Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

U.S. nation-building in the wrong place?

Bernd Debusmann
Jun 10, 2011 16:47 UTC

America’s costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. “If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States.”

That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: “When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here.”

Webb spoke at the confirmation hearing of the veteran diplomat President Barack Obama nominated to be his next ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who faced questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that left no doubt over the growing impatience of U.S. lawmakers with a military and financial commitment that is producing limited progress.

Webb’s juxtaposition of spending on Afghanistan and the state of things in the United States – a stalled economy, stubborn unemployment, an aging infrastructure – is made more often in online debates and private conversations than in official hearings. But it is a subtext for a debate likely to grow in the campaign for the 2012 elections and feature both Afghanistan and Iraq as money pits, object lessons for ill-conceived development projects, and lack of foresighted planning.

A report by the bi-partisan Commission on Wartime Contracting issued early in June set the tone. “U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are scheduled to begin in July 2011, and the U.S. military presence in Iraq is scheduled to end by December 31, 2011. But America will leave many legacies in both countries carrying large sustainment costs long into the future.”

A final goodbye to Superpower America?

Bernd Debusmann
Mar 11, 2011 16:12 UTC

Sombre analyses of America’s decline come in waves and the latest seems to be gathering strength. “AMERICAN DECLINE. This Time It’s Real” proclaims a recent magazine cover. “Yes, America is in Decline,” echoes another. Time to prepare obituaries for the world’s remaining superpower?

How long will it take for the U.S. to follow the example of the Roman Empire and end up as Italy? That’s a question the prognosticators of America’s waning power and influence (also known as declinists) tend to sidestep, perhaps because so many past predictions of doom have been so wrong.

The “This Time It’s Real” assertion is on the cover of Foreign Policy, a magazine closely read by the foreign policy community. Inside, the British commentator Gideon Rachman lays out a well-argued case for saying the U.S. will never again enjoy the dominance it had in the 17 years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global financial crisis of 2008.

Who is the superpower, America or Israel?

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 21, 2011 17:19 UTC

On February 18, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The vote raises a question: Who dominates in the alliance between America and Israel?

Judging from the extent to which one partner defies the will of the other, decade after decade, the world’s only superpower is the weaker partner. When push comes to shove, American presidents tend to bow to Israeli wishes. Barack Obama is no exception, or he would not have instructed his ambassador at the United Nations to vote against a policy he himself stated clearly in the summer of 2009.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop,” he said in a much-lauded speech in Cairo.

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