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.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

U.S. #1 in Cumulative Carbon Emissions

This is why the developing countries are unhappy about U.S. insistence that they cut THEIR carbon emissions!.

See scientist James Hansen's Newsweek article on "Power Failure: Politicians Are Fiddling While the Planet Burns" where he writes that "Planet earth is in imminent peril." We now have evidence, he continues "that continued exploitation of all fossil fuels on Earth threatens not only the other millions of species on the planet but also the survival of humanity itself--and the timetable is shorter than we thought."

While Hansen supported the election of Barack Obama, he now believes that in terms of climate change, "President Obama does not get it" and that he and his advisers have caved to pressure from monied interests.

"Civil resistance may be our best hope," he concludes.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 21st Century, Multipolarity, and Education

The following email from Gaston Younger provides an interesting perspective on America's global reputation, the rise of other powers (especially in Asia) and the poor state of U.S. public education. As you will see from his emails, Younger lived in both Vietnam and France before coming to the U.S., where he served 20 years with the U.S. Army.

I just read you book "The end of the American century" and find it very fascinating but yet a gloomy, unpleasant realistic outcome for our country if our elected public officials do not take into consideration the serious situations (financial, economic & educational) facing the US.

I was born in French Indochina & I can attest to the facts on my vacation trip to Vietnam and the surrounding countries of the former French colonial empire that China has replaced both France & the US as the preeminent global power in that part of the world. We should all welcome the new era of multipolar world; however American citizens should definitely demand from their government on both local & federal levels to invest more financial resources in public education if we are to compete successfully with the new rising powers; S Korea, India, China, Brazil.

After the disastrous eight years of the Bush regime & a total lock on power by a fanatical, right wing Taliban GOP controlled US Congress from 1994 until 2006, our country image abroad has dramatically deteriorated. It is incumbent upon informed citizens to urge their elected public officials to take implement immediate actions in the areas of k12 public education & environmental friendly green energy if we are to pull our country out of this economic fiasco.

After receiving this email, I responded to Gaston, asking him about his own background, and this is his reply:

I was born in Vietnam from a mixed French-Vietnamese ancestry, left Vietnam in '67 for France where I continued my studies & came to the States in '73. I graduated from high school in New Orleans & joined the US Army for the next 20 years as a linguist (French & Arabic). I was stationed mostly throughout the Middle East, did couple tours on the DMZ in Korea & one tour in Germany. I was selected by the Army to attend DLI(Defense Language Institute) where I graduated top 5% in my Arabic class.

I was fortunate to have a throughout French education in my childhood in Indochina. The French educational system is second to none in Western Europe. It emphasizes primarily on the rich tradition of French literature. All kids memorize at an early age "les fables de La Fontaine"by Jean de La Fontaine, the classical works by Victor Hugo, Moliere, Guy De Maupassant, Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Albert Camus, Anatole France, Gustave Flaubert.

Thinking about Vietnam in the 20th century, I am saddened by the critical mistakes made by the French government in 1945, when it refused to recognize Ho Chi Minh declaration of independence; however France recognized Laos independence four years after the end of WW2. Did you know Ho Chi Minh actually admired the US? It is unfortunate the cold war allowed many demagogues particularly US Senator Joe McCarthy and many more in the Truman & Eisenhower administrations to demonize Ho Chi Minh & portrayed him a a Soviet stooge or harboring pro-Chinese sentiment while Vietnam has deep mistrust of its northern neighbors for thousand years & lets not forget it was the same Ho Chi Minh who organized the guerrilla warfare against the imperial Japanese Army occupying French Indochina while working closely with the OSS.
Like many Vietnamese, I have a deep admiration for French culture, literature, cuisine, music.

I share many of your political ideas. I worked in 2004 for John Kerry but I was disheartened by the election results, I still could not understand the reasons 58 million Americans voted for a demagogue from the red state of Texas considering his shady personal character & many policies implemented by his administration will definitely affect our country for years to come. I wore the Army uniform for 20 years with pride, but the prisoner sexual abuse at Abu Graibh made me sick to my stomach & soiled our country image throughout the world, I will never forgive this rogue Bush regime for destroying our military, ruined our country image abroad.

