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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Global Views of US Improve, But Still Negative

A BBC poll of citizens of 21 countries shows that the global image of the U.S. has improved slightly in the last year, but is still largely negative. Far more countries (12) have predominantly negative views of the U.S. than have predominantly positive views (6). On average, across all countries, positive views of the U.S. have increased over the last year from 35% to 40%, but those are still outweighed by the negative views (43%, down from 47%). Respondents in each country were asked if they felt "the following countries are having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence on the world."

Negative feelings about U.S. influence were particularly strong among America's closest neighbors and allies. In the UK, 45% thought U.S. influence was mostly negative; France, 53%; Mexico 54%; Canada 55%; Spain 56%; and Germany 65%. In a ranking of all the countries in the survey, Germany was viewed as having the most positive influence, whereas the U.S. ranked 10th on the list, just below China.

Another BBC poll of 17 countries showed an overwhelming majority--67%--believing that the election of President Obama "will lead to improved relations between the United States and the rest of the world."

These polls were conducted between November 21, 2008 and February 1, 2009.

The BBC polls confirm that there has been some softening of global views about the U.S., at least partially due to President Obama. But they also reveal the persistence, depth and breadth of animosity to the U.S., and how far the U.S. has to go to recover from the damage to the country's reputation. As I suggested in The End of the American Century, the decline of the U.S. and its reputation was deep-seated, and preceded the Bush administration. George W. Bush made things far worse, but new leadership in D.C.--even a very positive influence like Barack Obama--can not easily or quickly restore America's reputation, or its global leadership.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shanghai Conference on "The End of the American Century"

A one-day conference on The End of the American Century and related themes will be held in Shanghai on May 9, in connection with the publication of the Chinese version of my book by the Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House. I will make a presentation on the theme of my book.

Other presenters include Professor Ni Lexiong, the principal translator of The End of the American Century; Professor Tang Xiaosong of Guangdong University; and Mr. Ma Guoshou, the Director of the Allwin Economic Institute in Hong Kong.

Topics of presentation include: Is this The End of the American century?; U.S. national strategy and Sino-U.S. relations; the U.S. dollar, global monetary issues and China's future wealth; and sea power and the pattern of global interactions.

The seminar will be held at the Shanghai Friendship Hall, 1333 West Nanjing Road, on Saturday, May 9, from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m.

(Look for a future post with a link to the Chinese site about this event).

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Obama in Ankara: Re-setting US Relations with the Muslim World

President Obama has taken deliberate and high-profile initiatives to mend U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world. In the first months of his presidency, he welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah II to Washington, where he endorsed the “two-state” solution to the Israel-Palestine issue—a proposal long favored by the Arab states. He met with Saudi King Abdullah in London during the G20 Summit, causing a media stir when he bowed to the king, as is customary and respectful with royalty.

Most importantly, he delivered a major address in April to the parliament in Turkey, declaring that “the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.” But he went even further, recognizing the richness and influence of Islam, and promising that the U.S. would listen, even when it did not agree:

“I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world -- including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country -- I know, because I am one of them.”

This is an extraordinary and important passage, in numerous ways, and encapsulates much of the new orientation and policies of the Obama administration, and not just toward the Arab world. First of all, it is diminishing the centrality in U.S. policy of the war on terrorism—which has so distorted American policies, priorities and values.

Secondly, the speech emphasizes “broader engagement” with the Muslim world, which is both necessary and inevitable, given the size—over one billion—and growing influence of the global Muslim population. The President’s approach to Islam is not just tolerant, but respectful and appreciative of the faith, which has done so much to “shape the world” and which, Obama could have added, has much in common with both Christianity and Judaism.

The President emphasized his intent to listen to others, even when there is disagreement. This fits in with his frequent references to the importance of a great power to recognize past errors, to temper hubris, and to approach other peoples with humility. Such a change from the previous administration could hardly be more dramatic, and has been noted around the world. The Egyptian Foreign Minister said that “Obama’s speech is the first and significant step for easing the tension between the Muslim world and the United States.”

Finally, the President’s personal touch at the end of that passage sent an important signal, both to the global community and to his own citizens, that we are all part of one human community. It was a risky political statement, for it would antagonize and alienate some Americans. But it was also a courageous one—identifying himself with what some consider to be the enemy—and calling on his compatriots for tolerance and understanding.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Moment of Awe and Joy: Susan Boyle

This blog, and my book, have been pretty unremitting in relaying downbeat news and analysis. So I thought it would not hurt to post a story, and some links, that will bring a joyful lump in the throat to even the most hard-bitten of politicos and wonks.

