sábado, novembro 17, 2007

278) USA: still number one

American power: Still No.1
The Economist, Jun 28th 2007

Wounded, tetchy and less effective than it should be, America is still the power that counts
Kevin Kallaugher

EVEN the greatest empires hurt when they lose wars. It is not surprising then that Iraq weighs so heavily on the American psyche. Most Americans want to get out as soon as possible, surge or no surge; many more wish they had never invaded the country in the first place. But for a growing number of Americans the superpower's inability to impose its will on Mesopotamia is symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

Nearly six years after September 11th, nervousness about the state of America's “hard power” is growing (see article). Iraq and Afghanistan (another far-off place where the United States, short of troops and allies, may be losing a war) have stretched the Pentagon's resources. An army designed to have 17 brigades on active deployment now has 25 in the field. Despite bringing in reservists and the National Guard, many American troops spend more than half their time on active duty; the British spend a fifth.

Other demons are jangling America's nerves. There is the emergence of China as a rival embryonic superpower, with an economy that may soon be bigger than America's (at least in terms of purchasing power); the re-emergence of a bellicose, gas-fired Russia; North Korea's defiance of Uncle Sam by going nuclear, and Iran's determination to follow suit; Europe's lack of enthusiasm for George Bush's war on terror; the Arabs' dismissal of his democratisation project; the Chávez-led resistance to Yankee capitalism in America's backyard.

Nor is it just a matter of geopolitics. American bankers are worried that other financial centres are gaining at Wall Street's expense. Nativists fret about America's inability to secure its own borders. As for soft power, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, America's slowness to tackle climate change and its neglect of the Palestinians have all, rightly or wrongly, cost it dearly. Polls show that ever fewer foreigners trust America, and some even find China's totalitarians less dangerous.
Power to the wrong people

A sense of waning power is not just bad for the self-esteem of Americans. It is already having dangerous consequences. Inside the United States, “China-bashing” has become a defensive strategy for both the left and the right. Isolationism is also on the rise. Most Democrats already favour an America that “minds its own business”.

Outside America, the consequences could be even graver. Iran's Islamic revolutionaries and Russia's Vladimir Putin have both bet in different ways that a bruised Uncle Sam will not be able to constrain them. Meanwhile, a vicious circle of no confidence threatens the Western alliance: if Italy, for instance, concludes that a weakened America will not last the course in Afghanistan, then it will commit even fewer troops to the already undermanned NATO force there—which in turn prompts more Americans to question the project.

Yet America is being underestimated. Friends and enemies have mistaken the short-term failure of the Bush administration for deeper weakness. Neither American hard nor soft power is fading. Rather, they are not being used as well as they could be. The opportunity is greater than the threat.

It is hard to deny that America looks weaker than it did in 2000. But is that really due to a tectonic shift or to the errors of a single administration? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld reversed the wise Rooseveltian doctrine, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. After September 11th the White House talked up American power to an extraordinary degree. In that brief period of “shock and awe” when Americans were from Mars, their Venutian allies were lucky to get invited to the show (indeed, in Afghanistan some “old” Europeans were initially turned away). Meanwhile, Mr Bush declared a “war on terror”, rather than just on al-Qaeda, broadening the front to unmanageable dimensions (and paving the way for Guantánamo).

While the talk was loud, the stick was spindly. Defying his generals, Mr Rumsfeld sent too few troops to Iraq to pacify the country. Disbanding the Iraqi army compounded the error. Regardless of whether Iraq was ever winnable, it is hard to imagine any future American administrations making such schoolboy howlers when it comes to regime change.
America the indispensable

Yet in one way Mr Bush is unfairly maligned. Contrary to the Democratic version of history, America did not enjoy untrammelled influence abroad before he arrived. The country that won the cold war also endured several grievous reverses, notably Vietnam (where 58,000 Americans were killed—16 times the figure for Iraq). Iran has been defying America since Jimmy Carter's presidency, and North Korea for a generation before that. As for soft power, France has been complaining about Coca-Cola and Hollywood for nearly a century.

