Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

U.S. Intelligence Predicts Reduced U.S. Dominance

A Washington Post article this week (9/10/08) reports on a forthcoming U.S. intelligence agencies report that “envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades.” Thomas Finger, a top analyst for the U.S. intelligence community, delivered the preview in a speech in which he saw U.S. global leadership rapidly eroding in “political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas.” The one area of continued U.S. dominance—military power—was becoming increasingly irrelevant as an asset in global power and influence.

These are all themes of The End of the American Century, so should not be terribly surprising, except for the source—the U.S. government itself—and the sweep of the conclusions. It is not just U.S. diplomatic influence that is on the wane, but political, economic, cultural and military leadership as well. The multidimensional and interrelated aspects of U.S. decline are the central theme of my book, but it is startling to hear it expressed so bluntly from the top intelligence analysts of the federal government.

The intelligence report, however, misses a key element of the declining global influence of the U.S.: its domestic weakening. Fingar’s speech saw the decline in U.S. dominance coming from exclusively global trends: globalization, climate change, resource shortages. All of these are important, of course, but the root of America’s declining global influence is here at home. Just as at the global level, the domestic decay is multidimensional—it is political, social and (especially) economic; and affects education, health care, infrastructure, and competitiveness.

The United States has become the world’s largest debtor, and the governments of other countries are increasingly worried about the scope and scale of U.S. debt and fiscal weaknesses. Even the International Monetary Fund, normally concerned about debt and insolvency in Third World countries, has warned that the continuing large budget deficits of the U.S pose “a significant threat for the rest of the world.” Other countries are beginning to turn away from the United States, both for investments and for global economic leadership, and are increasingly abandoning the dollar as the favored international currency. This is one reason for the sharp and steady decline of the dollar compared to the euro and other international currencies.

In many other respects, as well, the United States is no longer seen as the standard for emulation by other countries. The U.S. has among the highest rates of both poverty and inequality in the developed world. This poverty and inequality contribute to highly uneven access to health care, so the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in most measures of health and medical care. Even our vaunted democracy, the “beacon on the hill” for centuries, is now so dominated by money and special interests that it is rarely cited by other countries as a model for political development. Global public opinion polls in the past showed foreign populations skeptical and wary of the U.S. government; increasingly now they reveal negativity toward the U.S. population, and even to U.S. ideals. All aspects of American “soft power” are withering away.

The Fingar report, like Fareed Zakaria’s new book The Post-American World, sees this global shift coming because of “the rise of the rest”—global powerhouses like China, India and Brazil that increasingly cut into the U.S. lead on the world stage. Zakaria asserts, indeed, that the shift is not about the decline of America, and writes about the many elements of this country’s continuing strength. Solidly within the U.S. establishment, both of these analyses ignore the sand shifting beneath their own feet. Only by confronting and addressing our own domestic weaknesses and problems can we begin to solve our international ones.

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1 comment:

Richard Mason said...

I recall that in the mid-1950's the
foreign policy establishment was calling for the building of a multipolar world to replace the bipolar world of the USA and the USSR, positing that such a world would be more stable. A multipolar world would per se effect a diminution of US dominance.That ir wish has been fulfilled, probably in greater measure than the proponents dreamed.

That the intelligence appraisal left out the domestic economic
situation was to be expected, for
I believe such analysis is beyond
the purview of the US foreign intelligence organizations.