I will be happy to tell you how a host of the world's current problems will work out if you answer one question for me: How far will Germany go to solve other countries' problems?
From the European debt crisis to its knock-on consequences for Japan, the United States, and the World Economy, from stabilizing the Middle East to promoting lasting reform in that part of the world, from the future of environmental policy to the future of multilateralism, a very substantial factor in the outcome of each will be whether or not an overburdened, increasingly introspective Germany is willing to play the role of global leader.
Recently, the hints from the German electorate and from that country's political leadership have been that after the stresses and strains associated with recent problems from Greece to Libya, Berlin is once again divided. This time, however, it is not a wall but an idea that divides the German people. As the most important country in the world's largest market, just what are the limits of Germany's responsibilities to preserve the European experiment.
I sat today at lunch with a renowned economist and we discussed the fate of Spain. "That is the $64 billion question," he mused. If Spain falters a la Portugal, Greece, and Ireland, then the issue will be will Germany help foot the bill to bail them out? His sense was that they would ... reluctantly. However, he also felt that Spain would be the last straw and a bitter pill for the Germany people to swallow. Therefore, he felt, should a financial quake in Spain rattle Italy, which he did not feel Germany would or could dig down deep enough to help, that global debt markets would be in deep trouble. Japan and the U.S. would all of sudden look much riskier and while certainly the IMF and the G20 would circle the troops to try to solve the problem ... the damage done to global confidence would be huge and the consequences potentially far reaching.
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If Iraq and Afghanistan ... not to mention Vietnam ... are any indication, it'll soon be time to declare victory in Libya and head home. But we don't have to wait for that to produce a list of the big winners so far in the non-war-no-fly-zone-not-regime-change-undeclared-police-action that is currently reminding the world that diplomacy is harder than community organizing in Chicago.
These may not be the only winners, but so far they're doing pretty well...
5. The People of Libya
There's no way this war is going to end with Qaddafi still in power. That's the good news and why the people of Libya make this list. The bad news is that we don't know who is going to come out on top once a new government is in place and that some of the people actively supporting the opposition are not very nice. Don't take my word for it. According to a CNN report, Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born al Qaeda leader recently said, "ousting these regimes is not the end in making a change." In the same article, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is quoted as offering a statement saying, "We will be side by side with you, Allah willing."
4. The Blissfully
The cynic-realist in me thinks the Arab League backed the intervention in Libya because it was in the interest of so many in the Arab world to focus attention elsewhere. How happy are the Saudis, that they can stomp their boot on rebellion in Bahrain with cameras trained elsewhere? The Syrians? The UAE that they can support the Saudis in Bahrain but also appear to support the west in Libya? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the world is distracted from his little science experiments in his basement (see below)? Not to mention everyone from the North Koreans to the finance ministers of places like Portugal and Spain who are happy to let Muammar & Co. take the heat for a while.
3. Greater Persia
Tehran, of course, is not just happy because the world is distracted ... they're happy because so far the uprisings have benefitted them in countless ways. Enemies in Egypt and Libya have been deposed or soon will be, Shiites are rising up in Bahrain, the moderate Jordanians and the Saudis are nervous and the Israelis are perhaps most nervous of all as to what is happening. Further, America is going to come out of the Libya adventure even less inclined to devote time and resources to Iraq and Afghanistan thus creating voids the Iranians are already filling. We may call it the Arab Spring, but it doesn't translate that way in Farsi.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
With the news this week that the Fed pumped money into European institutions during the darkest hours of the recent and continuing economic crisis without so much as a press release or a demand for better cheese prices, it is clear that even with all those big geopolitical shifts we have been hearing so much about, the United States remains the world's sole Schmuck Superpower.
Oh sure, whoever it was that was stamping "Approved" on all those requests at the Fed's "Foreign Banks Only" teller window no doubt thought it was in the self-interest of the United States to keep the global economy from imploding. But look at all the grumbling that Europeans do when asked to help preserve their own common currency and the economic health of their own neighborhood. Or, if you wish to look in the other direction, consider the not exactly Kumbaya spirit of the currency "wars" that define trans-Pacific monetary relations. In the end, you've got to wonder, what're we thinking? After all, if China is the country sitting on the biggest pile of cash and the EU is China's number one trading partner, shouldn't they have responsibility for footing the bill for all those overly cushy European pension plans that promised retirement seemingly within weeks of graduating from college?