The midterm election in 2006 & President Obama successful election in 2008 finally gave us some hope to turn this country around, although it may be a little bit too late. The damage (fiscal policy mismanagement, unilateral foreign policy) has been done.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama's Peace Prize, and U.S. Power, as Seen From India

The Nobel Committee's selection of President Obama for the Peace Prize is a recognition of the reality that U.S. power rests "not in its weapons or in its armies, but in the syncretic values of the American people." This is the view of India's M.D. Nalapat, a Professor of Geopolitics at Manipal University. Professor Nalapat's essay, "Peace, Not War, the Best Strategy" appears on the webpage of the China-U.S. Friendship Exchange as part of a dialogue on the themes of my book on The End of the American Century.

This response to Nalapat's essay appears on that same site this month.

It is both enlightening and refreshing to hear about the U.S. role in the world from a thoughtful critic outside the U.S., like India's Professor M.D. Nalapat. He points to the past tendency of the U.S. to rely on ''military and economic muscle to seek 'compromises' that are in fact surrenders by the other side.'' I believe those views are widespread in the world, though quite different from the way most Americans perceive their role in the world. It is difficult for Americans to hear the voices and opinions of others, because we are so used to thinking of ourselves as the world's best, and the most admirable. Kishore Mahbubani, the author of The New Asian Hemisphere, thinks Americans are blind to their own shortcomings, and basically unable ''to listen to other voices on the planet.'' In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, this is one big factor in America's declining global power, influence, and effectiveness.

Mr. Nalapat views the great strength of the U.S. resting in its ''syncretic values'' and its openness to innovation and immigration. Indeed, I would agree that immigration, and the power of assimilation and adaptation, have been an important element of this country's history and development. Immigrants have provided both an energetic workforce and a vital source of creativity, innovation, and invention. The election of Barack Obama, an African-American with a multi-ethnic heritage, seems a confirmation of this admirable national trait.

However, this American advantage may also be eroding, and even becoming problematic. In the U.S. now, there is growing anti-immigrant sentiment, and one would expect this to increase as the economic downturn continues to bite. While the United States has (almost) always welcomed others to our shores, we have not usually treated them very well once they get here. Hispanics and other minorities, for example, experience much higher levels of poverty and unemployment than Whites, and are much more likely to be stuck with poor schools and inadequate health care.

The U.S. is still a global leader in science, technology and innovation, but even in these areas, the country is losing some of its edge. Over the last two decades, the U.S. has steadily lost its overwhelming global dominance in the production of both patents and scientific journal articles. The decline of American schools has taken a toll on science education, too, with American students often coming in dead last on international tests and competitions in science and math. China produces four times as many engineers as the United States. As other countries like China and India gear up technologically, it seems likely that talented and creative people are more likely to stay at home, or return home after taking some education in the United States.

Of course the U.S. remains a major global player in science, technology and innovation. But its ''American Century'' dominance in this area, as in so many others, is on the wane in the face of both domestic decline and the ''rise of the rest.'' Similar to Joseph Nye's emphasis on culture, Madhav Nalapat stresses the ''arts and sciences'' as a powerful tool for the U.S., especially in its interaction with China. And this is where I most differ with Dr. Nalapat. While culture and scientific exchanges are important, they can not substitute for the much more overwhelming influence of trade and economics. This is where China (and the EU, and India) are really gaining, and where the U.S. is particularly vulnerable. It is the growing economic might and confidence of these powers, and others that will most challenge the dominance of the United States.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Joseph Nye on American Power in the 21st Century

Harvard Professor Joseph Nye's work, especially his book Soft Power has much influenced my own thinking, and figures prominently in The End of the American Century. His ideas have directly or indirectly influenced the Obama administration, as reflected in Secretary Clinton's use of the term ''smart power.'' Both the rhetoric and actions of the Obama administration add substance to the concept.

Professor Nye's essay, "American Power in the 21st Century," is featured on the website of the China-U.S. Friendship Exchange, as a "comment" on my own "dialogue" there about The End of the American Century. This response to Nye's essay appears on that same site this month.

Professor Nye has long argued that power is multidimensional, that military power is increasingly irrelevant or dysfunctional, and that achieving foreign policy goals now rests on persuasion and cooperation as much as anything. I agree with him on all of this, and his marvelous formulation in this essay that ''on many transnational issues, empowering others can help to accomplish one's own goals.''

