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Barack Obama's first year in office has not wiped away the legacy of misguided decisions that preceded him.
Instead, Bush appointed to key posts in his new administration members of a group which, during the GOP’s stint in opposition during the 1990s, convened themselves as the “Project for a New American Century” who argued passionately that America’s goal should be to prolong the unilateral moment in history and seek to remain so powerful that no rival would dare emerge.
Merely 10 years into that “new century,” that group — which included such first term luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Elliott Abrams and Bush’s brother, Jeb, and Vce President Dick Cheney — has done more to accelerate the decline of American influence, credibility and power than any million Chinese.
New York, the Axis of Change
The epicenter of all this change, interestingly, was America’s financial center. The 9/11 attacks and the bursting of the American real estate bubble, both shot like electrical shocks to the heart of the American economy. After 9/11, the economy seemed to shrug off the pain and recover.
Within months, the mantra of those who argued that gravity had ceased to exist for America resumed. In economic parlance, our “new economy" was said to be sailing smoothly through a new epoch — the “Great Moderation” — a time ruled by sophisticated mathematical models and scientific certainty about risk management.
But devotees of deregulated, unrestrained capitalism, who ranked it with Gospel, Torah or Koran as truth, managed to do what Osama bin Laden’s trained murderers could not: seize up the engine of American commerce.
The consequent unraveling of faulty risk models and ill-considered investments that did so much to inflate the U.S. economy and the rest of the global economy in the preceding seven years, sparked a synchronized global recession more severe than any since the Great Depression. Bear Stearns shook, and then Lehman Bros and AIG shattered that foolishness.
The world that remains is completely remade. In 2000, America was resented by some, and admired and emulated by billions. Today, Obama or not, it is resented by billions, admired and emulated by some, and pitied by others.
The United States remains the most powerful economic, political and military force on the planet. All those things will remain true throughout the next decade. But the options available to up and coming nations — as well as the established countries of the old “west” — are no longer the “black and white” of George W. Bush’s worldview: “With us or against us.”
Brazil — to choose a country at random — can decide to be friends with the United States, China, Venezuela and Iran as it sees fit. Brazilians and Indians and South Africans and Italians don’t care much about our paranoid fears of any of these countries. If they have a dog in these fights, the United States over the past 10 years has given them every reason to lay low.
After the exposure of the Iraq War and our claim to “economic leadership” as two titanic frauds, it will take more than our word over the next few decades to persuade anyone otherwise.