As ironical and good-humoured as it may sound, the piece of Thomas Friedman “From WikiChina” (New York Times, Nov.30) offers an insightful, though imagined, vision about how the Chinese sees America today. The unbelievable Revolution of information that truly defines our age and of which WikiLeaks’ revelations were perhaps just glimpses is still in the making. The revolution is not over.
The funny point is that even China, with its paranoid nomenklatura and security construction, will not be able to resist the Revolution of the transparency age. We have already seen how Google reacted against the Chinese who hacked the email addresses of exiled opponents. One can also imagine that as the Pentagon and the State Department secrets have been unveiled, we may see next the Chinese and other nations cultivating secrecy being stripped off their clothes and exposed to the eyes of billions of people across the world. The Revolution being still in march there will be nothing to hide anymore.
Much of the blind spots disturbing the clear vision Americans have of themselves and their role in the world emanate from them, although they do not know. In Friedman’s words: “The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are.”
Nonetheless, the unnecessary wars around the globe are perfect tools for weakening and eroding American power. Observe that what we call today the “rising powers” (such as China, India, Brazil…) are not at war anywhere. They are just mobilising their forces for “working to be exceptional,” whereas America is bleeding wherever its troops are sent to play the police role. Is it necessary for staying a superpower? Certainly not, unless we consider war a necessary instrument of development and economic growth. Imagine what could be today the potential of the United States if it did not get entangled into costly wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan? I even wonder whether the 2008 financial crisis which is depicted as a fatal symptom of decline by some people, would have been possible ever or, if inevitable, endowed with such a harmful impact, if America kept its $ billions inside instead of spending them on wars.
I don’t say this out of concern for pacifism. I know that the international stage has never been open to pacifist speculations and that the relations between international actors are governed by power-balance and interests more than by good-will and pacific intentions. I say this rather out of concern for collective responsibility. Being a superpower does not imply a self-appointed role in securing and pacifying and democratising the entire planet. In the 19th century, when modern America was still in the making, I suppose it was acceptable to resort to “Manifest Destiny” prior to interventions in the Western hemisphere. But today, it doesn’t make sense to speak about a “mission.” Many nations (included European) do not accept resorting to an American “mission” in the world justifying wars. This behaviour caused anti-American reactions in countries of different cultures, because it is seen as a “religious” interpretation of the international relations. That’s how Brzezinski described Bush’s foreign policy.
Moreover, to keep up the same course as still recommend the hardliners in the Congress seems unrealistic. The question is: could America afford spending more billions on foreign wars while they are much needed for its economic growth? This is quite a bad pass: look at Europe, it is not brighter. Furthermore, what do you expect from the war in Afghanistan? Will the military intervention change the hearts? Will it succeed in replacing the traditional Afghan mind with a modern one, “made in America”?
On the global stage, the stiff and rigid conservative mind seems still unable to understand that this world is changing every day and that in order to stay on the top, you have to adapt to change. This may apply to conservatives in all nations.
In America, those who still fantasize about using military might to “arrange” the world the way they think best, have lost sense of the realities and might end up as the final losers, while harming their country and others. We live in a different world since the collapse of the Soviet Union. True. America is a unique Superpower. True. Yet, other powers have to be considered, because they are “pivotal”: China, Europe, India, Japan, and Russia. “These powers have the resources to support or thwart US aims, to build the world order or disrupt it,” say Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen in “The Next American Century.” Because “each has a significant capacity to get others to do what they want them to and to resist coercion.”
Among these pivotal powers, China is considered the most probable challenge to American dominance. It is not unlikely that some of the North Korean provocations, as we recently witnessed, are politically or psychologically connected to this frame of mind: Chinese challenge. But we should not omit that the Chinese gorilla is standing on two legs of clay. It may become very strong but it will still remain fragile inside, as long as no liberty is allowed to the Chinese people. Russia knows something about that as do the people of former Soviet Union. We know from history that a nation can be a military and industrial giant, and looks like a mirage in history. For without freedom, the whole construction may crumble and fall apart in a single day, like the Berlin Wall.
In the last issue of “Foreign Affairs,” Joseph S Nye was definitely not convinced of the predictions about China and India or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades. In his opinion, the real threat “may come from modern barbarians and nonstate actors.” As he sees it, “nonstate actors” constitute the bottom of a three-dimensional chess game, which he defines as the pattern of power today. They are: bankers, terrorists, cyber-hackers, and even epidemics and climate change…
So, I am rather persuaded that the best defence against all sorts of threats is still: democracy and freedom. No security apparatus, no army, no military capacities can grant sustainable development and economic health and wealth and supremacy forever. But free people armed with free information can do it in this age of transparency and they will, because the Revolution is not over.