Beijing appears to have enough money to commit $1.5 trillion dollars to prime the pumps for seven "strategic" industries (as they announced they were considering doing this week)… while we don't seem to have enough cash to pay for extending unemployment benefits for victims of the economic downturn. Mull that one over for a second: We have enough money to bail out big European financial institutions and their fat, happy shareholders, but not enough to help out struggling American families? We're paying for euro problems and unwinnable wars in the Middle East and China is saving its yuan for other activities -- like figuring out how to clean our clocks in the global marketplace of five minutes from now?
We are not just the uncontested Megapower of Schmuckdom, we are a deeply confused nation led by people with profoundly twisted priorities -- who clearly believe they report to higher powers than mere American citizens.
Today we discovered that U.S. unemployment is at 9.8 percent, that we have broken the 1980's record for most consecutive months of unemployment above 9 percent, and we are nonetheless forced to stomach the current charade on Capitol Hill in which the Republican party fights for tax cuts for millionaires while callously allowing Americans in need twist in the wind. All this, while it turns out that across town in the Fed's corner of Foggy Bottom it doesn't even take a vote to provide handouts for rich foreigners in want?
Where are the pitchforks and torches people? Where is the outrage? Don't tell me that's what the Tea Party was about. The Tea Party was clearly all tiny plastic tea cups and doilies when it comes to the real issues America faces. Otherwise, wouldn't all those champions of average Americans actually be championing the interests of average Americans right now?
On a separate point, what does it say about the idea of "European Union" that as soon as troubles bubbled to the surface in a couple countries, the discussion turns to a question of whether the Germans are likely to bail on the whole idea? Or see today's New York Times piece on the North-South divide in Europe. The reality is that the "European Union" might be a nice branding idea, but it's purely an aspirational one and seems to actually be getting farther away from a reality every day.
It took the United States 100 years and the bloodiest war in the history of mankind to finally buy into the idea that we were all in it together. The Europeans have had plenty of wars, but since around the time of Charlemagne, none of the battles were won by those fighting for the principle of unification. (Given the goals of the unifiers, from Napoleon to Hitler, that's not such a bad thing.) In fact, it was always those who wanted to unite Europe that were defeated. Ultimately, when they accepted the idea of knitting themselves closer together it was based primarily on the idea that finding shared economic interests might keep them from each others' throats and it came, even in its most advanced forms, with multiple caveats, exclusions, and protestations that real independence laid beneath the fragile superstructure of links.
So we are faced with the prospect that the wheels might come off the eurozone cart sometime soon and what do you think we'll see when that happens? Do you think we'll see the Chinese volunteer to come in and help clean up the mess? No? Not even as a way of thanking the Europeans for siding with them recently in Seoul when they decided to make the G-20 meeting about U.S. monetary policy mistakes rather than Beijing's manipulations? Or, alternatively, do you think we'll see a call for the United States to help out again, to dig into our own pockets to help solve European economic and social problems, while we fail to take even the minimum required steps to take care of our own?
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News from around the world this weekend:
In Israel, during a sermon, 89 year-old Rabbi Ovadia Yousef, spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-orthodox Shas political party, attacked the Palestinian people and their President Mahmoud Abbas, calling them "enemies and haters." Then, he went on to call for their deaths, saying, "May they vanish from the world, may God smite them with the plague, them and the Palestinians, evil-doers and Israelhaters." The Israeli government soon after issued a statement asserting that "These words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor the position of the government of Israel." This distancing from a key player in a party that is an important part of the current coalition government, holding four seats in the Israeli cabinet, seems pallid in the face of such repugnant remarks that were clearly designed to cast a shadow over the imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As one Israeli Knesset member argued, "If God forbid a Muslim religious leader would express similar sentiments toward Jews, he would immediately be arrested."
In Afghanistan, five campaign workers supporting the efforts of a female candidate for the country's parliament, were gunned down. The murders, in Andraskan district of Herat province, followed the kidnapping of the five men on Thursday.
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Is It Too Early to Call the Karzai Visit a Failure?
No. Especially after it was upstaged by General McChrystal's televised declaration that we're getting nowhere in Afghanistan. But the fact that the media has reacted to the whole carefully orchestrated exercise as though it were either a) a charade (see Maureen Dowd yesterday or Helene Cooper's excellent article in today's New York Times) or b) not happening (see the fact that the story didn't even make the front page of Friday's Times) is really a secondary problem for those with the unenviable task of guiding Obama's benighted AfPak policy.