But I disagree with him that ''American power in the twenty-first century is not one of decline'' and the difference lies mostly in how we view America's domestic record. In Soft Power, Nye identifies many elements of American soft power, including its economy, culture, values, and global image. But as I show in my book, the U.S. has lost ground in virtually every domain of such soft power, while also losing strength and credibility with its military power and its global reputation. Meanwhile, other regions or powers, like China, the EU, India and others have gained global soft power influence, often at the expense of the U.S.

The U.S. economy and standard of living, since World War II a source of envy and admiration worldwide, is no longer much of a model or aspiration for others. Its astounding growth over the last two decades, it turns out, was a hollow shell, built on ballooning levels of household and government debt. The current economic downturn-still not finished by a long shot-is bringing the United States back to a more ''natural'' economic position, much lower than before. Even before the current crash, by many measures more meaningful than GDP/capita-like quality of life indices-the U.S. was nowhere near the top of the global list.

While growing the economy, based mostly on increased consumption, the U.S. neglected health care, education, investments, R&D, and infrastructure, and allowed increased levels of poverty and inequality. On all of those measures, the U.S. fares poorly in comparison to other developed countries.

Global opinion surveys conducted by Pew, BBC and others show little enthusiasm in other countries for ''American-style democracy,'' for American ways of doing business, or for the spread of U.S. ideas and customs. Though global opinion about the U.S. has improved somewhat with the election of President Obama, far more people worldwide continue to see U.S. influence on the world as ''mostly negative'' rather than ''mostly positive.'' On this scale, among 15 countries, the U.S. ranks 10th, below Germany, Britain, Japan and China, according to a recent BBC poll.

While American culture remains popular in many places (though not, by all means, all), it is difficult to see how global infatuation with ''Desperate Housewives'' can help solve problems like terrorism or global warming. As Professor Nye notes in his first paragraph, even some of our closest allies now believe the era of U.S. global leadership is over. Even more emphatic assertions of that belief have come from leaders in China, Brazil, Peru, Iran and elsewhere.

American decline is not necessarily a bad thing, though, given the increasing interconnectedness of countries and global issues. It will be easier for the United States to interact cooperatively with other countries-and for them to deal with Washington-if the U.S. is not so dominant and domineering. President Obama has adopted a much more conciliatory and modest approach to other countries-viz. his speeches in Ankara and Cairo-and this befits a country that has less reason to crow about its superiority and exceptionalism. As Professor Nye points out, most of the big issues facing the U.S., and the rest of the world, are not susceptible to the application of power by a single country. More things are ''outside the control of even the most powerful state.''

The United States is certainly in decline, both in absolute terms, and relative to other countries. But it will remain an important and influential power, especially if it continues to adopt a less arrogant, more cooperative approach to the rest of the world.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dick Armey: Fostering Hate with Deliberate Lies

I was absolutely stunned to read this quotation from Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader, in a speech he gave recently in North Carolina:

"Nearly every important office in Washington, D.C., today is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution."

It is inconceivable that Armey, who worked so long in Washington, actually believes this. Could he actually come up with some names of people that fit in that category? Probably not. So one can only conclude that Armey deliberately lied when he said this to a crowd of supporters in Hickory, N.C.

Since retiring from the House in 2003 has worked as a lobbyist for a big law firm, while also serving as chairman of a conservative nonprofit called FreedomWorks, which is opposed to "big government." A story on him, and how he "has taken his politics and ideas to the right-wing protest movement," appeared in the November 8 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

Later, in discussing the health care reform with a reporter, he admitted that he did not believe some of the extreme charges--for example, about "death panels"--but said that "if people want to believe that, it's O.K. with me."

This is demagoguery, fear- and hate-mongering that has no place in the U.S. political arena, though it is increasingly dominating and poisoning the political process, and American democracy. Armey should be ashamed of himself; instead, he seems to revel in the way his provocative lies stirs up the political pot.

President Obama called attention to this phenomenon in his Afghanistan speech on Wednesday night, where he called for a return to the spirit and values that unite us as Americans:

"we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership, nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time, if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse."

"I refuse to accept," the President continued, "the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we -- as Americans -- can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment -- they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people."

We can disagree about policies, and the role of government, and the rights of the individual vs. the needs of the community. That is all part of the political process. But we need to speak out against, and call to account, people like Dick Armey and Glenn Beck who deliberately lie and deliberately foster hate and division.

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