From this perspective of relative rather than absolute supremacy, a superpower's strength lies as much in what it can prevent from happening as in what it can achieve. Even today, America's “negative power” is considerable. Very little of any note can happen without at least its acquiescence. Iran and North Korea can defy the Great Satan, but only America can offer the recognition the proliferating regimes crave. In all sorts of areas—be it the fight against global warming or the quest for an Arab-Israeli peace—America is quite simply indispensable.

That is because America still has the most hard power. Its volunteer army is indeed stretched: it could not fight another small war of choice. But it can still muster 1.5m people under arms and a defence budget almost as big as the whole of the rest of the world's. And it could call on so much more: in relation to the country's size, its defence budget and army are quite small by historical standards. Better diplomacy would enhance its power. One irony of the “war on terror” is that Mr Bush's hyperventilation worked against him in terms of getting boots on the ground: neither his own countrymen nor his allies were sure enough that they were really under threat. (And why should they be? An American-led West spent four decades tussling with a nuclear-armed empire that stretched from Berlin to Vladivostok; al-Qaeda is still small beer.)

The surveys that show America's soft power to be less respected than it used to be also show the continuing universal appeal of its values—especially freedom and openness. Even the immigrants and foreign goods that so worry some Americans are tributes to that appeal (by contrast, the last empire to build a wall on its border, the Soviet one, was trying to keep its subjects in). Nor is it an accident that anti-Americanism has fed off those instances, such as Guantánamo Bay, where America has seemed most un-American. This is the multiplier effect that Mr Bush missed: win the battle for hearts and minds and you do not need as much hard power to get your way.

That lesson is worth bearing in mind when it comes to the challenge of China. China is likely to be more and more in America's face, whether buying American firms, winning Olympic gold or blasting missiles into space. Merely by growing, China is disrupting the politics of the Pacific. But that does not mean that it is automatically on track to overtake America. Its politics are fragile (see article) and America's lead is immense. Moreover, economics is not a zero-sum game: so far, a bigger China has helped to enrich America. An America that stays open to China—an America that sticks to American values—is much more likely to help fashion the China it wants.

If America were a stock, it would be a “buy”: an undervalued market leader, in need of new management. But that points to its last great strength. More than any rival, America corrects itself. Under pressure from voters, Mr Bush has already rediscovered some of the charms of multilateralism; he is talking about climate change; a Middle East peace initiative is possible. Next year's presidential election offers a chance for renewal. Such corrections are not automatic: something (a misadventure in Iran?) may yet compound the misery of Iraq in the same way Watergate followed Vietnam. But America recovered from the 1970s. It will bounce back stronger again.

American power: The hobbled hegemon
The Economist, Jun 28th 2007

Its troubles in Iraq have much weakened it; but America is likely to remain the dominant superpower
Alex Williamson

THE men and women of America's 82nd Airborne Division, whose battle honours include the D-Day landings of the second world war, like to call themselves the nation's “911” emergency service—ready to parachute in, at a moment's notice, to any troublespot in the world. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the 82nd Airborne was the first to deploy in Saudi Arabia to hold the line. And when George Bush announced his surge of forces into Baghdad last January, the “All-Americans” were the first reinforcements.

These days, though, the 82nd Airborne is no longer America's quick-response service. Its sprawling base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina has emptied out, with all four of its brigades now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the rest of the year at least, the high-readiness brigade is provided by the 101st Airborne Division. Still, the All-Americans insist they can be counted on to “fight and win” in other places if needed. One divisional command sergeant-major says the paratroopers can deploy from anywhere to anywhere and always take their parachutes, just in case.

A two-hour drive from Fort Bragg, at Camp Lejeune, home of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, officers say they too are operating “with engines at full throttle”. They no longer have time to rehearse major assault operations, and their training for counter-insurgency is hampered by equipment shortages. Indeed, about half the marines' pre-positioned kit, stored on ships around the world and in vast Norwegian caves, has been drawn down to give front-line fighters what they need.

