The Beginning of the End of The American Century?

GELFAND’S WORLD--Was this the week that signified the beginning of the decline of the American Century? 

The U.S. has been the de facto head of the western alliance going back to the days after WWII. American military might was the offshoot of American industrial and economic might. American diplomacy got what it wanted much of the time as the result of dominance in these spheres. 

Our economic dominance has deteriorated. The president all but admits this when he complains about our trade imbalances. 

Our military dominance has declined. The end of the military draft in the early 1970s left us less able to carry out the sorts of occupations that we used to engage in (think of Germany and Japan). We're left with a Navy and an Air Force that are second to none, but they haven't allowed us to finish the job (whatever it may be) in Iraq or Afghanistan. About all we've got of a truly threatening aspect is our nuclear weapons, and if the past 70 years have taught us anything, it is that H-bombs are not our road to economic and political power. The depressing doctrine of mutually assured destruction has made them into at best defensive tokens. 

Still, we have gotten away with being the leader of the western world by default. But times change. The U.S. is no longer the one dominant power in western Europe. Rather, Europe competes and even dominates us in many things. We are no longer a dominant power in east Asia. At one time we worried mainly about Japanese economic strength, but now we have new competitors in China and Korea. 

Is this week the turning point? 

Trump's brash gesture in revoking the Iranian nuclear agreement is more than just a military provocation. The administration wasted no time in telling Boeing that it couldn't continue with a $19 billion jet order. At least the problem this creates is domestic. A foreign economic provocation that's at least as bad is what this administration is saying to European corporations. The U.S. is telling Airbus that it can't sell planes to Iran and is passing the word that other industries must curtail their commerce as well. 

Trump's latest threats against Iran and the statements of his agencies against Europe make him look like a would-be dictator. He certainly looks like somebody who has forgotten the fact that the U.S. has gotten its way over the past 70 years by joining in alliances with other countries that also have economies and soldiers. 

The U.S. has some economic tools which will allow it to try to enforce its dictates, including controls on our own banks. But European governments have their own political needs, and one is to look like you're resisting a maniac like Trump before he can damage your industries enough to pull down the world's economic stability. 

In other words, by attempting to forbid commerce between European and west-Asian nations, the American administration is not only looking foolish, it is threatening the world with a trade war and the rest of the world has to defend itself. 

There will be repercussions 

I suspect that the Europeans have been moving down the realization highway since shortly after Trump's election. They have moved a few critical kilometers further this week. They can try to weather the current crisis -- for crisis it is -- or they can think big and consider moving out from under U.S. cultural and political dominance. 

This could involve something as simple as an agreement among European countries that Germany should remilitarize. More subtly, it might be an unofficial agreement that Germany will take the place of the U.S. as the dominant political force in the region, a position consequent to its economic dominance. France, Germany, and Britain could do it together if they can agree. 

In any case, it seems likely that the Euro Zone will not look kindly on losing jet sales and being forced to avoid making petroleum purchases from Iran. The idea of following Trump and Bolton down that rabbit hole will not be greeted with kindness. 

The effects of such political skirmishes have many consequences. Perhaps Air Bus (a multi-country consortium) will reconsider keeping assembly facilities here on American soil. 

American political planners don't seem to have thought this through. They seem to be laboring under the delusion that since we are the dominant power, the rest of the world will have to do what we say. But the rest of the world will automatically be thinking that there are alternatives. 

The influential German magazine Der Spiegel had a lot to say in an editorial titled Time for Europe to Join the Resistance. 

"U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal marks the temporary suspension of the trans-Atlantic alliance. What now? 

"Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then? 

"The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn't lead anywhere either - because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn't reward it. 

"Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America." 

That kind of says it all. 


The Love Potion lives up to expectations 

The Long Beach Opera did itself proud on Sunday as it performed Frank Martin's short choral opera The Love Potion. As previously reported here, the production came to town with a positive review from the Chicago Tribune. This is not Richard Wagner's Tristan -- for one thing, it is about 3 hours shorter when you count the intermissions. The performance began slowly with exposition that defined the accidental love between two people who were not meant to be joined, but the second act caught fire, leading to an end that reminded one of Romeo and Juliet, the final scenes of Twilight of the Gods, and to Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. 

The Love Potion will be performed one more time on May 19 at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.  



The season of political commercials is upon us 

If all I knew about California politics came from watching campaign commercials on late night television, I could believe that Antonio Villaraigosa was a pretty good mayor of Los Angeles. My experience with the way he treated neighborhood councils (i.e.: the people of the city) tells me otherwise. I will give him credit for doing something to improve air pollution in the Port of Los Angeles. But I do find disappointing the fact that he takes credit for job creation and increased public school graduation rates. 

If you are to believe his commercials, Gavin Newsom is the first Democrat to ask for gun control legislation. He has been roundly chided for that bit of hyperbole. Still, his ads at least show somebody with energy, compared to the kindly old grandfather look that Antonio presents in his own ads. 

John Chiang is another Democratic candidate for governor. He may actually be the best of the lot, but his tv ads are fairly inept. Whatever cameraman has been doing Chiang is simply not presenting the man as he is, which is a lively and outspoken guy. Likewise, Chiang's ads concentrate on the fact that he refused to pay members of the state legislature until they passed a budget. This is the ultimate who cares  and nothing to hang your political image and name recognition on. 

Who is attacking whom? 

Villaraigosa and Newsom are attacking each other, although they are generally doing it without ad hominems. They are simply blowing their own horns and thereby implicating the other guy as being not as good. 

One Newsom ad shows him being criticized by Republican John Cox. Cox has been mentioned in this column, but more for an innovative idea he proposed to bring more people into politics. The Newsom ad makes it clear that unlike Cox, he favors gun control and gay marriage. 

That's drawing a line between himself and Trump Republicans. 

Diane Feinstein has a very good ad in which she supports Obama Care and its extension to universal coverage via Medicare. I haven't seen anything by or about her opponent Kevin de Leon. Has anybody seen a de Leon ad? 

Overall, I would give the edge to Newsom so far, although Villaraigosa is making points that aren't being refuted all that well (how many anti-Villaraigosa ads can Chiang afford?). Maybe things will change as we get closer to the primary. Right now, I think the news media is more interest in the royal wedding.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])