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In a better world, blogger Billmon would be writing columns and Thomas Friedman and David Broder would be rationalizing the status quo on the sidelines. But then, in a better world the available topics wouldn't be so dismal.

"Ever since 9/11," Billmon writes, "there's been this attitude among the Bushies that the most important thing is to convince the world that America's enemies (who are now identical with Israel's enemies) represent the ultimate in evil--the Wal-Mart of evil, the Pittsburgh Steelers of evil, the Dr. Evil of evil. Once that goal has been accomplished, why then of course the 'free world' will line up and enlist in Uncle Sam's army. Or so the thinking seems to be.

"In other words, the PR strategy is also the diplomatic strategy--and, as we've seen in Iraq, the military strategy as well. Mike Gerson (Bush's chief speechwriter, crafter of all those fine phrases about freedom and democracy) really is running the war. And when you let your speechwriters run your war, you have no right to complain when you lose.

"To paraphrase a slogan, Manichaeism is not a plan. Other than Tony Blair, even our closest allies no longer buy the shining-city-on-the hill act--if they ever did (and Blair may just be a good actor with an eye for the main chance). The French, like the rest of the non-Islamic world, look at the United States and see a great big muscle-bound bundle of great power ambitions, resource hungers, security paranoias, and ideological arrogance --in addition to the good things America represents (or once represented, back in the day). They look at Hizbullah and see a complex mixture of religious fanaticism, grassroots loyalty, and political pragmatism--as well as Iran's proxy in Lebanon. A problem to be handled, but handled with care. . . .

". . . A unilateralism that reflects an accurate reading of underlying power relationships is one thing--it may be ugly, but it can certainly 'work,' from a realpolitik point of view. Just ask Otto von Bismarck. But a unilateralism based on nothing more than a conviction of one's own inherent superiority is a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen (and now it's happening.)

"I made this same point many moons ago, back when the Cheneyites were still trying to order the world to pony up troops and treasure for the Iraq occupation. I compared their posturing to the delusions of late Rome, when emperors and Senators fooled themselves into thinking they could still dictate terms to the barbarians--long after they had lost the ability to back their demands with force."

I don't know a better place to track the decline and fall of the American empire. Read the whole thing and add Billmon's Whiskey Bar to your RSS feed.  Historian David Kaiser has another solid if less eloquent take on the Lebanese debacle here.

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