Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The biggest threat to America’s future is America

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John Cassidy has an excellent column in the New Yorker on how empires change and adapt as the world around them changes. From the column:

On a day when much of the world’s attention is turned to Israel and its elections, I’ve been thinking about another foreign story that has been receiving less coverage but could, in the long run, turn out to be equally significant: the news that Britain, France, Germany, and Italy have decided, over the objections of the United States, to join the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a new international-development institution, set up by China, that is poised to become a potential rival to the World Bank.

Who cares about a new development bank, you may ask? By way of an answer, let me engage in a bit of historical analysis. It may seem like a pointless detour at first, but I promise to circle back to the news. . .

Unfortunately, the widespread recognition that America can’t do everything coexists with a set of outdated presumptions and practices, which still dominate many policy discussions in Washington and are already doing considerable harm to the U.S.’s standing. If these nostrums and patterns of behavior aren’t updated, they will end up doing far more damage. Indeed, it’s barely an exaggeration to say that the real threat to American power and influence comes from within America itself, specifically from its increasingly dysfunctional political system.

Take the transatlantic diplomatic row over the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. In itself, it isn’t a huge story, but it is a straw in the wind.

In June of last year, China announced that it was expanding its plans for a new international-development bank, which would be based in Beijing and would lend money for infrastructure investments across Asia. This happened after the Chinese were repeatedly rebuffed in their efforts to play a larger role in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the two big Washington-based lending institutions that were set up after the Second World War, and in the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, which was founded in 1966.

Since their establishment seventy years ago, the World Bank and the I.M.F. have played an important role in stabilizing and legitimizing the U.S.-dominated global economy, directly furthering U.S. interests in the process. In many other countries, indeed, they have long been viewed as conduits for the Treasury Department and the White House. At least a decade ago, as Asia’s importance to the world economy increased, smart officials in Washington came to realize that this situation couldn’t continue indefinitely, and that if the Bank and the I.M.F. were to maintain their influence they would have to be reformed, with China, India, and other Asian countries playing bigger roles. In November, 2010, after years of tortuous negotiations, a package to reform the I.M.F. was agreed upon: the Fund’s resources would be doubled, and China, in particular, would get more of a say in its internal deliberations.

That seemed like a step in the right direction, but Congress refused to go along with it. Following the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans repeatedly sidelined legislation approving the I.M.F. reforms, and early last year they blocked them again, seemingly for good. This provided the Chinese the perfect backdrop against which to pursue their own initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and market it to other Western countries, who are themselves keen to attract Chinese business deals and inward investment. Now, despite objections from the Obama Administration, four of the U.S.’s closest allies have agreed to join the new institution as founding members. Speaking on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, the Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, seemed resigned to the new reality. “It’s not an accident that emerging economies are looking at other places because they are frustrated that, frankly, the United States has stalled a very mild and reasonable set of reforms in the I.M.F.,” he said.

International finance is far from the only area in which Congressional intransigence and wrongheadedness are undermining U.S. interests. The open letter to Tehran that forty-seven G.O.P. senators signed last week comes to mind. What was jarring about the letter wasn’t just the sight of one branch of the U.S. government telling the leaders of a rival nation that the President, with whose representatives the leaders were negotiating a nuclear deal, would be gone in a couple of years. It was the suspicion that this unprecedented communication was, at root, a poorly thought through political gesture. [I think it was also jarring to see the GOP fall in line with and support the religious conservatives of Iran, who are hostile to the US. – LG]  In this area, as in many others, domestic politics had trumped the national interest. Immigration reform, infrastructure investments, environmental initiatives, health-care reform, servicing the national debt, and, now, appointing a new attorney general to oversee the U.S. legal system—in all of these areas, the same story can be told over and over. . .

By all means, read the whole thing. It has many interesting insights. His conclusion:

. . . Rather than accomplishing any of these things, Washington seems to be trapped in a never-ending back and forth, in which sloganeering substitutes for analysis and political point-scoring is elevated above policymaking. It’s a dismal spectacle, and if it goes on indefinitely it will exact an increasingly high price. Not the sudden collapse of Pax Americana, perhaps, but the gradual undermining of it.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2015 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

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