The real measure of success of the effort is going to come in the U.S. Congress when it votes on the supplemental appropriation to support the increasingly unpopular conflict. If they vote the money, then all this lying through the gritted teeth of U.S. and Afghan politicians about how well everything is going and everyone is getting along will have bought some time at least. If they don't vote it, vote less or make the process really painful for the president then not only will all this posturing seem to have been pointless but Obama is going to have to face up to the possibility that not only is the war going to end badly (as almost seems inevitable) it's going to end for the United States a lot sooner than he, Karzai or anyone involved wants it to.
That said, the fact that both U.S. and Afghan officials believe it will take a decade of active U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to prepare for a real security handover á la Iraq suggests just how unlikely a real U.S. success in Afghanistan is. Because if the Congress is choking on the money this year (and Speaker Pelosi has warned more than one visitor to her office that passing the supplemental could be "tougher than health care") imagine how much worse it will get in the run up to 2012. Which in the end means the current visit is actually serving a useful purpose, preparing all involved for the bald-faced dissembling that will be required to put a good face on this mess when we head for the door.
Is the Hot New Trend Divided Government?
With the election of the Doublemint Twins in the U.K. after an election that didn't produce a majority winner, the voters of the countries that were once seen as the world's top powers seem to be sending a message (advertently or otherwise) that at a moment of great crisis, they're perfectly happy letting someone else take the lead -- because in country after country election results or projections seem to be making it tougher for leaders to get anything done.
In Germany, the recent election bodes ill for Angela Merkel's party. Japanese politics are just a hopeless mess. The United States seems to be headed for an election which produces a much more evenly divided Congress. France's president seems to currently have the support of only about a third of the French people. Admittedly, the confusion among voters only mirrors that among the leaders but it doesn't bode well for swift or bold decision-making within the G8 countries ... and may offer an opening to countries, like China, that aren't burdened with the complexities and headaches associated with democracy.
And while we're on the subject of the Brits, all credit to them for being presented with a confounding (if not entirely unexpected) election result and within days not only piecing together an inter-party deal but actually putting together and announcing an entire coalition cabinet. It's one thing they do so well that Americans, accustomed to agonizingly long cabinet nominating and approval processes, watch with envy. At least this one does. And since this one is also a bit of a National Security Council historian, he was pleased to see the Cameron government launch the process to set up an equivalent body in Britain. It's a bit of a trend worldwide recently. The question is could we in the United States be using ours better while others are so inclined to imitate it?
Does the European Economic Crisis Spell Trouble for Alternative Energy Advocates?
It has been a bad year for the European model of coping with the climate crisis. First, in the run up to Copenhagen, we saw the preferred European approach of moving toward a global cap and trade system falter. The Chinese and Indian idea of "target and regulate" (meaning they set their own national targets, don't commit to global hard caps and use regulation and whatever tools they saw fit to achieve those goals) gained traction and as it did, so too did the center of gravity for global leadership on these issues shift to the Pacific from the Atlantic.
Now, with Europe's economies battered by the markets and burdened by debt, what will become of the rich incentives that have made the growth of alternative energy in Europe possible? Here's the answer: they're going to have to be cut back over the next several years, particularly in countries like Spain where they are especially expensive and debts are especially high. Further, since the European commitment to combating global warming is not likely to diminish, expect more of focus on regulations, taxes, surcharges and penalties (which actually produce revenues for the government) and less on incentives, grants and other costly goodies. And just as the Europeans get this message, expect a similar one here in the U.S. and in places like Japan. This in turn will leave the Chinese who are sitting on a $2.4 billion piggybank and an equally large reservoir of political will to lead in an ever better position to make the big leap from memories of a red revolution at home to leading a green one worldwide.
Who's in Charge on Climate Legislation?