I am often the last to learn about current fads and popular culture, so I stumbled across the story of Susan Boyle in Saturday's New York Times: Unlikely Singer is YouTube Sensation. If you are one of the few remaining sentients unaware of Susan, as I was, I suggest you first read the story, and then go to YouTube to hear her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."

Susan Boyle is a 47 year old, unemployed, unmarried church volunteer from tiny Blackburn, Scotland, who competed in the "Britain's Got Talent" show. Both her performance, and the reaction of the glamorous judges, is something to behold. As the writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote in the Huffington Post, the audience and judges "were initially blinded by entrenched stereotypes of age, class, gender and Western beauty standards. . . until her book was opened and everybody saw what was inside."

Read the story, then watch the video at this link.

You might also want to follow this with the video of the other performance mentioned in the Times article, a soaring rendition of Puccini's "Nessum dorma" by Welsh cellphone salesman Paul Potts. It is at this link.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Bartels Finds Declining Equality and Influence

Caleb Hamman

Economic and political inequality are among the most significant aspects of U.S. decline. Both topics are the focus of the most recent work of Princeton Political Scientist Larry Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. In his book, Bartels sets out to analyze the political causes and consequences of economic inequality, arguing that these are both substantial and urgently relevant to alleviating injustice.

Naturally, Bartels begins by assessing the extent to which economic inequality exists in the United States. After detailed review of current literature and government data, Bartels offers findings very much in line with those of The End of the American Century, essentially that “current levels of inequality rival those of the Roaring Twenties,” making it fitting to speak of a “New Gilded Age” or a “retrogression of historic scope.” As Mason points out, this sort of inequality can lead to monstrous disparities, such as CEOs making more than 500 times their average employee, and has effectively caused the United States to become more unequal than “any advanced industrialized country.”

Like The End of the American Century, Bartels finds that current inequality is not a recent phenomenon, but has been growing sharply since the 1970s. Although this observation is generally accepted, Bartels then goes on to make a less mainstream claim—that increasing economic inequality is a largely a result of public policy. While Bartels readily concedes that economic factors like globalization and technology have contributed to inequality, he staunchly refuses to attribute the entire dynamic to arcane “market forces” or inculpable “economic realities.” Rather, a significant role is played by political intervention, an idea Mason also highlights by discussing issues like the “elimination of the federal welfare system” and the “stagnation of the minimum wage.”

Bartels goes one step further. He argues that U.S. economic inequality is “profoundly shaped by partisan politics”—specifically that “middleclass and poor families” have “fared much worse under Republican presidents than they have under Democratic presidents.” This is not necessarily a novel notion, but rarely has it been supported by such detailed analysis. Using exclusively Census Bureau data and controlling for non-partisan variables such as international crisis, Bartels conclusively demonstrates that the incomes of most have grown at substantially higher rates under Democratic presidents than under their Republican counterparts.

After illustrating his findings with three chapter-length case studies, Bartels turns to his second major point—the political consequences of inequality. Here, his research is particularly disturbing. In calculating the recent responsiveness of U.S. Senators to their constituents, Bartels finds that:

Senators’ roll call votes were quite responsive to the ideological views of their middle- and  high-income constituents. In contrast, the views of low-income constituents had no discernible impact on the voting behavior of the senators…the statistical results are quite consistent in suggesting that the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution were utterly irrelevant.

Examining the potential causes of this mass political exclusion, Bartels finds that “biases” in “senators’ responsiveness to rich and poor constituents are not primarily due to differences between rich and poor constituents in turnout, political knowledge, or contacting.” Rather, “the data are consistent with the hypothesis that senators represented their campaign contributors to the exclusion of other constituents.” As Mason puts it, “When people do not…contribute to political campaigns, they are less likely to be listened to by legislators or policymakers, and their interests are less likely to be taken into account in the political process.”

In analyzing the totality of his findings, Bartels delivers a particularly sobering assessment:

In Aristotle’s terms, our political system seems to be functioning not as a 'democracy,' but as an 'oligarchy.' If we insist on flattering ourselves by referring to is as a democracy, we should be clear that is a starkly unequal democracy.

Despite such foreboding, Bartels attempts to end with a more hopeful thought: Since inequality has been largely been brought about by conscious political action, there seems to be potential for prescriptive change. As Bartels puts it, “We can make these choices.” But as Mason points out, we are quickly running out of time.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"The End of the American Century" on Kindle!

The End of the American Century is now available electronically on "Kindle" from I myself am still a little skeptical of this method of reading books, but even so I think it is cool! And the price is right!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How Torture Hurts and Weakens the U.S.

Mark Danner is our contemporary Diogenes, searching (often vainly) for the honest man and using dogged empiricism to establish the truth. His focus in recent years has been on the U.S. use of torture and his latest report, in the New York Review of Books, is "The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means."

