The fall of empires was already on my mind because I had come from Washington where I had been with some of the people now perennially described as the ‘architects’ of the Iraq war. It was not only being with those now out of the Bush administration that created a state of dejection in the air. Talking with Republicans and Democrats, listening to the flagging disciples of Obama and the resigned party-allies of McCain, it seems from the capital that a more than seasonal torpor hangs in the late summer air.
Washington’s current tiredness cannot be divorced from the story of Iraq. The town is now littered with people whose predictive abilities failed them and, arguably, America. Those who predicted swift victory in Iraq have been especially ridiculed. But with the success of the surge so too have those like Obama and the Republican senator Chuck Hagel, who predicted that the surge would be ‘the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam’. They too have had their crystal balls fingered, and if the lesson that the American people should trust a little less in prophets and wise men is not entirely unwelcome, a turn against a muscular and ethical foreign policy most certainly would be.
As Darfur will continue to show, America not exercising power is the only thing the world dislikes as much as her exercising it.
America is undergoing a period of self-analysis, perhaps even a useful period of self-doubt. But it is not unusual or unhealthy for this nation to look inwards. When it casts its eyes out again after the autumn elections, whoever leads it will see a world that still needs American power and still admires America’s core values. Whoever takes office in January will survey a world in which America remains the pre-eminent nation and the litmus of freedom — the country which the rest of the world looks to, and whose eyes still say ‘yes’.