dominated by a single state as it happens to be?

Paul Wright realizes that the West must hang together, both because we share ideals and because the US has helped defend Australia in perhaps its darkest hour, as Japanese militarism overtook much of SE Asia (where Australia is; you know).

I'm quite interested to see Don Arthur's response.


ICC and American Attitudes

There was an interesting series of comments to a post by Demosthenes about just why the American constitution disallows our participation in the International Criminal Court. Demsothenes' post itself was a response to a great post at USS Clueless. Demosthenes points out that the problem isn't necessarily the US constitution per se, but American attitudes towards government that underlie our constitution.

The conversation in the comments turned to parliamentary systems vs. the American presidential system. Demosthenes writes:

By the way.. the reason why some consider parliamentary systems superior is because there's less chance of deadlock, the government is more responsive to the will of the electorate (due to the constant threat of an election and the lack of term limits) and the executive is more responsible to the legislature (because the legislature can dissolve and reform the government).

I responded:

In any case, a constitution which requires an amendment before citizens can lose a bit of sovereignty is superior to one where the legislature can simply vote it away. It's more of that deadlock which they don't have in Europe, and are so much better for.


And Brian, kindly don't read your own prejudices against government into analyses of the quality and efficacy of different systems; the entire point of what I was saying was that those impediments to government are not necessarily good, it's just the American attitude towards government that renders them desirable. Universalizing that attitude is extremely misguided, (else how would one explain the Canadian ideal of "Peace, Order, and Good Government)"?

What am I to take from this exchange? It's okay to refer to others (occasionally described as a majority, since this will help the cause) whose prejudices towards democratic power- "will of the electorate" -lead them to prefer parliamentary systems. But an expression of distaste for preponderant legislative power invites an admonition to keep my prejudices out of it.

Demosthenes framed this debate as "the European attitude / parliamentary systems work well; what's wrong with the American attitude / presidential system?" And furthermore, we should have this debate because the Europeans want us to. As Demosthenes wrote in the original post:

The European critiques of American actions cannot be so simply dismissed- even if they missed their target, the underlying critique about American attitudes towards governments, multilateral agreements, and world governance remains unanswered.

The American distrust of government runs deep and has been around for a long time. Certainly it was there when the constitution was written. DeTocqueville reminded us that it was still there in the 19th century. And as Demosthenes complains, we still operate under the same assumption. The questions of whether this assumption has served us well or whether we should continue to hold it are questions that Americans have been debating since before we were Americans. While some concessions to government power have been made, for example Social Security and the Federal Income Tax, the underlying distrust remains in effect.

The idea that we should rethink this assumption in order to assist other countries in their attempt to wrest a bit of sovereignty from the American people is more than a little perverse. Americans remain generally suspicious of and averse to granting their own government more powers. Consider the current debate surrounding anti-terrorism measures. The idea that we would grant various powers to super-national entities with little accountability to the American people is bizarre, especially when one considers the political character of many of the international participants (i.e., not good). And I also can't help but think that there's more than a little anti-Americanism inolved here: Washington bad, Geneva and The Hague good.

In a hundred years or so, we may well have a functioning world government. We'll probably need one. But what will this world government look like? Under what rules and assumptions will it operate? These are questions that need to be asked and settled before Americans can even consider signing on (and then, necessarily, through constitutional convention, not a mere Congressional vote). As it stands, the ICC does not meet the minimum standards of accountability, or even of jurisprudence, that the American system demands. Demosthenes is suggesting that we consider lowering our standards of governance in order to join the party. I suggest that a better way of dealing with the nascent world government is to insist that American standards of republicanism and accountability to the governed be met. And then we'll think about it. Otherwise it'll end up looking like the EU with it's top-down rule and unaccountable nature.

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© 2002-2004
Brian O'Connell,
for what it's worth.