As a followup to my recent post on the Spanish court considering criminal charges against U.S. officials for the justification and use of torture, I offer these two quotations about the effects of U.S. torture on our values and our security.

The first is from President Obama, in an interview on 60 Minutes:

I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantánamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world.... The whole premise of Guantánamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists.... Are we going to just keep on going until the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer?

And Danner's response to Obama's sentiments:

This is as clear and concise a summary of the damage wrought by torture as one is likely to get. Torture has undermined the United States’ reputation for respecting and following the law and thus has crippled its political influence. By torturing, the United States has wounded itself and helped its enemies in what is in the end an inherently political war—a war, that is, in which the critical target to be conquered is the allegiances and attitudes of young Muslims. And by torturing prisoners, many of whom were implicated in committing great crimes against Americans, the United States has made it impossible to render justice on those criminals, instead sentencing them—and the country itself—to an endless limbo of injustice. That limbo stands as a kind of worldwide advertisement for the costs of the US reversion to torture, whose power President Obama has tried to reduce by announcing that he will close Guantánamo.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Canadian Perspectives on "The End of the American Century"

Perhaps it is not so surprising that I have gotten more reactions to my book from outside the U.S. than inside it--especially from Canada. I have been interviewed on Canadian national television and radio, and have received more emails about the book from Canada than from any other country (including the U.S.).

The following is a recent email from Ann Ridyard from Montreal, who is a retired manager with a manufacturing company. Her thoughts, I venture to say, reflect those of many from north of the border. She gave me permission to post this, with her name. My responses to her points are indicated in brackets [].

Dr. Mason,

I finished reading your superb book The End of the American Century recently
and I wanted to write to thank you for publishing such a well-documented and
interesting book. You put into words all my thoughts and observations
concerning life in America at the beginning of this century.

As a Canadian living in Montreal, I feel that I received better information
from non-U.S. based media outlets than you did in the USA during the Bush
years. I was elated when Mr. Obama was elected as the new President, his
arrival could not have arrived at a better time.

I would like to offer a few comments.

1- Chapter 8, the World Sours on the US: I believe that most people felt
that the first Bush presidency was stolen from Al Gore. Furthermore, Bush
was still an unknown quantity. However, when Bush was re-elected for a
second term after the invasion of Iraq and the discovery not of weapons of
mass destruction but rather the discovery of Bush/Cheney lies, most
non-Americans were astounded and that caused the 'souring' to extend to the
American people at large.

[I had a similar response, Ann. I thought it was bad enough that this playboy millionaire was elected in the first place. It was his re-election in 2004 that prompted my writing of this book. See my earlier post on "The End of America's Shame")]

2- Military service was obligatory for many years and obeying a superior
officer was drummed into the population. This respect and blind obedience
to authority could be a reason why the people believe the president no
matter what.

[I am also astounded by the tendency of the public--and the media--to blindly accept whatever the president has to say. But I don't think obligatory military service explains this, since the military draft in the U.S. was ended in 1973. In my view, which I discuss in my book, it is the poor state of public education in the U.S., which erodes the ability of Americans to think critically about public affairs, and to effectively evaluate data and evidence]

3- This is just a thought, but could it be that keeping a large segment of
the population in poverty assures that there will always be an ample supply
of soldiers?

[I do not think there is any conspiracy here to stimulate the flow of young people into the military by keeping people poor. But I do think that the high rates of poverty, and the poor career prospects for many young people, does lead them into the military]

4- I believe that the G.W. Bush presidency came as close to a disguised
dictatorship as it could get. It is fortunate that the presidency is
limited to two terms, if not for that, I think Bush would have tried to
steal it another time. We all breathe easier now that Mr. Obama is

[I agree! G.W. Bush, with his abuse of executive authority and of fundamental human and Constitutional rights--especially habeas corpus--took us farther away from democratic politics than we have been in many generations. Obama is, indeed, a breath of fresh air!]

Once again, thank you for your fine book, I have recommended it to family
and friends. I continue to read and reflect on your comments posted on the
'endoftheamericancentury' website.

Yours truly,

Ann Ridyard

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, April 6, 2009

China Now Has Top 3 Banks in World

China now has the three largest banks in the world, measured by market capitalization. This is a stunning change, and yet another indicator of China's rapid emergence as a global economic power. According to a New York Times article, three years ago, China did not have a single bank among the world's top 20. Now it has the top three and four of the top ten.

The United States, due in part to the banking and financial crisis, has dropped considerably in global banking. In 2006, the U.S. had 7 of the top 20 banks, including the top 2. Now it has just 3 of the top 20 and the largest, Morgan Stanley, is rated fifth.

