Assumption of US dominance in the world has ended, inevitable imperial decline is looming
In his new book about the decline of US global power, historian Alfred McCoy writes, that faced with a fading superpower, incapable of paying its bills, other powers will begin to “provocatively challenge US dominion” in the seas and skies.
This is happening already with what appears to be increasing regularity, although perhaps “provocative” is not the right adjective to describe it.
The American military has been the chief provocateur in the seas and skies for decades, entering foreign airspace and territorial waters with impunity, expecting no retaliation. Now, powers like China, Iran and Russia are more actively challenging the US’s unchecked behavior.
In January, Iran detained ten American sailors overnight after two US Navy boats entered Iranian territorial waters. American exceptionalists were dismayed at Iran’s apparent show of disregard for US power, many blaming the incident on Obama’s “weakness.” In May, US officials accused Beijing of an “unsafe intercept” when Chinese planes buzzed an American spy plane flying off the coast of China. Later that month, two US nuke ‘sniffer’ aircraft were intercepted by Chinese planes in the East China Sea. In July, Chinese jets again drove off an American spy plane flying over the Yellow Sea. Just last week, a US ship fired warning shots at an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf after the craft approached within 150 yards and ignored American warnings to stay away.
DETAILS: Iranian craft approached US patrol ship within 150 yards and ignored warnings - Pentagon officials https://t.co/kXRZVRqxdc— RT America (@RT_America) July 25, 2017
Those are just a few examples from a spate of recent incidents that have seen US boats and planes intercepted or harassed. Not to mention, Russian and American jets are always buzzing and chasing each other off over the Baltic and the Black Sea.
This willingness to confront the US military may be indicative of the wider, aforementioned problem for Washington: Its global influence is waning, the country and its military are enjoying less respect and clout internationally, and rising powers are beginning to assert their own national interests more forcefully.
The assumption of US dominance in regions like the Western Pacific and South China Sea has ended. In Europe, Russia has not been shy about challenging the seemingly endless eastward expansion of NATO. In the Middle East, too, Russia has come to be seen as an equal to the US in terms of clout, influence and the ability to arbitrate in regional conflicts. Despite its archipelago of more than 800 bases across the world, the US can no longer dictate to the world in the way it once could.
All these powers, that the US has worked so hard to keep in check, are continuously being pushed toward each other by a common goal: to end US domination and build a more multipolar world.
Most often, these developments are portrayed as “muscle flexing” and “aggressive” by Western media, while American efforts to maintain global hegemony are seen almost exclusively as benign and crucially important for democracy and world peace.
Among American politicians and pundits, there’s a temptation to pick someone to blame for this diminishing power. Republicans often want to blame “weak” Obama, while Democrats prefer to blame George W. Bush. In future years, the focus of their blame will undoubtedly shift to Donald Trump for compounding the image of the once-superpower now in the midst of a flailing and embarrassing decline from within.
If we had to pinpoint the most significant turning point or catalyst, it would probably be the invasion of Iraq under Bush. But it’s not about one president or policy. What sets an empire on a path toward decline is rot from within the system. That system does not change with elections, no matter how radical the candidates.
It is the system Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in a 1953 speech, two months into his presidency. Despite his military background, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe warned against “a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.”
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he said.
In his farewell address eight years later, Eisenhower warned again: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”
But it's not just the overuse of the military causing the problem. There are other trends which will eventually affect America's global decline.
US infrastructure is crumbling. About 56,000 bridges across the country are marked as "structurally deficient." The country cannot boast a single airport which ranks among the top 20 in the world. More than two-thirds of American roads are "in dire need of repair or upgrades" — and the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the overall condition of the country's infrastructure a "D+" grade.
Recent OECD literacy, science and math tests have seen students from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan come out on top, while the US trails 20 or 30 places behind. Over the long run, trends like this may contribute to the US losing its reputation for cutting edge technology and innovation. All of these factors contribute to imperial decline.
Like any declining empire in denial, the top priority becomes to preserve its status at any cost. A desperate attempt to preserve that dominance can be seen in Washington’s haphazard, erratic and nonsensical foreign policies. This is not at all president-specific. Each of the last four presidents has been foreign policy failures.
When speaking of the decline of American empire, people often assume it will happen in one big bang. We wake up one day, and the empire has suddenly fallen. Empires don’t rise or fall in a day. In reality, it can be so slow you barely notice it until it’s no longer possible to correct the course.
The US has, in the past 17 years, invaded Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, launched a “humanitarian” intervention in Libya which destroyed the country, fueled a proxy war in Syria and aided Saudi Arabia’s slaughter of Yemen. Now, the Trump administration appears to be angling for a war with Iran.
Contrary to the official narrative, none of this has been to do with democracy or fighting for human rights. It has been a scramble to maintain America’s status as the world’s top-decider and go-between.
China, which is forecast to have a bigger economy than the US by 2030, has managed to quietly expand its influence and strengthen its military without deploying it abroad or starting pointless wars. Meanwhile, the US has overextended itself around the globe to little avail. It has alienated powers like Russia and Iran by constantly saber rattling in their directions, slapping sanctions on any nation which fails to do its bidding — ultimately encouraging its so-called enemies to unite against it.
The growing willingness of other countries to outwardly challenge US power on the seas and in the skies may just be a visible example of the results.
“Since 1991, we have lost our global preeminence, quadrupled our national debt, and gotten ourselves mired in five Mideast wars, with the neocons clamoring for a sixth, with Iran,” wrote Pat Buchanan in a recent piece for The American Conservative.
Americans concerned at the direction their country is taking should ask themselves whether continuing on the current course will be worth it.
History would argue it is not.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.