America in (Relative) Decline?

by Joshua Foust on 7/8/2007 · 6 comments

An update to my post on the latest machinations in Paksitan: Left Flank notes another wrinkle, and posits a very worrisome observation. In revealing that several Chinese citizens had been kidnapped (China has always sided with Pakistan in its disputes with India, for various geopolitical reasons), and the Chinese government’s subsequent disgust that it was allowed to happen, The Economist implies China had a role in the mosque conflict. In evaluating China’s soft power in the broader region, I came to the conclusion that while its influence is growing, in general that is more because of American decline than any sort of direct Chinese advance.

Now I’m not so sure. If China has made the sorts of inroads into Pakistan power politics that it can demand violent action against a radical mosque when years of American haranguing have not, that presents two very worrisome conclusions: not only might Beijing actually be our best bet for securing Pashtunistan (rather than Islamabad), but, it seems, the U.S. cannot bring about action without its cooperation. A decline in Soft Power indeed—has the United States become so neutered in Central Asia that it cannot accomplish any objectives beyond the countries it has invaded and occupied?

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Narcogen July 8, 2007 at 7:14 pm

BECOME so neutered? This implies a contrast with a previous period where the opposite was true.

When was that, exactly?

Joseph Steinberg July 9, 2007 at 4:46 am

There is a brighter side to this.

If we consider what Barnett argues in Blueprint for Action, then:

1. Al Qaeda’s threat is that it can challenge the appeal of globalization for developing states in Eurasia;

2. Both China and the US need globalization;

3. Therefore, both China and the US should form a strategic partnership against al Qaeda.

To do that, China and the US should forge a regional alliance between Pakistan, India, and Iran.

Of course, this is the stuff of vision, but China and the US working together is better than a competition.

Joshua Foust July 9, 2007 at 5:23 am

Narcogen – 2001-3.

Joseph – I agree that collaboration is far superior to competition. However, both China and the U.S. view each other as rivals, not partners – at least on the military side of things, which, unfortunately, is what counts.

I tend to discount most of what Barnett says (see here and here) — his scholarship is, at best, weak, and really poorly argued. Not that he’s important, but he’s important in a Sam Huntington way – showing why he is wrong is far more instructive than looking at what he’s actually trying to say. In fact, I find his over-reliance on economic determinism, which is at best a weak force in international relations, to be the biggest reason his thoughts on both Iran and China are meangingless (that, and his apparent ignorance of history).

Joseph Steinberg July 9, 2007 at 2:29 pm

I agree with your points, which I myself have made in a few grad school papers and in countless discussions with grad students/military officers. Barnett’s a darling, as much as Huntington these days. My biggest sticking point is economic determinism, too. Your point about ideology is well-taken, but PS and IR, like Economics, are looking for clean, simple theories, not description.

I bring up Barnett because there is a place for undetermined diplomacy as an art (the forgotten side of IR). I view Barnett as an advocate without portfolio. Once in awhile, there are surprises, unmapped by scientists and unforeseen by journalists.

XYZ July 9, 2007 at 6:06 pm

I agree with Joshua Fouster on Barnette Robin. BR’s assesment of that region’s issues is really weak. He doesn’t have that scholarship and insight into the things pertaining to that region.

XYZ July 9, 2007 at 6:32 pm

But friends, you are not aware of the cunningness of the ruling Punjabi-Muhajir eilte of Pakistan…They have thousands of mullahs ready and at their pay-role to stage dramas like Lal Masjid and fool their friends in Washington. Musharaf once had said in a private meeting, refering to the game he is playing with the West, that in his childhood he would climb the roof of his house in Dehli and throw stones at Hindu Congress nighbours whereas in the day he would be friend with them.

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