Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Troubles to Our South

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Things are not going well in America. In fact, very few presidents have faced the problems that confront Barack Obama today.

The economy remains flat; the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is an unparalleled environmental disaster; and the war in Afghanistan seems endless, with no real strategy for victory.

On the economic front, foreclosures keep evicting thousands of Americans from their homes each month -- the number of homeowners who lost their houses hit a record of nearly 94,000 in May -- while sales of newly built homes plunged to their lowest level in more than four decades.

And the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, at close to 10 per cent. Many of these people have been out of work for a year or more; even if they eventually get new jobs, they will probably make less money, and have less purchasing power, than before.

On April 22, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off Louisiana exploded, killing 11 workers, and since then millions of barrels of oil have spewed into the Gulf and onto land in four states.

Apart from the billions of dollars lost by residents of the area, especially those in the fishing and tourism sectors, and the destruction of wildlife on land and sea, health experts say they expect a wave of health problems, as people absorb the spill's impact on their lives, including depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse. Many will probably never work again.

As for Afghanistan, Obama has now fired General Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander there, after the general had spoken disparagingly about the president and other members of the administration.

He was replaced by David Petraeus, who has been credited with quelling the violence in Iraq through a timely “surge” in U.S. forces, and so brought a measure of stability to Iraq.

However, Petraeus admitted to Congress that, while overall levels of violence were higher in Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan “would be harder than Iraq due to the lack of human capital, damage after 30 years of war, illiteracy, lack of infrastructure and so on.”

Those who read history know that every major power in history eventually has had to retrench.

As Yale University historian Paul Kennedy wrote in his article “A Time to Appease,” published in the July/August 2010 issue of the National Interest, “However the American Republic advances through the decades to come,” it probably will have to face the “key issue of adjusting to a twenty-first-century world order in which it plays a smaller role than it did in the one before.”

As did the British and others before them, Americans will have to come to terms with this new reality.