The Fall of the American Hegemony

Sebastian Mallaby's op-ed in the Washington Post comes to a conclusion I reached around February of 2002:

I'm not predicting the end of the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one.
Mr. Mallaby reaches this conclusion after examining America's failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Darfur. He considers Americas domestic problems as well. Rampant military spending, social security and an ageing population, the costs of pollution, the pressures of globalization and the growing divide between the rich and poor are expressions of the pressures that bring down empires. All that and Mr. Mallaby can't predict the end of the American Era.

I am predicting the end of the American era.

All empires fall. The greatest empires the world has ever known - the Babylonian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Spanish, the British, the Ottoman Empire and most recently the Soviet Empire - all of them are gone. The American Empire will be no different.

The fall of the American Empire does not mean 'Mad Max' come to life or the sacking of Washington. As a colonial empire, our decline will look much like that of the British Empire.

Though that slow decline is inevitable, it has been hastened by President Bush. Since the end of the cold war, the United States lacked what every great 'force for good' (I don't want to use the word hero) needs - an opponent recognized by the wider community of nations as harmful. Without that opponent, super-powers must be careful to avoid breeding resentment among less powerful nations.

Obviously, George Bush has done quite the opposite.

This isn't to say that America's decline had to start here. The terror attacks on 9/11 provided not just an 'enemy' for America, but also a great deal of good will for America around the globe. This was an opportunity for America to rededicate itself to providing leadership in the world - to work towards greater freedom, liberty and openness around the world.

Instead, George W. Bush used to opportunity to settle old grudges and consolidate domestic political power. Harsh rhetoric and harsh policies alienated not just new American allies, gained in the aftermath of 9/11, but America's traditional allies as well.

There are multiple reasons why Bush and his Neocon backers so seriously misplayed their hand. First was an inability to realize and utilize what has been America's greatest strength for the last 50 years - the soft power of Americanism. Over the past half century, even in nations where the political establishment was anti-American, the populations were largely pro-American. The spread of rock and roll, Levis, McDonald's and Coca-Cola were the concrete expression of the perceived superiority of American ideals.

The reason for the rejection of 'soft power' by the Neocons is that it did not fit with the hyper-nationalistic attitude of the movement.

Though there had always been nations which rejected Americanism, the number and vehemence of these rejections has grown as a reaction to both American involvement in Iraq and to the increasingly harsh measures used in George W. Bush's 'Global War on Terrorism.'

This direct rejection, primarily among nations with large Muslim populations, is compounded by the growing unpopularity of American policy among the populations of Europe. Formerly pro-American Western Nations don't feel the need for an interventionalist America after the threat of Soviet invasion disappeared. The E.U., for all its hitches and problems, also decreases European economic dependence on the Dollar and the United States. The E.U.'s gross domestic product is actually the largest in the world - higher than America's.

Add this to the fact that a rising China and an emerging India are anxious to secure resources for their growing economies and willing to deal with nations outside American interests.

This recipe for decreased international influence is only increased by the Neocon's distaste for the United Nations. A symptom of the Neoconservative tenet of unilateral action, America has lost influence in the only legislative body that includes all the nations of the world - an institution built by America.

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Even if the Democrats were to sweep into both the House and the Senate in two weeks, spend 2 years dismantling the system the Bush Administration has set up, then holds both Houses of Congress and gains the Presidency, the decline could only at best be slowed.

An entire generation in the Middle East is radicalized. The number of Europeans who remember American GIs coming to liberate them is dwindling. The time since America protected Europe from the Soviet Threat is growing. India and China aren't going to stop their climb towards being world powers because there's a Democratic President in the United States.

The best possible thing for America is for our politicians to plan for a soft landing. I'm not advocating that America give up on influencing events around the world, though I am concerned that as our influence wanes, we will succumb to the same miscalculation that has ended so many empires - diverting so many resources into maintaining influence that our way of life becomes unsustainable.

Of course acknowledging that America won't be the world's only super-power forever is a politically unpopular position.

I'd say the outlook for the American Era is bleak.

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