How long ago was it that you last heard some pundit blather on about America being "the greatest empire since Rome"?
Quite a while, I imagine. For if the Iraqi insurgency has done nothing else, it has induced a sense of humility, and of the limits of American power.
Surely, all Americans hope the Iraqi elections will usher in a coalition that will let us depart. But it is time we stood back and took a hard look at what this war tells us, not only about our ability, but about the wisdom of trying to remake the world in our own image.
Is this generation of Americans really up to the task? Is it really willing to pay indefinitely in blood and treasure to realize the ambitious agenda George W. Bush has set out? Consider:
Though our 2,150 war dead are not 4 percent of the men we lost in Vietnam, our home front has buckled. Half the nation wants out. Is this how a mighty empire reacts to a little adversity?
Today, we field armed forces one-tenth the size of U.S. forces in 1945, and not half as large as the forces commanded by Ike and JFK. Yet, the very suggestion of a return to the draft, which we all readily accepted in the 1950s, causes a firestorm of indignation and protest.
Apparently, few of our future leaders wish to risk their lives in the "global democratic revolution."
Nor have the rest of us been called on to sacrifice. Today, we spend 4 percent of our GDP on the military. In Ike’s day, it was 9 percent; in Reagan’s, 6 percent. But any proposal to raise taxes to expand U.S. armed forces to enforce the Bush Doctrine against Iran or North Korea would have Republican supply-siders digging the cobblestones out of the streets of Georgetown.
When it comes to empire, we are — in a phrase Bush used to hear often growing up in West Texas — "all hat and no cattle."
And whether we invaded to liberate Iraq from a brutal tyrant, or to strip a dangerous regime of WMD, or to establish democracy, does the world appreciate it? Does the world really want America to democratize mankind?
A new Zogby poll of 3,900 people in six once-friendly Arab nations finds that, when asked to name the leader they detest most, 45 percent named Ariel Sharon, but Bush has moved into second at 30 percent. Tony Blair was a distant third at 3 percent. No one else was close.
Only 6 percent agreed with al-Qaida’s goal of a caliphate ruling the Islamic world, and only 7 percent approved of its terrorism — but fully 36 percent admired how al-Qaida "confronts the U.S."
How admired is President Bush? When he urged the Iranians to go to the polls and repudiate the mullahs, they responded by choosing as president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who makes Hashemi Rafsanjani look like Ramsey Clark. When Condi Rice stiffed the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood on a visit to Cairo, the Brotherhood soared in Egyptian eyes and swept to victory in 60 percent of the parliamentary races it contested.
Everywhere today, nationalists burnish their credentials by dissing us. In Canada, Prime Minister Paul Martin seeks to save a scandal-ridden regime by pandering to Canadians’ dislike of the United States. Hugo Chavez made himself the toast of South America by flipping off Bush at the Argentine summit. Evo Morales just swept to victory in Bolivia by promising to defy the Americans.
When Bush went to Seoul, he was informed that South Korea is pulling out of Iraq. The U.S. ambassador, who denounced the North as a criminal regime, was told to shut up. East Asia just held its first summit — to which the United States was not invited. The Uzbeks have just told us: Close your airbase, and get out.
Because of charges that we used secret prisons in Europe to interrogate jihadists and EU airports to transfer them there, the United States has never been less admired in NATO Europe, nor its president more despised.
Is it not thus apparent the world does not really want an American empire, or American hegemony, or Bush’s "democratic revolution"? Is it not equally apparent that we Americans, unwilling to conscript our young or further tax ourselves, cannot sustain a global policy that commits us to defending nations all over this world, most of which do not even like us?
However Iraq ends, the era that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall has reached its close. That place in the sun the Greatest Generation won for us, and the Cold War generation kept for us, the baby boomer generation appears to have lost. And perhaps forever.
America needs a new vision. America needs a new foreign policy.