Nobody really knows who Anthony Eden was back in the 1950s, but this thought came to me after reading Dilip Hiro's latest piece for Tomgram (the Nation Institute), entitled No One Is Listening to the Planet's Sole Superpower. But before we compare POTUS #44 to a now obscure British Prime Minister, let's look at the non-accomplishments of the Obama administration to date.
It's been a long devolution of Barack Obama from the campaign promise of combining the best of Presidents Lincoln and FDR to the President Rodney Dangerfield we have today. Here are some extended quotes from the introduction to the article by Hiro:
In the White House, Obama is surrounded by a secretary of defense who ducks for cover, a secretary of state who wanders the world blowing off steam, and a national security advisor and UN ambassador who seem like blundering neophytes.
Obamacare is his only achievement with no prospects of a domestic victory as long as the Tea Party controls Congress.
In my lifetime, we've never seen a president -- not even an impeached Clinton -- so drained of power or influence.
All in all, Americans have plenty to be disappointed about with Barack Obama, and the situation will probably not improve for the rest of his tenure in office. Only the long shot of a chance that the Democrats can take control of Congress in 2014 allows for anything except "more of the same" for the shenanigans of Washington, DC. I would go so far as to say that even the candidacy of Hillary Clinton could be damaged by the legacy of being associated with this president. Not a pretty picture.
Hiro's article goes over the litany of failures that have afflicted American foreign policy since 2001, and this too, is not a pretty picture. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been disasters in every respect. Just about every goal that G.W. Bush articulated as reasons for going to war there have not only proven to be false, but the unanticipated outcomes of those wars have certified not only America's defeat in those areas, but more importantly -- have demonstrated the ultimately toothless nature of both our military and diplomatic policies. And this failure has continued into the Obama administration's handling of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel, to mention but a few of many more countries.
On Obama's watch, we've seen the development of the Arab Spring, but this has turned out to be another exercise in humiliation for American foreign policy. As an imperial power, we've failed totally to steer the outcome of these popular Facebook rebellions in the direction of establishing democratic, representative governments from Algeria to Iran. And the sorry conduct of our recent foreign policy has transcended party control of the White House. In other words, Obama has done just about as poorly for the American Empire as Bush, except with his own style and direction.
And the latest developments in Syria seem to have taken Barack Obama's ignomy even one step further. * In the "good old days" of gunboat diplomacy, Syria's use of chemical weapons would have been just a quick excuse to send the Marines. And yet, when Obama tried to take a conventional approach, he was not only unanimously rejected by the international community, but by the US Congress -- which was certainly ready and willing to hand the president a first-time, historic defeat in an executive request for war powers.
And here we come to the mid-20th Century history of Britain. When I was a little boy, the axiom "The sun never sets on the British Empire." was still an operational concept. I remember for a class project in the fourth grade, I wrote to the British Embassy in Washington, and got back a map of the British Commonwealth. Canada, Autralia,and a whole lot of Africa as well as Asia, was under the Queen's dominion.
Although Anthony Eden's background was very dissimilar to that of Obama's, both came from elite families that gave them every advantage. Like Obama following Bush, Eden took over the reins after a long period of being the understudy to that old imperialist, Winston Churchill. Both men tend towards the technocratic, diffident, and intellectual frame of mind that keeps a psychic distance between them and the common voter. But the most important characteristic of both men appears to be their total fecklessness.
Anthony Eden obtained infamy for the British Empire because of his insistence on having Great Britain act as if it were still a global power when he helped precipitate the Suez Crisis of 1956. To make a long story short, Eden worked hand in hand with Israel and France to wrest control of the Suez Canal away from Gamal Abdul Nasser, maximum leader of Egypt at the time.
The only problem was that Eden & Co. completely misread the intentions of Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding the matter. When Britain, France, and Israel launched their attack on Egypt, Eisenhower not only lambasted them, but he threatened a massive devaluation of the British and French currencies, along with a cutoff of foreign aid to Israel. Let us not forget that at the time, the USA had the same relationship to those powers as the Bank of America has today with some customers having underwater loans on their houses.
Because of the nature of British government, Anthony Eden quickly resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Harold McMillan. That will not happen in the US. Instead, we will be stuck with this awful malaise of corruption, insanity, and inaction that is stinking up everything from DC for quite some time.
Now up until now, you'll see that this train of thought could have just as easily been put forward by the Wall Street Journal or the National Review. I want to reassure you that I have not gone conservative. And I have not gone conservative because I put the whole sorry episode of American foreign policy since 2001 not only into context with British history, but with the cycles of decline for all of the European empires that I've studied.
It's axiomatic that Rome wasn't built in a day. And the Roman Empire wasn't destroyed in a day. From the death of Julius Caesar to the partition of Byzantium from Rome was a period of over 400 years. In this current day and age, the shelf life of empire is expiring much, much quicker.
The reason why Anthony Eden has been relegated to the ash-heap of history is his disastrous decision to invade Suez. Suez in 1956 was important, because for perhaps the first time -- it revealed to the whole world that the empire had no clothes. To be sure, Britain had given up what is now India and Pakistan in 1947, but until 1956, there was the illusion that the British Empire was still alive and well.
Fast forward to the present day with Vladimir Putin's surprise gambit of saving the US's bacon in not entering yet another disatrous war despite all of the intentions of the Saudi-Israeli lobby and the Obama White House. There is a very high degree of congruence between what both Putin and Eisenhower managed to accomplish by their foreign policy magic tricks. In one word, we're talking humilation.
And that, my friends -- is a very, very good thing. We will only be able to be certain with hindsight that our non-war in Syria represents the real beginning of the end for the American Empire. But right now (given our recent track record), it's beginning to look like that.
You're certainly free to feel that Barack Obama is a hapless schmuck who couldn't govern his way out of a wet paper bag. But I contend that Barack Obama is merely occupying the White House at that point in history where the full folly of American exceptionalism and empire is shown for what it is.
It will not happen overnight. Rome didnt' fall apart in a day. But it appears as if the long term trend is for the United States to be in such a weakened position that countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran will have to act like grown up, independent countries on their own (for better or worse), rather than having to look over their shoulders to see what Uncle Sam will be trying to pull on them.
No doubt the chattering classes in Washington, DC and New York will see this as a horrible disaster. What is to become of world order if the US is not there with all of its military might? How dangerous is all of this going to be for humanity? I'm sure that George Will and Charles Krauthammer will be able to churn out volumes on the great tragedy of it all.
But what American impotence in Syria portends is enormous for American society in perhaps the next ten years. Our vast military infrastructure is superfluous! Our NSA/CIA/etc. intelligence structures are superfluous! Countries all over the world will no longer have to worry about American inspired coups!
Over time, all of this old, useless hardware will atropy, and eventually budgetary considerations will make us all radically downsize this crap. Perhaps my dream of the military-industrial complex being replaced by the environmental-industrial complex will at least partially take place. Maybe after a decade, there will actually be a peace dividend!
To all of those empire mongers like Will and Krauthammer, I have a consolation prize. If America follows an analogous course with Great Britain from 1956 to 1966, we will very shortly see a flowering of American arts and culture that has laid dormant for perhaps 40 years or more.
After all, it was only six years between the Suez Crisis and the Beatles for Great Britain.
*Late breaking developments on Syria indicate that the non-Islamist Syrian forces fighting Assad are actually in positive negotiation with the Assad government. This would appear to be yet another successful byproduct of the intervention of Vladimir Putin into the situation. No, Putin did not direct FSB operations in Moscow Central to achieve this. Rather a climate was created by peaceful international co-operation that made events like this (on the ground in Syria) happen spontaneously.