This week saw the launch of Senators Kerry and Lieberman's long awaited climate legislation. It also saw Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid express his view that such a bill might be difficult to pass this year and that perhaps it would make sense to focus on an "energy only" initiative that might include a Renewable Energy Standard, some offshore provisions and a few other elements more popular with a larger majority of Senate members. His saying this literally hours before the Kerry Lieberman launch suggests a bit of a split at the top of the Democratic congressional leadership on this...the kind of thing that might have been better worked out behind closed doors. Who's in charge here? If the White House is committed to this kind of legislation passing this year -- and it may be much harder to pass after the November elections if the Republicans make big gains -- why aren't they taking the lead on shaping proposals and ensuring that their team on the Hill is unified behind them? Admittedly, this has not been the way things have worked on health care or financial services reform but, perhaps the lessons of those experiences suggest a new approach might be in order.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
I think for a lot of Americans, particularly those of a more liberal inclination, like Michael Moore or my mother, there was a kind of flickering hope earlier in the week that America might be on the verge of exiting the Middle East once and for all.
The loud tick tick tick of the withdrawal timeline has been audible throughout Iraq for months. And with the debate triggered by the McChrystal Report and the pushback calls for more troops seemed to be generating from Vice President Biden and others within the administration, it seemed we might be moving toward a decision by the President that would have us narrowing the mission in Afghanistan. This argued many ... including conservatives like George Will, for that matter ... could only reasonably lead to our withdrawal from that misbegotten place.
And they may even hoped, the United States might finally be ready to pressure the Israelis into backing down on settlements as a way of getting to serious talks about a peace agreement with the Palestinians. No Jewish settlements equals lasting peace settlement, seems to be the calculus there.
Then, reality crept back into the picture. First, it was hinted at when Obama ... at least temporarily ... backed down on pressuring the Israelis on the settlements. But then it came roaring back into focus with a vengeance thanks to the "news" of Iran's second nuclear enrichment facility. Never mind that Obama was briefed on this facility before he became president, that allied intelligence services had known about it for years and that everyone knew Iran was lying about its existence all along. There comes a moment in these things when their lying and our willingness to lie to ourselves or at least to our publics slip out of whack. And that's when the truth creeps out and spoils the party.
And so as the week draws to a close, the picture now looks somewhat different. Iran is revealed again to be a liar and immediately responds by saying "we won't back down." America, Britain, and France make statements condemning Iran, but they range from bland and process oriented (Obama) to bold but toothless (Sarkozy and Brown). Meanwhile, Angela Merkel (who my sources tell me is not one of Obama's faves in Europe to begin with) and the Russians and the Chinese can't or won't make it to the "shocked, shocked" photo op.
Russia and China are the "or" and the "else" of any international threat to Iran. Absent them, countries like the United States and our European allies can only stomp their feet or introduce sanctions that will be largely ineffective. So this problem festers on and looks very likely to get much worse before it gets better.
Meanwhile, days after the Untied States votes to triple aid to Pakistan, the Washington Post runs a story today about the growing anti-Americanism in that country and how it threatens our goals there. Given that Pakistan is where our real enemies are, this reminds us that this is the AfPak War and regardless of what we want to do in Afghanistan, we will for many years be grappling with the much, much bigger problems associated with nuclear Pakistan.
And on top of it all, the Iran revelation makes Bibi Netanyahu (see today's other post) one of the big winners of this week, proving that while Ahmadinejad lies about the Holocaust and nukes, Netanyahu has been accurately characterizing the Iranian threat. Further, it is becoming clearer and clearer to the Obama team that however difficult the Israelis may be, they are matched step for step by the Palestinians.
In short, for those of you who thought we might have been on the verge of getting the heck out of Dodge, reconsider. We can draw down troops in Iraq, but there will be 50,000 there when Obama's successor arrives in office. We can narrow the focus in Afghanistan, but there will be U.S. military dealing with threats in AfPak when Obama's successor arrives in office. We can extend the "unclenched fist" to Iran, but they will spit in it and represent a deep and lasting threat to regional security for many years, certain well past whenever Obama's successor arrives in office. And Israel and Palestine may make peace ... although that seems a long way off...but the volatility in the region will ensure that sooner or later everyone will be clear that they are not the lynchpin of the region's stability issues. (Although they are certainly an important one.)
The decisions Obama makes about Afghanistan, about dealing with a difficult ally in Pakistan, about how to forge an effective international coalition to contain Iran (which will involve coming up with credible, meaningful consequences if they fail to fall into line), and about just how to get two difficult parties to accept the peace they both need and want, will play a large role in determining whether Obama is around for another 3 or another 7 years. But it seems clear that almost regardless of which path he chooses, his successor will face many of the same problems.
