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Power and power
by Threehegemons
17 February 2002 14:20 UTC
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Richard--you help clarify some of the issues in play right now.  Whether or not 
it is a good thing to have friends is, apparently, now an open question in the 
US.  Certainly the State Department believes its a good thing--that's why they 
produce reports about what the foreign press thinks, like the one Wallerstein 
uses in his current commentary.  But Bush--and apparently much public 
opinion--doesn't seem to think it matters much.

With such an attitude, and given the particularities of the case, I don't see 
much prospect of having the sort of backing the US had when it attacked 
Yugoslavia, let alone Iraq I.  I remain agnostic about whether the US could 
carry out its military objectives anyway--I am not a military strategist.  
However, in terms of the stated goal of preventing 'rogue states' from 
acquiring weapons of mass destruction, I'm pretty pessimistic about the US' 

There was an interesting line, which no one commented on here, in a piece by 
Alexander Haig that was posted a couple of months ago.  He commented that the 
US maintains troops in Europe to guarantee that the Europeans don't become 
protectionist.  This line seems to capture the limits of power exercised 
through military force in all its poignancy.  If Europe should choose to go 
protectionist, could the US forces there somehow conquer the continent, and 
assure its continued integration with the US?  Its precisely such goals that 
require friends, and for which military power is practically useless.  More 
broadly, the US has an additional goal--along with its military ones--of 
organizing a 'free trade' global economy.  How does it plan to do this without 

The US doesn't just rely on its allies for markets--it also relies on them to 
pay for its wars--which could be a problem if you decide there is no need to 
make friends.  Let's not forget the conference to organize a new government in 
Afghanistan was held in Bonn, and wasn't the one to fund reconstruction of 
Afghanistan  held in Japan?

A few months ago--for example, when Geoffrey Wheatcroft suggested in the 
NYTimes that Europe get involved in the Middle East--I would have agreed with 
the characterization of Europe as fragmented.  But Bush seems to have actually 
succeeded in unifying European opinion, and Chris Patten's comments last week 
pretty much amounted to European foreign policy positions.

Over the medium term (10 to 20 years), Europeans, if they are not friends with 
the US, are going to start exploring their options.  They don't presently have 
military power (that could change) but they send plenty of aid to the rest of 
the world, and are the headquarters for the bulk of the NGO world.  These are 
forms of power, and they will try to figure out how to deploy them.  Ditto East 
Asia.  Meanwhile, the US may well take more direct hits on its 'homeland', 
which certainly looks like a reduction in its abilities to defend itself 
(another way of thinking about power).

Power can be conceived of as the ability to do whatever you want to, or the 
ability to get others to do what you want to.  Which forms of power is the US 
strongest in with the direction Bush is pushing for?  And can you really 
continue with the first form as the second form eludes you?

Steven Sherman

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