«"It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind," wrote Edward Gibbon in his autobiography.
It was at Miami airport, on August 17, 2004, as I stood musing for two hours in the aliens queue for fingerprints, while contradictory instructions were aimed at confused passengers by incompetent officials (and two security men started body-searching each other) that the idea that for America the rot was setting in first started to my mind.
Deservedly or undeservedly, America has lost the tune. Just as happened for Britain during the Boer War, something has gone unaccountably off-key. We British won that South African war in the end by sheer, bloody force; and America will not be "defeated" in Iraq, or, I suppose, anywhere else. But as armaments are increasingly substituted for arguments, the strain grows. Eventually fatigue sets in.»
Yes yes, Doom Song over and over and over.
Meanwhile, forty years ago:
«And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, "You are too arrogant. If you don't change your ways I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God."»
In further news, the impending Iraq elections seem so incoherent that I might end up President. My platform: Change the name of Iraq to "Vietnam". That's it. After that, I wing it. Freedom!