A week that began with murmurs of hope among those who would like to see America disengaged from the region -- a group with which I am very sympathetic not to mention one that includes plenty of my relatives -- is distressingly ending with a slightly different tone, better characterized by the shrieks of noted foreign policy observer Mathew Broderick at the climactic moment of "The Producers." "No way out!" he cries, "No way out!"
I'm not always a pessimist. But I am right now.
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There was for a long time been a widespread belief that the guys who were cashing in on Wall Street were the best and the brightest. Now, as we mark the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers we have yet another form of proof it just ain't so.
But the deus ex machina arrival of new U.S. ambassador to Germany Philip D. Murphy really is in a class by itself -- stupid, thoughtless and arrogant on so many levels it deserves some kind of an award.
Perhaps State ought to consider some kinds of guidelines for the fat cats who are being plunked down in important embassies around the world. Like: "Don't be a pig with your money." Or: "Try to remember you represent the United States of America and not the sovereign principality of Goldman Sachs anymore."
But you do have to give the White House credit. Getting someone from Goldman to serve in the government is a real coup. Who thought of that? They also deserve a medal.
Among the most hotly debated issues arising from President Obama's speech in Cairo was whether or not he was implying a moral equivalency between the plight of the Palestinians and that faced by the Jews during the Holocaust. He and his team have denied this, but the juxtaposition of ideas in speeches does not occur entirely by accident. Neither does the juxtaposition of stops during presidential trips.
That President Obama went from Cairo to Germany and from a day where the central message was associated with his outreach to the Muslim world to one in which his central message was a commemoration of the Holocaust was purposeful. Frankly, to me it was slightly grotesque. "Ok Jews, if Cairo gave you heartburn here's a little Holocaust for you. Feeling better now?"
Further, the message delivered by the president at Buchenwald, was as carefully calculated as all his messages are to resonate different ways with different audiences. Again, the juxtaposition of Buchenwald with Cairo colors how we hear words like:
This place teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our times. ... We have to guard against cruelty in ourselves. ...And it is now up to us, the living, in our work, wherever we are, to resist injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take and ensure that those who were lost here did not go in vain."
Palestinians will undoubtedly greet those remarks as affirmations of their cause even as Israelis may greet them as a recognition of the lessons of the Holocaust. It is a deft politician who can use such a blend of language, setting and day-to-day context to deliver potent and seemingly supportive message to two deeply divided groups at the same time.
Whose evil is he referring to? Whose cruelty? He dances with issues of equivalency but never gets so close as to actually embrace them.
This helps him with his outreach to the Muslim world because he seems to be saying the Israelis are hypocrites and while they have used the Holocaust for years to justify the existence of their state and the often tough tactics they have used in defense of it, perhaps we can now join together in using it against them. And for the Jews he says, I feel your pain.
Indeed, on this trip, for all the talk of Muslims he has sought to take a page out of the playbook of a popular Christian icon, Santa Claus, offering something for everyone. For Muslims the speech, for Jews Buchenwald, for Palestinians tough talk about Israeli settlements, for Israelis talk of an unbreakable bond with the U.S., for anti-Iranians criticism of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, for Iranians acknowledgement of their "right" to a civilian nuclear program, for the American right attacks against "violent extremists," for the left no use of George Bush's favorite word "terrorism." And so on.
Thus, while the equivalency debate may continue to boil for some time without resolution (because everyone can hear what they want to or what they fear to in his recent statements), it underscores that the message of this trip seems to be that there is no position so divided that the U.S. cannot be on both sides of it, no group pair of enemies so embittered that we cannot offer support to both sides. While I am willing to accept the Administration's assertion that there was no implied equivalency between the actions of the Israelis against the Palestinians and those of the Nazis against the Jews, I am more troubled by the fact that the President or his team somehow think that leadership and diplomacy require that we view all issues as somehow equivalent...that there is no idea that cannot be bartered for another, balanced by a countervailing thought.
Obama on this trip has become President of Newton's Third Law of Motion. For every action, for every word, there is an equal and opposite reaction...and the United States will embrace both.
