Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Illusion

Jean Bricmont puts French "declinism," a topic all the rage in the run-up to Sarkozy's victory, into perspective.

In one particularly biting passage, Bricmont takes a "closer look" at the "favorite model" of the declinists, the United States. He doesn't quite see why America would be worth emulating, though:

The Americans have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to invade Iraq. Thousands of their soldiers have been killed, tens of thousands wounded, and they are completely stuck. They can't win, because they have succeeded in turning the immense majority of Iraqis against them, and they can't leave, because it would mean the end of their empire. And so they are going to be bogged down in Iraq for many years, losing still more men, money and prestige, while causing unspeakable and useless suffering to the Iraqi people. And why are they in Iraq? Among other things, thanks to manipulation of public opinion concerning weapons of mass destruction. The Americans have intelligence services that spy on the whole world, a free press with immense resources, universities packed with specialists on every conflict and problem on earth. And yet, they have not been able to understand the most elementary realities, that even a child traveling to the Middle East could understand, that is, that they are hated primarily because of their support to Israel, and that their intervention in the region is bound to provoke massive rejection.

If that blend of incapacity, ignorance and arrogance is not symptomatic of a society in decline, then it's hard to imagine what "decline" is all about. Slight gaps in GNP and unemployment rates are minor technicalities in comparison. France, in contrast, which in 2003 still had an elite described as "aging, outdated, behind the times"--but still able to think--did not go along with that madness.

But that's not all. The rest of the world, and especially France, is constantly called upon to do as the United States does. Now, let us imagine that by the wave of a magic wand, the rest of the world really starts to imitate the United States. Where will they get all the petroleum and other raw materials that the United States imports in vast quantities, on which its society is totally dependent to preserve its way of life? Where will they get the immigrant workers, often undocumented, that is, without rights, or the floods of cheap imported goods which are not even really paid for, since they are financed by ever-expanding trade deficits, but which enable workers who have lost their industrial jobs to continue to consume the things they need? And finally, where will they get the brains that the United States drains from the rest of the world; because it is cheaper to offer high salaries to lure people who are already well educated than to finance a genuine system of mass education?

The fact is that the American model is impossible to imitate, because its very survival depends on the existence of a world outside the United States which is quite different.