Such signs of strain on America's military forces are like dead “canaries in the mineshaft” that warn of impending disaster, says Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defence think-tank. In the sixth year of the “war on terror” deployments in war zones are ever longer, while “dwell time” at home to recover is shorter. The army and marines say morale remains strong but, equally, they say the current tempo cannot go on indefinitely. At some point either the resources must increase, or demands on the forces must be reduced.

Even before the surge was announced, Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and an ex-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that the active army was “about broken”. The outgoing military chief, General Peter Pace, warned Congress earlier this year that America's ability to deal with another crisis in the world was being eroded. In a classified report, he said there was a “significant” risk that America would not be ready to respond properly to a series of possible military conflicts—from Korea to Taiwan, Cuba or Iran. America could still beat any likely enemy, said the general, but its response would be slower and bloodier.

America is the richest country and the most sophisticated high-tech military power in the world, and is spending more on defence in real terms than at any time since the end of the second world war. Yet it is being exhausted by insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised bombs. With strong pressure on President George Bush to withdraw from Iraq, jihadist militants scent a victory as momentous as the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989—a defeat that helped to dissolve the Soviet empire.

True, America has recovered from previous disasters, not least the Vietnam war. But its military troubles come at a time when the global strategic balance appears to be tilting away from America. Iran is filling the vacuum created in Iraq, and is accelerating its nuclear programme. China's military punch is growing along with its booming economy. Russia is more belligerent. The transatlantic relationship is loveless. Across the world, anti-Americanism has increased to the point where the United States is often regarded as a threat to world peace rather than its guarantor.

Strategists wonder whether the Iraq war has damaged America so badly as to set it on a path to “imperial decline”. Is the post-Soviet “unipolar” world, established after America's first war against Saddam Hussein in 1991, coming prematurely to an end as a result of the second war to topple him? For Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a leading think-tank, “the American era in the Middle East is over”—and because of the importance of the Middle East, American global power has also been weakened, for years if not for decades.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, blames all three post-cold-war presidents for wasting America's moment of supremacy. In his recent book, “Second Chance”, he praises George Bush senior for his handling of the collapse of Soviet communism with “delicacy and skill” but gives him only a B grade for failing to exploit the victory in Kuwait in 1991 to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. He gives Bill Clinton a mediocre C for his vacillation. George Bush junior gets an unforgiving F for his “catastrophic leadership”. The most powerful image of America, says Mr Brzezinski, is no longer the Statue of Liberty but the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. Unless Mr Bush's successor takes urgent steps to restore America's political and moral standing, he says, “the crisis of American superpower will become terminal”, and the epoch of American dominance will be shortened.

It was a different George Bush who came to office in 2001, declaring that America had to use its unequalled power judiciously. “If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us,” he said during his campaign. “If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us.” He accused Mr Clinton of squandering America's power by getting bogged down in the Balkans. Its military forces should be used for war-fighting, not nation-building. His then foreign-policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, declared: “We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten.”
Slimmer, not better

Under the “transformation” envisaged by Mr Bush's defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the army would be slimmed down and money invested in high-tech weapons, reconnaissance systems and data links. Speed, stealth and accuracy would substitute for mass. After the attacks of September 11th 2001, a new political doctrine also crystallised: leadership would substitute for consensus. America would free itself of the encumbrance of formal alliances and multilateral diplomacy. Mr Rumsfeld lived by the dictum that “the mission determines the coalition”, not the other way around.

The swift removal of the Taliban in 2001 by a “coalition of the willing”, relying on special forces backed by air power, seemed to validate such concepts. But in Iraq the light, mobile force that smashed its way to the centre of Baghdad was plainly inadequate for the task of garrisoning the country, securing the borders and arms dumps, confronting the insurgency and preventing the slide to sectarian war. America's decision to go to war without formal United Nations support left it with few friends when things went wrong.

