The Decline of American Power

When I think of America’s failed financial policies, its weak political leadership in Congress, and its feeble foreign policy I am reminded of an interesting Thai phrase:

“Maa du khreuang bin tok.” Translated it means “A dog watching an airplane crash.”

The phrase describes an event that is entirely beyond the spectator’s comprehension. It seems apropos to what is happening today in the United States.

I believe we are obliviously witnessing a historical eclipse of American power in the world. It has been ongoing for at least three decades, but it has accelerated dramatically in just the past decade. One might argue that the decline of U.S. power began with the nation’s ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam back in 1975—an event that I personally witnessed and experienced.

For all of our military might—and it is considerable—America often seems like some helpless leviathan. Now, with the country burdened by a $20 trillion national debt and a $685 billion federal budget deficit we are at the mercy of those who would love to see the U.S. crash and burn. (Check out the US Debt Clock: http://www.usdebtclock.org/)

Think about it. Do you seriously believe that China cares an iota about the health of the U.S. economy other than as a market for its products? Or that Muslim nations such as Pakistan feel any allegiance to Washington’s political ambitions?

No amount of American pressure or veiled threats could persuade the Chinese government to revalue its currency, nor induce the Pakistani government to cut links between its intelligence services and the Taliban.

The same goes for many other nations–all of which have eagerly accepted billions and billions of dollars in American aid, loans, and other economic entitlements. Do these countries need to be forever grateful for American (read U.S. taxpayer) largess? No, but given the kind of assistance they have received, it is less than gracious for them to thumb their noses at Washington as we see Europe doing today.

The sardonic words of Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria come to mind. After the Russians had helped Austria suppress the Hungarian uprising in 1849, he said: “They will be astonished by our ingratitude.”

But wait. Why not thumb their noses at Washington? After all, what can the faint-hearted weaklings who are currently in charge of Congress and the American foreign policy do?

We are becoming a nation of political wimps who are guided more by political correctness than correct political foreign policy. The idea that we can be everybody’s friend is a joke in a world where alliances are only valuable when they serve a nation’s economic and political self-interest. Does anybody think that the imams and sheiks of the Middle East have any real affection for America? The same goes for nations like China, India and our closest neighbors–Canada and Mexico.

From one side of the world to the other, countries are doing what they think is best for themselves, rather than what the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon believe that they should do.

I have traveled and worked in some 65 countries during my career as a foreign correspondent, and I can tell you that many of our so-called “friends” around the world would just as soon see us fail as succeed. Some would like to see the U.S. on its knees–the once all-powerful giant humbled by a world of spiteful and covetous David’s.

Americans in general and our leaders in Washington, in particular, are seen as arrogant, uninformed, greedy bullies who deserve a comeuppance. And now we are getting it.

In his book, “The Much Too Promised Land,” Aaron David Mille tells of his years as a State Department official engaged in what is forlornly called the peace process. In his book, he writes that in the Middle East today the United States finds itself “trapped in a region which it cannot fix, and it cannot abandon,” where America is “not liked, not feared, and not respected.”

Meanwhile, America’s largely uninformed populace continues blithely on, concerned more about who wins America’s Got Talent or what overpaid self-aggrandizer wins the Oscar than how their lives are inextricably tied to nations like China that are propping up our ever- deteriorating economy with their purchase of Treasury Bills.

These same countries are also witnessing the deterioration of America’s once-envied culture and values. Is it any wonder that Muslims the world over despise a nation that has become narcissistic and hedonistic while growing more and more obsessed with sex, fame, wealth, and what passes these days as music.

Once, while traveling in Pakistan I was asked by a Muslim cleric why America allows women to be degraded, why it no longer esteems marriage and family, why it promotes and encourages abortion, and why it lavishes praise and wealth on entertainers, athletes and others who contribute little or nothing to society while showing nominal appreciation for teachers who are charged with providing an education for the nation’s young.

I replied that I thought that characterization was a bit harsh. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the cleric didn’t have a point.

We seem to value the wrong things in America. Ask any teenager to identify 10 of the nation’s top rap artists or pop singers, and they will do it in a flash. Ask them to identify ten world leaders, and they will stop at one or two–if that many. Some don’t even know who their vice president is and perhaps 1 in 1000 will know the names of one of the two senators representing their state in Congress.

But it is not just American teenagers who would fail that test. Foreign policy is a non-starter for most Americans, who appear to be more parochial and inward-looking than ever before. This at a time when the global real-politick is as critical to comprehend as it has ever been.

And who is at fault? The media? Yes, most certainly. But not entirely. True, today’s media is more focused on reactive, knee-jerk reporting of events than being in a position to explain them with depth and intelligence.

Too much reporting seems less concerned with providing useful information to the electorate than with attacking and undermining political figures the media disagree with or loathe. President Trump is a case in point. Never mind that he is our duly elected president. Many in the press seem foolishly intent on burning down the presidency to save it.

As for international reporting, it is expensive to cover the world in an era when traditional media are retrenching financially. Gone are the days when the Chicago Tribune, my old newspaper, had 15-20 reporters living around the world. Instead, as with many news organizations, they parachute journalists in for a few hours or days, produce superficial stories, and then it’s on to the next crisis.

Much of the fault lies in Washington where it behooves the nabobs to keep global politics arcane and nearly incomprehensible to the great unwashed.

At the outset of World War II, a senator was asked how the public should be informed of the progress of the war.

“We shouldn’t provide any information at all except to say who won when the war is over,” he said.

I suspect too many in our State Department and Department of Defense feel the same way, not to mention the White House and Congress.

Vigorous and courageous leadership is needed as the U.S. deals with a strange new world–one where Washington is finding it harder than ever to impose its will on anyone anywhere and where the eclipse of American power is manifest.

Perhaps that is not a bad thing. Heaven knows that when we have tried to impose our will on other nations, the results have been mixed, if not disastrous.

However, without strong leadership, I fear that all of us will be helplessly and incomprehensively watching the political, economic and moral crash and burn of a once great country.

Look at how divided we are today. Violent groups suffused with identity politics are attacking one another; radical leftists attacking conservatives and vice-versa; white supremacists attacking Antifa and Antifa attacking everybody; Democrats and Republicans unable to compromise or agree on anything. Our insane, self-destructive behavior and our seemingly irreparable discord and acrimony are bringing America to her knees.

We are ripping ourselves apart, and the world is applauding our masochism.

RIP USA.

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