If banking is so crucial to market economies--as Americans are constantly being reminded that it is--then the decline of US banks, in combination with the rise of Chinese ones, provides another example of the relative decline of the United States.

Furthermore, it seems that the Chinese economy, and its banking system, is in position to weather the storm of the global financial and economic meltdown. Most of the big banks in the West lost 20% or more of market value in the first two months of 2009. In China, the top two banks lost only 3% and 8% in value, respectively and the third largest, the Bank of China, actually increased by 5%.

As the New York Times notes, while most of the world is in financial collapse, "China's economy has suddenly become too big--and too healthy, expected to grow by at least 6.3 percent this year--for the rest of the world to ignore."

Kenneth Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution scholar who oversaw White House Asia policy from 1998 to 2000, sees China as one of the first countries to emerge from the current crisis and one of the very few countries that will emerge from it "without having high levels of government debt."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Lecture on the Rising Powers and the Decline of the US

On April 1, I gave a lecture on "The Rising Powers and the Decline of the U.S." as part of the Foreign Policy Association's "Great Decisions" series, sponsored by the Mid-North Shepherd's Center in Indianapolis. A video of this presentation (50 minutes) including pictures of the slides in my powerpoint presentation, is viewable at this link. (You might want to fast-forward through the first few minutes, where we struggled with the microphones and audio!).

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The End of the American Century Appears in Chinese

Welcome to the Chinese readers of The End of the American Century! I hope some of you will visit this site, and contribute to it.

The book has just appeared in Chinese, published by the Shanghai Lexicographical Publishing House, and translated by Professor Ni Lexiong and Sun Yunfeng of the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

(See my 4/28 post on Shanghai Conference on The End of the American Century)

Further information and some Chinese reviews and commentary on the book are available (in Chinese) at this link.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spanish Court Questions U.S. Use of Torture

Last week, a Spanish court took the first steps in opening a criminal investigation against Bush administration officials for violating international law in providing the legal framework for the U.S. government’s use of torture. Among those the court is expected to indict are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who is now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

John Yoo was the author of the so-called “torture memos” which justified the use of torture and argued that the U.S. should ignore the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly prohibit torture.

The United States is a party to the Geneva Conventions, and also to the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which is binding on 145 countries, including the U.S. Torture is explicitly prohibited in numerous other international treaties, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights; and the American Convention on Human Rights. Most scholars also believe torture violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

So there is plenty of legal precedent to assert that Gonzales, Yoo and other Bush administration officials—probably even the president himself-- were in violation of international law.

The Spanish initiative comes on the heels of two damaging new reports on the Bush administration’s use of torture. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether the legal advice of Yoo and others “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys,” according to Newsweek. If Attorney General Holder accepts the report, it could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action.

An even more damning report by the International Red Cross on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo has been brought to light by Mark Danner, in a short article in the New York Times and a longer one in The New York Review of Books. The Red Cross reports—basically verbatim accounts of interviews with Guantanamo prisoners—makes absolutely clear, according to Danner, “that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact.”

Danner concludes, as I have done in The End of the American Century, that the U.S. use of torture not only eroded our own values, but further poisoned the global reputation of the U.S. and stimulated the recruitment of terrorists around the globe. The decision to torture, writes Danner,

“harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world, and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us.”

Of course it was not just at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that prisoners were tortured. Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, convincingly shows that the use of torture was a central tool in the battle against terrorism. Even though President Bush denounced the use of torture, the tactics he denounced were exactly the same as those he had authorized and encouraged in the extensive worldwide network of secret prisons set up to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists. As the distinguished historian Alan Brinkley wrote in a review of The Dark Side:
"it would be difficult to find any precedent in American history for the scale, brutality and illegality of the torture and degradation inflicted on detainees over the last six years; and it would be even harder to image a set of policies more likely to increase the dangers facing the United States and the world.”

By almost any measure, the decisions of Yoo and Gonzales were legally incompetent. At the very least, their recommendations, and the decisions taken by President Bush, were violations of international law. They come close to crimes against humanity. They should be brought to account in this country, under American law. But Yoo, far from facing indictments in the U.S. continues to teach at one of the most prestigious law schools in the U.S., and continues to find a hearing for his views in the pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps it will take a European court, in the end, to have him, and other Bush officials, account for their decisions. For a Spanish court to indict them will be largely symbolic, of course, since the U.S. is unlikely to extradite them to Spain. But symbols are important. And one of the most important symbols of all was President Obama’s categorical assertion, in the first weeks of his presidency, that
“under my administration, the U.S. does not torture.”

Stumble Upon Toolbar