Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007


 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

The Dangers of Who We Are

News that isn't reported in the United States is still news, and there was no reporting here of this important meeting in India.  The item was in the Times of London on 15 February, from Jeremy Page, their man in Delhi. Perhaps it was nothing.  But it just doesn't sound good -

    India, China and Russia account for 40 per cent of the world's population, a fifth of its economy and more than half of its nuclear warheads. Now they appear to be forming a partnership to challenge the US-dominated world order that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War.

    Foreign ministers from the three emerging giants met in Delhi yesterday to discuss ways to build a more democratic "multipolar world."

    It was the second such meeting in the past two years and came after an unprecedented meeting between their respective leaders, Manmohan Singh, Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin, during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July.

    It also came only four days after Mr Putin stunned Western officials by railing against American foreign policy at a security conference in Munich.

Yep, Even the iron-fisted Vladimir Putin was on our case -

    Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called "illegal" US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.

    In a speech that stunned most of the audience at an annual security conference held in Munich, Mr Putin also railed against US plans to build anti-missile defenses in Europe, the expansion of NATO to include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and a host of other western policies.

    To an audience that included Robert Gates, US defense secretary, John McCain, US presidential contender, and a group of Washington lawmakers, Mr Putin declared the end of the unipolar world, which he described as a failure for the world and the US itself.

    In a presumed reference mainly to the war in Iraq, Mr Putin said, "unilateral illegal actions have not resolved any single problem," emphasizing the many more people who had been killed as a result of US military action.

That business is discussed elsewhere in these pages, but this second of two meetings, to work out a new center of world power, didn't make the headlines.  Perhaps that was because of the Anna Nicole Smith business.  She died, you know.

But this actually might matter a bit more.

The foreign ministers involved in the second Delhi meeting - Pranab Mukherjee, Li Zhao Xing and Sergei Lavrov - did say that what they were building was really not an alliance against the United States - it was "on the contrary, intended to promote international harmony and understanding."

The joint communiqué they issued said so, so it must be so.  Nothing to see here, folks, move along, move along.

But then there was their formal agenda - Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Korea, along with energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and trade.  We say that's our business, damn it. Jeremy Page points out that the subtext was clear - "how to use their growing economic and political muscle to prevent Washington from tackling such issues alone."

This is your basic major global power struggle - without the war part. Maybe that is why no one noticed. But if war is just diplomacy by other means, as Carl von Clausewitz famously said in 1833 or so, perhaps the reverse is true - this may be the real war, without the dead.

The item also quotes Vinod C. Khanna, of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi, about this meeting - "In the long term, they feel that the whole structure of international relations has to shift in their direction. What has happened is that quite independently they've reacted very similarly to recent international events."

Note the imperative - things "have" to shift in their direction. That's just the way things are.  The alliance was inevitable. It was going to happen sooner or later.  It just happened sooner.

And the Indian foreign minister, Mukherjee, just blew off the Bush way of getting things done - "We agreed that cooperation rather than confrontation should govern approaches to regional and global affairs. We also agreed on the importance of the UN."

We used to think that way too. Now we don't.

What we have here is a challenge - who gets to run the world, and in what manner.  These guys say that being sensible, cooperating, and seeking stability is the way to go.  We're not there any longer - 9/11 changed everything and all that. We're now more into dynamic change and refusing to compromise with what we say is evil, or seems evil, or might be evil.  We don't work with rogue regimes to calm things down and work things out - we change them, if we can.  And who can stop us? We're the big dog in this sorry world.

What do these guys have - forty per cent of the world's population, a fifth of its economy and more than half of its nuclear warheads?  Big deal. We've got… something or other. Who needs allies?

One should also note the context here, as the players each have their motivations -

    Delhi was close to Moscow in Soviet times, but has forged a new friendship with Washington. Chinese relations were soured by its border wars with India in 1962 and the Soviet Union in 1969, and by its arms sales to Pakistan. Russia appears keener than China or India to challenge American hegemony. But there has been a convergence of interests as each struggles to make the transition from a command economy to free markets. Since 2003 they have found further common ground in opposing the US-led invasion of Iraq.

    One area of agreement is opposition to outside interference in separatist conflicts in Chechnya, the northeast of India and the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

    Another is energy. India and China are desperate for Russian oil and gas, and Moscow is worried about its dependence on Western markets. But their most significant common ground is opposition to US military intervention in Iran. The joint statement did not mention Iran, but the three countries have taken a common stance in calling for a negotiated solution through the International Atomic Energy Agency. None of them wants a nuclear-armed Iran, but Russia sells Tehran nuclear technology and India and China need Iranian gas.

