Canada's Hub for International Affairs

America’s Farcical Decline

| November 14, 2012
Keeping them honest


Here’s what I would like to know.

How did General John Allen, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan, find time to battle a resurgent Taliban and write 20,000 to 30,000 pages of “flirtatious” emails to a 30-something married mother of three in Florida?

And how did General David Petraeus, the head of the CIA and the most respected general of his generation, manage to juggle “liaising” with the same Florida socialite, conducting an “under the desk” affair with his biographer, and spearheading the global war on terror?

For that matter, how did General Stanley McChrystal, the last discredited supreme U.S. commander in Afghanistan, clear enough time in his schedule to party in Paris with a Rolling Stone reporter while averring that he was “pretty disappointed” with President Barack Obama and even less enamoured with “bite me” Vice-President Joe Biden?

If there’s one conclusion we can draw from these serial scandals – besides the dangers of bedding “embedded” journalists – it’s that the U.S.’s top military men have way too much time on their hands. Their relaxed, laid back approach is particularly surprising given that the United States is now bogged down in its 11th year of war in Afghanistan – the longest war in U.S. history – with almost zero prospect of victory.

It is not difficult to determine the winners from this increasingly bizarre and tawdry soap opera. As China carefully charts its ascent to global supremacy, as the Kremlin moves to reassemble its lost empire, and as al-Qaeda plots its next strike against the decadent West, one can only imagine their disdain for what was once – and still claims to be – “the greatest power on earth.” 

Nor is it difficult to identify the loser. The United States, four year after its financial meltdown, is still mired in debt, stagnant growth, and unemployment. Its greatest metropolis has just been devastated by a storm, which, Katrina-like, its decaying infrastructure and dysfunctional government were powerless to withstand. Its bitterly fought $6-billion, seemingly endless presidential election has produced a political landscape just as divided, deadlocked, and directionless as it was before. As if that were not humiliating enough, now its vaunted military heroes look like guest stars in an episode of Desperate Housewives.

This is not America’s finest hour.

  • Laura

    Interesting points, but I feel some broad strokes are being made – this scandal might not be indicative of too much free time for those at the top, rather just what happens when prominent people have affairs in democratic societies. Perhaps it is fodder for international competitors, but the ongoing financial problems in the US are obviously not related to these individuals, nor can we assume that other rising powers don’t have similar melodramas. Elsewhere, media might simply have less freedom in reporting such humiliating scandals. The fact that we learn about such (perhaps irrelevant) goings-on might still be a testament to some residual “greatness”.

  • Nicholas Hirst

    What a silly, wrong-headed piece of writing. The US election produced a result that reflected the shift in power away from older white men and shows a country not nearly so divided as commentators have suggested. It has not produced a continuing deadlock. The Congressional talks since the election indicate that the renewed mandate of the president and the defeat that surprised the Republicans will lead to a resolution that will avoid the fiscal cliff. Sure, the affairs of the generals are ‘tawdry’ but so are all affairs and generals are no less likely to have them than the rest of us. Mr. Hancock, though, is more interested in produced amusing lines of type than paying attention to the real problems. I suppose that the argument that American generals have too much time to spare is not intended to be taken seriously but as it isn’t funny it comes across as no more than a sneer. The sad fact of American politics is that extra-marital affairs cost careers and that’s a waste. Petraeus did nothing illegal. He didn’t expose himself or his office. In a sensible society the only person he should answer to is his wife. That American is hypocritically puritanical and does it self a disservice by being so is obvious. That this somehow leads to a conclusion that the devastation of New York was as a result of dysfunctional government and more than a hint that all of this represents a country in decline is pure hyperbole.

  • Maitre Mot

    Metternich had a number of torrid affairs during the congress of vienna, as did Alexander I and the duke of Wellington. I do not hear many people- Adam Zamoyski excepted- saying that the outcome of that conference was ruined by either man’s proclitivities, still less that the flaws of the Vienna system were in any way caused, or even remotely influenced (with one notable exception) by the soap opera-like antics of these individuals.