Many will argue over the parallels between the failures in Iraq and Vietnam, but there is at least one connection. For decades after the fall of Saigon, traumatised American commanders gave up the study of messy “small wars” to concentrate on fighting the decisive “big war” against the massed armies of the Soviet block. Commanders assumed, wrongly, that forces trained to fight high-intensity battles could also handle low-intensity conflicts.

One cavalry officer, Lieut-Colonel Paul Yingling, has denounced the failure of America's generals—in Iraq as in Vietnam—to prepare the army for counter-insurgency. Calling, in the Armed Forces Journal, for Congress to hold the top brass to account, he wrote: “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses the war.” In fact, some changes have been made to adapt to the new face of warfare. Army and marine training centres have been reconfigured. Brigades now exercise in mock Iraqi villages, with thousands of actors playing civilians, Iraqi forces and insurgents. Gone are old-style clashes of massed steel on steel, and some commanders now worry that they are losing the skills to fight big conventional wars.

The recent joint army and marines counter-insurgency manual says the central aim is not to destroy the enemy but to protect civilians. Fighting insurgents involves “armed social work”, with key decisions often taken not by the general at headquarters, but by the corporal on the street. In other words, the main task for the 82nd Airborne Division and other army units for the foreseeable future, pace Ms Rice, will be nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan. Above all, says the manual, counter-insurgency requires large quantities of two resources that America is short of: boots on the ground and time.

The Pentagon says America has the best-led, best-trained and best-equipped army ever fielded. “We are not a broken army, but we are working very hard,” insists one senior officer. “If you ask a marathon runner how he feels after 19 miles, he will say he is tired. That does not mean he is not in shape.” The trouble, though, is that America's forces were designed for sprints, not marathons.

America has some 1.5m men and women under arms, including nearly 700,000 in the army and marine corps. But only a fraction can be deployed on a prolonged basis because some units are unsuitable for counter-insurgency, while deployed troops need to be rotated periodically to give them time to recover.

The army reckons it needs at least two brigades at home to sustain one in a war zone. That means the current total of about 50 army combat brigades and marine equivalents in the full-time forces should support about 17 in the field. But with the surge of five extra brigades to Iraq, America currently has 25 such brigades deployed around the world. The pressure is alleviated with part-time units from the National Guard and reserves (currently about two combat brigades), but their use is increasingly unpopular at home.

These days American units get nothing like the recommended 2:1 ratio of dwell time to deployment. Some army brigades currently get barely a year to rest and re-train after serving 15 months, a ratio of 0.8:1. By this measure, American ground forces get a fifth as much rest as their British counterparts—and British commanders say that anything less than two years at home for each six-month deployment (a 4:1 ratio) could “break the army”.

With some units now on their fourth deployment, an army medical survey in Iraq last month found higher levels of mental-health problems, including a 24% level of post-traumatic stress disorder among those on multiple combat tours. Less than half agreed that “all non-combatants should be treated with respect” and more than a third reckoned torture should sometimes be allowed.
Size matters

All this does not take into account America's need to keep forces ready to deal with unexpected developments elsewhere. A study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)in April calculated that if the surge in Iraq lasts until April next year (the option floated by commanders in Iraq), only between three and 11 brigades would be available to deal with another crisis in the coming 18 months, depending on how much time units need to recover. But American plans for a major war to, say, defend South Korea have in the past envisaged dispatching 20 or 21 brigades, notes the CBO. With time, America could build up its forces for another campaign by sending or training lower-readiness units, mobilising reservists or, in extreme emergency, by reinstating the draft.

Clearly America needs a bigger army. The new defence secretary, Robert Gates, has belatedly announced plans to expand ground forces by an extra 62,000 troops—nearly a tenth of the total—to bring the army up to 547,000 and the marines to 202,000 by 2012. This will not immediately ease the strain, as it will take years to prepare new units. And even this rise may not be enough. According to the CBO, the increase would still not sustain the current surge in Iraq without breaching the rotation guidelines.