Ah, the problem is they're realists, working with quite specific issues that need immediate attention. We're idealists now, out to shake things up and transform the world, piddling little problems be damned.  We think they're small-minded and so consumed with detail they don't get the very, very, very big picture.  They seem to think we're crazy, and busting up things for no good reason.

This may be the real conflict we should be facing. This is a shot across the bow.

How do we respond? We can hardly bomb the snot out of the three largest nations on earth to prove our way is best. How do we respond to a new power center forming, one that marginalizes us and ends the new American Century before we can even get it working right?  Is our empire over before it even gets organized? There may never be a Pax Americana now.  Drat.  What's this, a separate peace?

The neoconservatives who live and die by those two ideas should be worried - and someone in the news media might have mentioned this second of two meetings. This could well be the start of a confrontation that might mark the slow, or not so slow, decline of the United States, into moderate obscurity with little influence over anything.  We'd not turn into Portugal or anything - just into a yipping and yapping nuisance with enough residual economic and political power to be a real pain in the ass.  They'd toss us a bone now and then, to placate us.

At least the French weren't part of this - and that probably ticked them off no end. It's no fun when you're an insignificant nuisance and no one invited you in.

But we weren't invited either. We were consumed by Anna Nicole Smith, or at least the media was.

And that might be telling, or so the editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal says.  That would be Tunku Varadarajan (he's not Irish or from Texas, obviously), in Citizen of the World, a not so amusing item on the late woman, and more -

    Breathless commentators these last few days have likened Anna Nicole Smith - whose untimely death, like her much-observed physique, was not the result of entirely natural causes - to Marilyn Monroe. This comparison is preposterous: Arthur Miller, who married Monroe, would have had little time for Ms. Smith beyond the obvious dictates of chivalry. It would be hard to imagine Ms. Smith courted by contemporary playwrights either, and not just because so many of them do not, as it were, handle women well.

    Playwrights notwithstanding, Ms. Smith was the object of a fierce popular fascination. It could be said - and said not entirely as metaphor - that Anna Nicole Smith embodied America. She embodied its bounty as well as its overabundance; its exploitability, and its propensity to exploit. She embodied, also, its litigiousness, its enterprise, its universal offer of the chance to remake oneself (Gatsby did it one way, Anna Nicole Smith did it another). And to many foreigners - particularly foreign men - she embodied America in a literal way, too: in a brassy blondeness that people in repressed cultures marvel at. It is no coincidence that the places in the world where women such as Ms. Smith are the most popular are typically those with which the U.S. has the worst diplomatic relations.

Ah, she's us, all of us, just taken to the logical extreme - in spite of "ersatz celebrity, dead children and the pursuit of money, sex, drugs, weight loss and validation-through-litigation" -

    Some have condemned her as a "gold digger," but she wanted what you are supposed to want - money - and she worked industriously with what she had. And one must note that in America - where most adult relations have been recast as transactions - breast enhancement is the perfect meeting of commerce and sex: a means to lay bare the frankness of your opening gambit, and to make plain that it invites a response. What you see is what you get; now let me see how you propose to get it.

    It is possible that in private, Ms. Smith's life held its own sad end in view - she must have known her own trajectory, even as she shrank from its darker motions. But in her media incarnation, her outsize smile and busty brightness suggested always that she'd burst out of the frame and create an entirely new possibility, a new plane where such creatures as she triumph, or laugh afresh all the way to the bank.

    … Anna Nicole Smith was also a lowbrow (or, really, a narcissistic) version of the American dream - the American dream of only bravado and guile, bereft of character or principles or talent. She was proof that the dream applies even to people with nothing to offer but themselves. If she is a tragic and cautionary tale to Americans, evidence that the American Dream requires substance and character, she may be evidence of the opposite to outsiders who see only the magic of wealth and fame won through the mere presentation of self. She inflates the reputation of American possibility abroad, making it seem like anything is possible in America - even reward without merit.

Let's see, a lowbrow, possessed of only bravado and guile and no more, bereft of character or principles or talent, laughing all the way to the bank.  Does that remind you of anyone? We've had one of those in the White House for the last six years.  That's what enough of us seems to have wanted. It all fits together.

Varadarajan is being very sneaky and subversive, slipping this by the pro-Bush, pro-corporation far-right editorial board at the Wall Street Journal - or just he didn't notice how the logic worked out, and the editors were so busy being pleased with being able to publish a finely-written "women should be more modest" column that they didn't think it through.

But if you say these things about that Smith woman, then argue she represents us all, and that she embodies our real values and not the boilerplate platitudes you get in church and school, and from politicians - that she really is America - people will put two and two together.  This too is inevitable.

And it seems the three foreign ministers in Delhi agreed that their governments would rather not have Anna Nicole Smith running the world.

This item posted - in its final version - February 18, 2007


Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik