Marcus Aurelius: Collapse of American Influence Recalls Dis-Integration of Soviet Union, Fall of France

Cultural Intelligence
Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

Collapse of American Influence Recalls Dis-Integration of Soviet Union, Fall of France

By CONRAD BLACK

| September 7, 2013

Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and prior to that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.

The Soviet Union crumbled jurisdictionally: In 1990-1991, one country became the 16 formerly constituent republics of that country, and except perhaps for Belarus, none of them show much disposition to return to the Russian fold into which they had been gathered, almost always by brute force, over the previous 300 years.

The cataclysmic decline of France, of course, was the result of being overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940. And while it took until the return of de Gaulle in 1958 and the establishment of the Fifth Republic with durable governments and a serious currency, and the end of the Algerian War in 1962, and the addition of some other cubits to France’s stature, the largest step in its resurrection was accomplished by the Allied armies sweeping the Germans out of France in 1944.

What we are witnessing now in the United States, by contrast, is just the backwash of inept policy-making in Washington, and nothing that could not eventually be put right. But for this administration to redeem its credibility now would require a change of direction and method so radical it would be the national equivalent of the comeback of Lazarus: a miraculous revolution in the condition of an individual (President Obama), and a comparable metamorphosis (or a comprehensive replacement) of the astonishingly implausible claque around him.

Until recently, it would have been unimaginable to conceive of John Kerry as the strongman of the National Security Council. This is the man who attended political catechism classes from the North Vietnamese to memorize and repeat their accusations against his country of war crimes in Indochina, and, inter alia, ran for president in 2004 asserting that while he had voted to invade Iraq in 2003, he was not implicated in that decision because he did not vote to fund the invasion once underway. (Perhaps Thomas E. Dewey would have been an upset presidential winner in 1944 if he had proclaimed his support for the D-Day landings but advocated an immediate cut-off of funds for General Eisenhower’s armies of liberation.)

As has been touched upon here before, the desire to avoid America in another foreign conflict is understandable. But if that is the policy, the president of the United States should not state that presidents of countries in upheaval (e.g., Bashar Assad) “must go,” should not draw “red lines” and ignore them, should not devise plans to punish rogue leaders but not actually damage their war-making ability, should not promise action and send forces to carry out the action, and then have, in current parlance, a public “conversation” with himself about whether to do anything, and should not thereby abdicate his great office in all respects except the salary and perquisites.

A Senate committee has voted President Obama the authority to attack Syria. But he is the commander-in-chief. He has that authority already, and what he is doing is implicitly making the exercise of that power dependent on Congressional approval. How does that square with the presidential oath, which requires of the inductee that he “faithfully execute the office” and that he “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”?

President Truman famously said, “The buck stops here,” and he was right. The American public despises Congress, with good reason. Most of the members are venal, politically cowardly, and incompetent; the idea of those 535 log-rolling gas-bags sharing the command of the United States armed forces does not bear thinking about.

And if the United States is effectively blasé about countries using chemical weapons on their people, as it apparently is about the formerly “unacceptable” development of nuclear weapons by Iran, this depressing news should be imparted to the world explicitly by the administration and not left to be surmised from the waffling of the Congress.

What is more worrisome than the fact that the United States has an inadequate president, is that the public still accords the incumbent a significant degree of support. If the American people, who have responded to intelligent leadership so often within living memory, has become so morally obtuse that it buys into this flimflam, the problem is more profound than I imagined.

What American will need in 2016 is a new president who enunciates a clear policy: foreign intervention only to prevent genocide,