Saturday, January 01, 2005

Sign of the future?

Japan is giving over 500 million dollars in aid money

While I'm pleased that the collective outrage of the international community has caused the Bush administration to go from $400,000 of initial aid to a pathetic $4 million to a still-pathetic $15 million, to $35 million and now, to (according to some) $450 million, I am intrigued by Japan's offer.

First of all, that $450 million of American aid is basically in lines of credit and IOUs. It's not like the US treasury just *has* that kind of money lying around earmarked for foreign national disasters. And yes, we are deploying Naval resources and troops to help out, which is great, but in the end the money is more or less imaginary. The US economy is hurting, while the Asian economy (despite tsunami-related setbacks) is recovering.

Yes, Japan is closer to the disaster, and the whole incident presents a very good opportunity mend Sino-Japanese relations (which have lately begun to crumble again). But I'm wondering if the Japanese economy is showing the early signs of emerging as one of the world's strongest.

Someone on Atrios posited that America is at a period of post-imperialistic decline. Like the great imperial powers of the past, (especially the ones Bush and his crew like to refer to as "old Europe") including Italy, Austrio-Hungary, Rome, England, France and others, we are at the point where we have definitively overreached and will now recede into a decline where nobody will care about being a superpower anymore and we will have to learn to be a part of the world again.

I hope this is true. I look forward to a world without superpowers. Although I wonder if once we're safely mired in budget crises and internal struggles if China, India and Japan will come to dominate us all.

There are several wild cards here, and I'm no economist, but the fact that oil will run out sometime in the 2040s or so (according to some estimates) is something to be considered. If you subscribe to the theory that the Iraq war and the whispers of another in Iran are just a very haphazard oil-grab, it certainly begs the question: Is it really the best plan to cling to a finite energy source and divert all of one's national military resources to protecting it? And also, what is the rest of the world doing to deal with the coming petroleum crisis while we are preoccupied in this way?

I tend to think that our efforts in Iraq and Iran will be thwarted in one way or another- probably by our own incompetence and tendency to operate on wild assumptions (they will greet us as liberators with parades and flowers!). But no empire has ever gone down quietly. Many more people will die before we convalesce into our new status as citizen-state rather than superpower.

But in a sense, I've become more of a big-picture thinker as a result of this election. We went to the museum yesterday and saw at traveling exhibit from the Cairo Museum an exhibit on the evolution of the pre-historic world. Egyptians once ruled the known world. Wyoming once had palm trees. Things change. Humanity has survived pogroms, lapses into ignorance and darkness, empires, disasters, despots, wars and plagues. We can certainly survive this.

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