This has not been a good time for those who would rely on the power and wisdom of the United States. It has not been any better for Americans who may think of their country is better than others, and a world leader.
Calls for decency, accommodation and/or reform by Barack Obama are being ignored or rejected by Vladimir Putin, Nouri al-Maliki, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. They're the rulers of three important countries, as measured by size, population, natural resources or military potential. Putin is doing whatever he does for his own reasons in Ukraine. al-Maliki is not about to include a full range of Iraq's ethnic and religious sectors in his government, and el-Sisi will not comply with American advice about the Muslim Brotherhood or extending American styles of freedom to journalists.
Only recently did the American President, coupled with his sonorous Secretary of State, receive similar treatment from Benyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.
Current betting is that we can forget about American commitments to keep Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them.
The Assad regime may have rid itself of "poison gas," as demanded by the United States and others, but is still dumping chlorine on opponents.
America's European allies are not being as nasty as Putin, al-Maliki el-Sisi, or Assad, but they are not lining up with American preferences about sanctioning Russia. There is too much business to be done there, and who really views the Ukraine as an enlightened place that must be preserved in one or another set of boundaries? Russia, Poland, Germany, and Austria have taken and given up pieces of that place over the course of centuries. Western European populations are tired of migrants from Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, and are not inclined to welcome job and welfare seekers from Ukraine.
All told, it doesn't look good for the world's greatest power.
No doubt that the US is unmatched in economic wealth and military power. However, it hasn't had even a half-way decent war since Korea, and that ended in a tied score, with the miserable North subsequently able to slip through sanctions to reach nuclear capacity.
We can overlook those who tout America's success in Grenada or Panama.
The nasties may say that the US gets what it deserves from a political process that rests on presidential primaries, and allows the choice of the prettiest, best speaking candidate with mass appeal, despite a lack of governmental experience.
Barack Obama's CV features schooling and growing up in places far from the American cultural main stream, in Hawaii, Indonesia, and whatever he acquired from visits with his Kenyan family. Yet he has shown little sense of what moves people who have been at the center of world problems for several decades. We can argue if the Islamic threat began with the Iranian revolution, American support of Muslims from all over to battle Russians in Afghanistan, or migrations of North Africans to Europe. 9-11 ratcheted things upward, and now we are seeing the output of Arab Spring.
The earliest sign of Obama's naivete was dumping the man who was arguably the most moderate and pro-western of any ruler of a major Muslim country on the claim that he was not sufficiently democratic. Mubarak's Egypt did not fall all that far from Chicago's standards of political purity or the opportunities available to all its people.
One of Israel's left-wig commentators led off a discussion on a prime time TV program with the speculation that the US national government has the service of at least 200,000 specialists in the Middle East, most of Arab extraction. So what happened? Then came an academic who specializes in American politics, who usually finds something positive to say about the country he has spent his career studying. He shared the wonder of the program's moderator, and could offer no explanation other than American self-centered ignorance of others.
The current worry is Iraq, and the possibility of its loss either to Sunni fanatics from all over, or the Shiite fanatics of Iran. Next in line may be Jordan, with an always problematic population propped up initially by Britain and then by the United States. Given Jordan's vulnerability to Syrian chaos on one border and Iraqi chaos on another, with the United States proving to be a unreliable source of support, some are looking at Israel for help. They include Israelis who worry about the fall of Jordan, and Islamic fanaticism coming to their own eastern border to join the worries about Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the ever present floundering of whoever is running the West Bank.
Those wanting Israel to save Jordan overlook the disinclination of Jordanians for its help. No self-respecting Arab or Muslim can admit dependence on the Jews. Maybe the IDF can do the work in its Arab dress and beards, used for dealing with the bad guys in the West Bank and the Arab villages of Israel. If the job falls to the Israeli Air Force, they might overpaint the Stars of David with an Arab crescent, and claim to be Syrian.
Barring those possibilities, we will have to rely on a disciplined Jordanian army and a savvy king to deal effectively with the rag tag gangs operating in Iraq and Syria.
Despite the problems emanating from the top, there is no doubt about the power of the United States. Its industry, science, and technology created major portions of what we have learned to use and value. The citizens and governments of other countries line up for access to the goodies on offer.
Future historians will quarrel if the aggression of George W. Bush or the bluster then timidity of Barack Obama did more harm or good for the Middle East, the world, and the United States. Some will conclude that all would have been better off if others had been chosen to lead the greatest power in the elections from 2000 through 2012.
Growing up in Fall River, I liked the place and didn't realize how much it reflected the downside of the US. Once I acquired familiarity with social indicators I learned that I came from a town where the average adult had not gotten half-way through high school, and close to a third of young people do not finish high school. The data has not changed much in the half century since I left. Reports that Boston ships some of its homeless to the cheap housing of Fall River do not portend a better future.
The whole of the US is only somewhat less problematic. Lots of readers will protest that they are living well, and they are. But the bottom 25% or so isn't much better off--or even worse--than the average Mexican. Data showing two-thirds of African American males with police records, and being the world leader for incarcerations are as damning as American life expectancy that puts the US securely in the Third World.
America' status as the greatest power means that the rest of us ought to rely primarily on ourselves.
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