Between Albania and Zimbabwe

Vice President George Bush delivers his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans. (George H. W. Bush Presidential Library)

I very much appreciated Kevin Williamson’s piece today: “Pandemic: The First Great Crisis of the Post-American Era.” Many of us have been writing on this theme for a number of years now (since before the post-American era set in) (if it truly has).

Kevin writes,

This is the age of the Little American, who turns up his nose at the world and asks, “What’s in it for me?”

The absence of American leadership in the current crisis is not an aberration, and it is not temporary. This is the new world order, light on the order.

As regular readers may know — and be sick of! — I often think back to the 1988 presidential race. In 1987, Paul Kennedy, the great Yale historian, published his book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. Many people were talking about “decline,” and specifically American decline.

Vice President Bush addressed this in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention (New Orleans): “My opponent’s view of the world sees a long, slow decline for our country, an inevitable fall mandated by impersonal historical forces. But America is not in decline. America is a rising nation.”

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On those last two words, the candidate swept his hand upward. It was quite effective, theatrically.

He then said this, about Governor Dukakis: “He sees America as another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe. And I see America as the leader — a unique nation with a special role in the world.”

Fightin’ words, especially now, about 30 years after Bush gave that speech.

For a long time, the Left (broadly speaking) has wanted the U.S. to be “another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.” With every passing year, the Right has joined them. There is something like a consensus on the question now. The progressive Democrats and the nationalist-populist Republicans have more in common than either side would like to admit, probably.

And they all have a point, to be sure. (We cannot cover everything in one blogpost.)

I think not only of Bush 41, I also think of John Bolton, who served in that administration (as in all Republican administrations of his time). Years ago, on a panel, probably, we were talking about the desire of many around the world to see America off the stage. John remarked, “They’ll miss us when we’re gone.”

Oh, yes. They are missing us already, frankly. But I also think that we’ll miss us. I think that American withdrawal, or retreat, or hunkering down, or closing in, will be as bad for us as for everyone else — if not worse.

You remember Trotsky about war. Adapting him, you might say: You may not like the world — or engagement with it — but the world likes you. There was a reason America got “involved” in the first place.

Anyway, to be continued — for decades to come — and I again salute that Williamson piece, which I found, among other things, moving. It is streaked with twilight.

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