I have a lot of things to post about our recent trip to Key West, and (as usual) lots of bandwidth-devouring, not-safe-for-work photos to go with. This isn’t that post, however.
On the way to Key West, i saw a truck with a patriotic bumper sticker–the one that has a picture of the American flag and the slogan “These Colors Don’t Run.” The sticker was printed with cheap inks, which had faded almost to nonexistance inthe sun–the red stripes on the flag were sunbleached to pale yellow, the slogan was barely readable. How appropriate, I thought.
Right now, America is the world’s sole superpower. Right now, we can do pretty much as we please on the world stage; right now, there is nobody who can out-muscle us. problem is, right now we’re facing an adversary who isn’t competing with us on our own territory. The Cold War, that bitter war of attrition with the Soviet Union, was largely about who could out-muscle the other, an arm wrestling match fought with nuclear weapons and with conventional weapons in thousands of indirect ways all over the globe. The Taliban in Afghanistan was an American creation; we found, trained, armed, paid, and equipped the most virulent, anti-Western, reactionary, xenophobic bunch of fanatic whackos we could find and set them loose against the Russians, hoping to bog the old USSR down in an unwinnable quagmire in Afghanistan. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
So the Soviet Union is no more, and we’re the supreme military power in the world. These colors don’t run; that’s not what happens to solitary superpowers. These colors, instead, gradually fade away.
Being a solitary superpower is not a sustainable proposition. Ask the Persians, or the Romans, or the British. Indeed, we find throughout history that Afghanistan and Iraq are the places where world superpowers go to die.
During the fading days of the British empire, the British found themselves up to their hips in the quagmire of Afghanistan, spending what was left of its resources in a feeble and ultimately fruitless effort to bring order to that part of the world. Meanwhile, across the ocean, America was quietly and steadily building its own political, economic, technical, and military might. By the time the British realized what was happening, they’d been consumed in Afghanistan just as the Soviets would later be, and in Iraq, and they looked around and realized that the world had passed them by…the British Empire had faded, quite without anyone realizing it, and the nation that was once the reigning superpower was suddenly an also-ran.
So. Fast forward to today, and we have…a world superpower slowly being consumed in Afghanistan and Iraq, while across the ocean, another country, this time China, is quietly and steadily building its own political, economic, technical, and military might. The Chinese economy, which depends far less on the rest of the world than ours, is slowly becoming a mammoth juggernaut; the Chinese now publish more research papers every year than we Americans do; the Chinese are developing their own ambitious manned space program; the Chinese government is investing heavily in manufacturing, R&D, and technical firms abroad… Haven’t we seen this script before?
Afghanistan and Iraq is where world superpowers go to die. You’d think someone would have noticed by now.
I voted today. I doubt anybody will be surprised at the way I voted. Had a dead mackerel been running against Bush, I would’ve voted for the fish. “Vote smelly fish for a stronger America!” “The fish–it can’t do a worse job, right?” I did, however, jump outside the Democrat/Libertarian paradigm in my local elections, where I actually feel those votes might be of some use.
On a completely unrelated subject, I got my Alcor paperwork yesterday. Once I have it filled out and notarized, I’m in. I have to find some witnesses who’ll sign it as well; coordinating the witnesses and the notary, and a bit of luck, is all that stands between me and having a life that’s long enough to have some prayer of seeing a time, far far in the future, when human beings the world over will actually learn something from history. But then, I’m an optimist. I know that because OK Cupid says so.