Some want an even bigger expansion, perhaps as many as 200,000 more troops. But can America find more soldiers? The army is already short of captains and majors, who take years to train. And despite more generous bonuses, the quality of new recruits is starting to drop, with more in the lowest aptitude ranking, more high-school dropouts and more receiving waivers from disqualification (for example, for using drugs or having a criminal record). The age limit for recruitment has risen from 35 to 42, while fitness levels are lower. Some complain that training standards have also suffered, as the army adopts gentler means to get more recruits through boot camp.

But even though recruitment is difficult, particularly at a time of high employment, the army is growing steadily, from 482,000 in 2001 to about 507,000 today. The army says it sees no need for some of the more radical proposals, such as a return of the draft or recruiting foreigners with the promise of American citizenship. In the 1980s the army alone had 780,000 soldiers, all of them volunteers. The army says the profile of its recruits remains above the average for the American population. The number of soldiers re-enlisting—often during service in war zones—remains high. Indeed, the striking thing about the army and marines is not their morale problems, but their resilience.

Even if the troops can be found, equipping them remains a problem. The army says it entered the war on terror with $56 billion-worth of equipment shortages, and kit is being worn out or destroyed much faster than expected. Everything from night-vision goggles to new body armour and armoured Humvees has to be shuffled around so that deployed units are fully kitted out, leaving those at home with even bigger gaps. The shortages are especially acute in the National Guard, which has only about half the equipment it needs, and part of that is in Iraq. State governors complain that their ability to deal with emergencies, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, is being compromised.

As matters stand, America can probably consider only limited and short-lived interventions, for instance to bring disaster relief. Given time, it could crank itself up for a major crisis. What seem out of the question for the foreseeable future are the medium-scale “wars of choice”.

For some time to come, the burden of projecting American power will fall even more heavily on the air force and navy. This may be enough to deter hostile governments, but insurgents and militias might be less worried. Air power alone cannot win a war. For now, Iran looks pretty safe from the threat of an Iraq-style ground invasion. Air bombardment may cause serious damage, but may not be enough to stop Iran's nuclear programme or unseat its clerical regime.
America's rivals

The dilemma for the Pentagon is how to improve its ability to fight today's insurgencies while preparing for tomorrow's conventional threats. Russia, enriched by high oil prices, is becoming more authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad. It still has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons. But its conventional forces are badly rusted. Large-scale exercises are a rarity for the conscript army, which in any case is heavily committed in Chechnya. The fleet does not put to sea in big numbers. Indeed, Russia's real means of projecting power is not its armed forces, but its sale of cheap advanced weaponry to other countries.

India, though growing fast, seems more interested in a strategic partnership with America rather than rivalry. China is the country that most worries the Pentagon. America says it encourages the peaceful rise of China as a “responsible stakeholder” in the world. But its communist rulers are investing heavily in a blue-water navy, which may one day include aircraft carriers, apparently to establish a defensive perimeter deep in the Pacific along a chain of islands that runs from Japan to Guam and Papua. China is also modernising its nuclear arsenal.

For the moment the Chinese seem interested mainly in regional dominance, particularly keeping America at bay in any future conflict over Taiwan. They are emphasising “asymmetrical” means designed to blunt America's technological superiority: hoping to deny America the use of the seas with long-range anti-ship missiles and submarines, paralyse its highly computerised forces through cyber-warfare and neutralise spy and communications satellites. In January, China tested an anti-satellite missile. Its defence budget is thought to be expanding by around 12% a year, though its real size is the subject of conjecture. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China last year overtook Japan to become the world's fourth-largest defence spender, after America, Britain and France.

This military expansion is made possible by startling economic growth. China's GDP now surpasses that of Britain or France. According to Goldman Sachs, China will overtake America around 2027 and become by far the world's biggest economy by 2050 (see chart 3). Even now, it is helping to prop up the weak American dollar by buying large chunks of American debt. China is pushing America aside as the world's biggest exporter, and last year it produced more cars than the United States. Europe, too, poses challenges to America: London is vying to replace New York as the most important financial centre, and the euro has displaced the dollar as the main currency of the international bond market.
The force of good example

Important as “hard” military power and economic might may be, these factors are not all that has made America a superpower or even a “hyperpower”, as the French once put it. The “soft power” of its open culture and liberal democracy has provided an attractive model and encouraged others to see the world America's way. It has allowed America to multiply its influence through an unrivalled network of alliances. It is politically and diplomatically—and in terms of moral standing—that America has been most damaged.