While some may hope to see this as the impartiality of the peacemaker, others might reasonably fear that it is the moral vacuity of a politician who seeks to be all things to all people. As my friend Tom Friedman often says, "just because George Bush or Dick Cheney says something doesn't always mean it is not true." There are absolutes. There are countries with whom we have greater shared interests than others. There are crimes that are worse than other wrongs. To restore American leadership does not mean having everyone like us. We can take stands that are more difficult and controversial than the President's statements today opposing Holocaust denial and genocide. (Though it might be worth exploring whether we are opposed only to genocide during or after the fact or whether we are willing to actually try to stop those who threaten it...as do the Iranians and the leaders of the militant wing of Hamas in their views toward the destruction of Israel. And by the way, by stopping them I don't mean reprimanding them.)
The answer as to whether Obama ultimately lives up to our hopes or our fears come when his actions illustrate whether there are values we are not willing to negotiate, points that can't be balanced, enemies we are willing to oppose, friends we are willing to stand by even when it is unpopular. Tell me the day that Obama is willing to make his first enemy in order to defend a deeply held principle and I will tell you the day he ascends from being a politician to being a statesman.
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When I was a boy, in between family readings of von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the secret diaries of Scipio Africanus, sometimes I would sneak up to my room and read a comic book. Needless to say, DC Comics were heavily preferred over Marvel or other inferior brands because I liked my super heroes dry and undiluted by irony or wit. (Much as I like my blogs.) Particular favorites were the Legion of Super- Heroes and Justice League of America and when my brother and I would act out the events of the comics, he always wanted to be Superboy (which I considered a trite choice) or Aqualad, which I found hard to comprehend although it did lead to his spending a lot of time in the bath and being a very clean child. My favorite was Mon-El who was a mid-level African American talk show host during the day and then at night would become... Wait, I'm confused. That's someone else. This was a long time ago. No, Mon-El was cool because he appeared to have all of Superboy's powers but didn't have that annoying allergy to Kryptonite. I am telling you this because...well, because I thought he was definitely the best one and he never got anywhere nearly as much press attention as he should have.
But the real reason for bringing this all up was that also in these DC Comics stories of Superman periodically he would travel to the Bizarro world. This was a cube shaped planet where the Bizarro Code dictated "Us do opposite of all Earthly things!" Strangely all the people on the planet were rendered to appear the opposite of normal residents of earth -- like Superman -- by having them appear to be chiseled out of something relatively hard, probably soap or a good English white cheddar.
What does this have to do with foreign policy today? Well, currently...
We have a president of France who is pro-U.S., has taken steps to have France re-join the NATO military alliance, and who has played a very active and constructive role in shaping the international response to the global economic crisis.
This same president of France has, with the chancellor of Germany, a woman, led an effort to promote a fiscally responsible response to the crisis, often admonishing the United States about its free-wheeling spending and over-aggressive market intervention.
We have the government of Sweden -- who we had been led to believe were practically so communist they were the last surviving member of the Warsaw Pact -- unhesitatingly refusing to bail out national auto icon Saab, while the ultra-capitalist U.S. sentimentally coddled the dying carcass of GM in its fiscal arms.
We have the Chinese, lectured by the entire world for gaming their currency not more than a year ago, proposing a new alternative currency and while no one is clamoring to sign up now, they are taking this idea and Chinese critiques of the U.S. economy very seriously. Because China is now the country with the cash and the U.S. is the country on the global dole.
We even have the U.S. secretary of state going to Mexico to discuss drug violence and actually acknowledging that demand in the United States is a principal driver of the problem that is currently such a corrosive force in that nation.
In the midst of this crisis, we also will soon see a G20 Summit convene in London and while it is not sure they will agree on much, the one thing they seem unified about is giving more money to the IMF...an organization that has at best a mixed record, is despised throughout the developing world and which was widely considered to be so irrelevant as recently as a year ago that there were some who thought the best answer might be to just turn out the lights and convert the whole headquarters building into condos.
The U.S. has finally broken through a wall of prejudice and elected the first African American president, Jaguar and Land Rover are Indian car companies, Japan just beat Korea in a World Baseball Classic Championship Game from which the U.S. was shut out, and the very best basketball player in the world is Jewish.
Ok, of all these things, only the last one isn't true. We have gone through the looking glass. And as it turns out, reading those Legion of Super-Heroes comics may have been better preparation for today's world than even our lively family discussions of the Memoirs of Clive of India. Except of course, there are no super heroes anywhere to be seen and we could really use a few.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.