The Times devoted its Sunday Magazine cover story to essayist Parag Khanna, who over the course of 7,000 words presided serenely over America's decline in his ponderous essay "Waving Goodbye to Hegemony," which reads ashalf info-dump and halfgraduate school essay from someone not as clever as he thinks.
Khanna is a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation, which has gotten some funding from the left-wing Open Society Institute, George Soros's organization.
Khanna's essay, which is adapted from an upcoming book, includes the word "hegemony," a big flashing (red) warning sign that pretentious, Marxist-lite ideas about "the American imperium" and "bullying" are sure to follow. He even claims Europe, home of the anti-Democratic European Union, may represent democratic ideals better than does America.
"It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America's standing in the world remains in steady decline.
"Why? Weren't we supposed to reconnect with the United Nations and reaffirm to the world that America can, and should, lead it to collective security and prosperity? Indeed, improvements to America's image may or may not occur, but either way, they mean little. Condoleezza Rice has said America has no 'permanent enemies,' but it has no permanent friends either. Many saw the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as the symbols of a global American imperialism; in fact, they were signs of imperial overstretch. Every expenditure has weakened America's armed forces, and each assertion of power has awakened resistance in the form of terrorist networks, insurgent groups and 'asymmetric' weapons like suicide bombers. America's unipolar moment has inspired diplomatic and financial countermovements to block American bullying and construct an alternate world order. That new global order has arrived, and there is precious little Clinton or McCain or Obama could do to resist its growth.
"The self-deluding universalism of the American imperium - that the world inherently needs a single leader and that American liberal ideology must be accepted as the basis of global order - has paradoxically resulted in America quickly becoming an ever-lonelier superpower. Just as there is a geopolitical marketplace, there is a marketplace of models of success for the second world to emulate, not least the Chinese model of economic growth without political liberalization (itself an affront to Western modernization theory). As the historian Arnold Toynbee observed half a century ago, Western imperialism united the globe, but it did not assure that the West would dominate forever - materially or morally. Despite the 'mirage of immortality' that afflicts global empires, the only reliable rule of history is its cycles of imperial rise and decline, and as Toynbee also pithily noted, the only direction to go from the apogee of power is down.
"The web of globalization now has three spiders. What makes America unique in this seemingly value-free contest is not its liberal democratic ideals - which Europe may now represent better than America does - but rather its geography. America is isolated, while Europe and China occupy two ends of the great Eurasian landmass that is the perennial center of gravity of geopolitics. When America dominated NATO and led a rigid Pacific alliance system with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Thailand, it successfully managed the Herculean task of running the world from one side of it. Now its very presence in Eurasia is tenuous; it has been shunned by the E.U. and Turkey, is unwelcome in much of the Middle East and has lost much of East Asia's confidence. 'Accidental empire' or not, America must quickly accept and adjust to this reality. Maintaining America's empire can only get costlier in both blood and treasure. It isn't worth it, and history promises the effort will fail. It already has.
"So let's play strategy czar. You are a 21st-century Kissinger. Your task is to guide the next American president (and the one after that) from the demise of American hegemony into a world of much more diffuse governance. What do you advise, concretely, to mitigate the effects of the past decade's policies - those that inspired defiance rather than cooperation - and to set in motion a virtuous circle of policies that lead to global equilibrium rather than a balance of power against the U.S.?
"First, channel your inner J.F.K. You are president, not emperor. You are commander in chief and also diplomat in chief. Your grand strategy is a global strategy, yet you must never use the phrase 'American national interest.' (It is assumed.) Instead talk about 'global interests' and how closely aligned American policies are with those interests. No more 'us' versus 'them,' only 'we.' That means no more talk of advancing 'American values' either. What is worth having is universal first and American second. This applies to 'democracy' as well, where timing its implementation is as important as the principle itself. Right now, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, the hero of the second world - including its democracies - is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
For all of Khanna's overweening, outside-the-box attitude, part of his conclusion sounds more like a rerun of 80's-era paranoia that America was in permanent decline and on the verge of being sold off to Japan piece by piece (how'd that work out, by the way?).
"Fourth, make the global economy work for us. By resurrecting European economies, the Marshall Plan was a down payment on even greater returns in terms of purchasing American goods. For now, however, as the dollar falls, our manufacturing base declines and Americans lose control of assets to wealthier foreign funds, our scientific education, broadband access, health-care, safety and a host of other standards are all slipping down the global rankings. Given our deficits and political gridlock, the only solution is to channel global, particularly Asian, liquidity into our own public infrastructure, creating jobs and technology platforms that can keep American innovation ahead of the pack. Globalization apologizes to no one; we must stay on top of it or become its victim."