For about two years after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration could still find evidence to claim that its muscular unilateral military action, however controversial, had made the world safer, encouraged democracy in the Middle East and enhanced American power. The Taliban were gone; al-Qaeda was on the run; America had new military bases in Central Asia; Saddam Hussein was captured and Iraqis voted freely. Moreover, Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction; Palestinians elected the moderate Mahmoud Abbas after the death of Yasser Arafat; Israel left Gaza; and Syria withdrew from Lebanon. Peaceful revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia brought new pro-Western leaders.

But as the situation in Iraq has worsened, many of these gains have been reversed. Russia denounces America's “diktat and imperialism”, talks of a new arms race, threatens oil and gas supplies to neighbours regarded as unfriendly, and says it wants to overturn the Western-inspired economic order. America is being rolled back from parts of Central Asia, while Ukraine is in turmoil.

In the Middle East, a defiant Iran is stoking the insurgency in Iraq (and possibly also in Afghanistan). Its Lebanese proxy, Hizbullah, survived Israel's military onslaught last year with greater prestige. The Taliban have stepped up their insurgency. Above all, al-Qaeda has reconstituted itself, and exploits Muslim resentment over the “war on terror” to recruit new followers to its global jihad.

Mr Bush has changed his ways. Instead of threatening to topple rogue regimes, his administration has re-opened a diplomatic dialogue of sorts with North Korea, Syria and, most recently, Iran. America has rediscovered multilateralism, not least to keep a united front in imposing limited sanctions on Iran.

The “forward strategy of freedom” intended to democratise the Middle East has stalled, not least because elections have worsened sectarian tensions in Iraq and brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian territories. “Will America stay strong? Yes,” says one senior marine. “But can it use its power? That's a different question.”

The dilemma for America is whether withdrawing from Iraq will restore America's strength or signal greater weakness. America's top brass, for the most part, want more time to try to turn things around in Iraq and avoid another Vietnam. Insurgencies take many years to defeat, they say, pointing to the British experience in Malaya. They are right. But a more apt parallel may now be Palestine, where the British gave up holding the ring between Arab and Jew and left them to it.
Still number one

Senior American officials console themselves with the thought that, whatever happens in Iraq, America will bounce back. Before long, perhaps after Mr Bush has left the White House, those complaining about America's overbearing power will come begging for its help.

America still spends roughly as much on defence as the rest of the world put together (see chart 2), and remains the only country able to project military power globally. Next year's budget request for $623 billion (“a gargantuan sum”, according to one Pentagon official) represents 4% of GDP, which is low by historical standards (see chart 4). Military commanders often say that “the nation is not at war; the military is at war”; that is, the American public is not yet making real sacrifices. Taxes remain low, while the casualties are moderate enough not to be greatly felt, particularly by the urban elite. America has ample reserves to defend its global role and, Mr Krepinevich argues, potential rivals also have weaknesses. European countries are rich, but for the most part they are unwilling to spend money on military power; Russia's production of oil and gas is declining, and its population is in a demographic death-spiral; China may yet undergo internal upheavals that could disrupt its economy.

Robert Kagan, a prominent commentator, is confident that the American-dominated “unipolar” world will endure. America has weathered worse disasters than Iraq, he says, not least soon after victory in the second world war, when the Soviet Union developed the hydrogen bomb and communists took power in China. Certainly America faces stronger regional antagonists, but none is yet competing for global supremacy, whether alone or in concert. If anything, many states want America's help to “balance” a rising China and a growling Russia. “A superpower can lose a war—in Vietnam or in Iraq—without ceasing to be a superpower,” says Mr Kagan, “so long as the American public continues to support American predominance, and so long as potential challengers inspire more fear than sympathy among their neighbours.”

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