Tomgram: Dilip Hiro, The Waning of America

Posted by Dilip Hiro

This has been the week of American decline at TomDispatch. On Sunday, Michael Klare considered that decline in the context of the rise of China as an energy superpower. I gave a muted cheer-and-a-half for it on Tuesday. Today, Dilip Hiro, who has been following the subject for this site, lays out what our power outage means in geopolitical terms. The last time Hiro (author most recently of After Empire: The Birth of a Multi-Polar World) appeared at TomDispatch, he noticed a striking stylistic sign of American decline in action, what might be called the Obama flip-flop. In one case after another, from Central America to China, Israel to Afghanistan, the Obama administration would pressure a foreign leader to bend to Washington’s will, threaten dire consequences, and then, when he refused to back off, move into a placatory mode. Strangely — a sign of domestic power outages as well — it hasn’t been hard to spot a similar style in action at home.

This was evident recently in the case of the “mosque at Ground Zero” (even if it’s neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero). If you remember, the administration’s position on this, when it was still a simmering controversy, was clear enough and enunciated by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs more than once: it was “a local matter” and not appropriate for the president to weigh in on. That was a perfectly reasonable, even understandable, political decision.

Then, on Friday August 13th at a traditional White House Ramadan Iftar dinner, President Obama shifted course and offered a strong statement of support for the Park 51 center. (“But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”) Again, fine. This seemed to be another kind of decision (described by Washington insiders as “a willingness to jettison calculation when core beliefs are in play”). The only thing it couldn’t have been was a decision taken without knowing that, as the first “Muslim” president, you would be roundly attacked by all the usual suspects.

When those attacks promptly and expectably arrived the next morning, however — à la Hiro’s analysis — the president backed off. He “clarified” his statement. (“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”) It mattered little how the White House explained his clarifying remarks — they could only be taken by his enemies as a visible sign of weakness and so, under the circumstances, were politically incomprehensible. And that flash of weakness, pure blood in the water for the sharks circling to his right, may have been the actual spark that turned the fire of the mosque debate into a five-alarm blaze. Keep that style in mind and consider that it’s as noticeable to other countries as to Obama’s domestic opposition. Tom

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