The End of Pax Americana
Never glad confident morning again!
--ROBERT BROWNING, "THE LOST LEADER"
The American Century is over.
Pax Americana has come to a close. Gone now is all the hubristic chatter of an American Empire. Gone is the "unipolar world" where the United States was the undisputed hegemonic power.
"The US has had its unipolar moment for about fifteen years but is beginning to realize that it isn't getting the things done it wants," says Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. The essay that carried his verdict was titled "Imperial Sunset."1 Kennedy now believes that America's task is "managing relative decline."2
Yet after the startlingly swift U.S. triumph in the Afghan war, the rout of the Taliban and fall of Kabul, Kennedy himself had succumbed to hubris, declaring of George W. Bush's America:
Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, nothing ... . No other nation comes close ... . Charlemagne's empire was merely western European in its reach.The Roman empire stretched farther afield, but there was another great empire in Persia, and a larger one in China. There is, therefore, no comparison.3
Now we can see clearly that the American tide has begun to recede. We have entered a new world--a world of a multiplicity of powers like the world of a century ago, when the British Empire, following the Boer War, found itself divided at home and challenged abroad by rising powers in Asia, Europe, and North America.
The signs of decline abound. From the Davos Conference of 2007, Newsweek foreign editor Fareed Zakaria reported: "[F]or the first time I can remember, America was somewhat peripheral ... . In this small but significant global cocoon, people seemed to be moving beyond America."4
Wrote Zakaria: "[W]e might also be getting a glimpse of what a world without America would look like. It would be free of American domination but perhaps also free of American leadership--a world in which problems fester and the buck is passed endlessly until situations explode."5
Zakaria titled his report "After America's Eclipse."
From a Doha conference on U.S.-Middle East relations, columnist David Ignatius reported a similar phenomenon:
We are in the ditch in the Middle East. As bad as you think it is watching TV, it's worse. It's not just Iraq, but the whole pattern of American dealings with the Arab world. People are not just angry at Americans ... they're giving up on us--on our ability to make good decisions, to solve problems, to play the role of honest broker.6
"Giving up on us" puts it precisely. After King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia brought Hamas and Fatah together in a unity government and revived the Saudi plan for Palestinian peace and Arab recognition of Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused to speak to any member of Hamas. At the Arab summit in March 2007, Abdullah denounced the United States: "In beloved Iraq, blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation."7
Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the cruiser Quincy in the Suez Canal in 1945, where the U.S.-Saudi friendship was cemented, had a Saudi king so insulted the United States.
Ignatius cited a Zogby poll of six friendly Arab countries--Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Only 12 percent of the people in the six nations had a favorable view of the United States; 38 percent named President George W. Bush as the foreign leader they most despised. Ranked behind Bush were Ariel Sharon at 11 percent and Ehud Olmert, who had launched the summer war on Lebanon, at 7 percent.8
"The American era in the region has ended," writes Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served on President Bush's National Security Council:
The American era was one in which, after the Soviet Union's demise, the US enjoyed unprecedented influence and freedom to act. What brought it to an end after less than two decades? Topping the list is the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq and its conduct of the operation and resulting occupation.9
Zakaria, Ignatius, and Haas were echoed by Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.
With hindsight we may see 2006 as the end of Pax Americana. Ever since World War II, the United States has used its military and economic superiority to promote a stable world order that has, on the whole, kept the peace and spread prosperity. But the United States increasingly lacks both the power and the will to play this role.10
But if Pax Americana is at an end, what will replace it?
Several years ago, British historian Niall Ferguson described a dystopian vision in "A World Without Power."
Anyone who dislikes U.S. hegemony should bear in mind that, rather than a multipolar world of competing great powers, a world with no hegemon at all may be the real alternative to U.S. primacy. Apolarity could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age: an age of waning empire and religious fanaticism; of endemic plunder and pillage of the world's forgotten regions; of economic stagnation and civilization's retreat into a few fortified enclaves.11
"Be careful what you wish for," Ferguson warned. 12
For America and President Bush, 2006 was, in Victor Hugo's phrase about 1870-71, that year of defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, "L'Année Terrible." For in 2006 it became clear the United States was failing in Iraq.
In December, former secretary of state Colin Powell described the situation as "grave and deteriorating." America is "losing" the war, he said.13 Powell echoed the Iraq Study Groupof former secretary of state James Baker, which concluded, "A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq's government and a humanitarian catastrophe ... . The global standing of the United States could be diminished."14
Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker informed Congress that the U.S. Army of 500,000 was stretched to the breaking point by the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq.15 Yet those two wars had not cost as many casualties as the Philippine insurrection of 1899-1902, which is not regarded as a major U.S. war.
Early in the New Year, Tony Blair, his premiership a casualty of Iraq, announced a withdrawal of 1,600 of the 7,100 British troops. The South Koreans, Danes, and Lithuanians were to follow the Brits out. The Spanish, Italians, Ukrainians, and Japanese had already gone.16
Two thousand and six was the year North Korea's Kim Jong-Il defied the Bush Doctrine--the world's worst regimes would not be allowed to acquire the world's worst weapons--by exploding a North Korean nuclear device in America's face. It was the year Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran defied a Bush ultimatum and continued to enrich uranium for nuclear power--or nuclear weapons. It was the year Tehran's Shia allies took power in Baghdad, while its Hezbollah allies stood off the Israeli army in a five-week war in Lebanon.
As Iraq ends its fifth year of fighting, Tehran appears the true victor of the U.S. wars to oust the Taliban and overthrow Saddam that had cost 4,000 American dead and 27,000 wounded, over half a trillion dollars, and the unity of the nation.
In 2006, the elections Bush had demanded of the Middle East were held and produced victories for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Moqtadaal-Sadr in Iraq. Bush's vision of a peaceful and democratic Middle East had vanished as completely as Wilson's vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe by 1938. Indeed, the Israelis seemed to see 2006 as a year like that of Munich, as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN, "Iran is Germany and it's 1938. Except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran ... wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America."17
In 2006, Pakistan pulled its troops out of the tribal areas on the Afghan border and created a sanctuary from which the Taliban could attack U.S. and NATO forces. France and Italy contemplated pulling out. Germany refused to send its units south to the fighting. Early in 2007, The New York Times reported that
American intelligence and counterterrorism officials believe that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its notorious training camps, this time in Pakistan's loosely governed tribal regions near the Afghan border. Camp graduates are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq--and may well be plotting new terrorist strikes in the West.18
By midyear, said the CIA, Al Qaeda had reconstituted itself.
Two thousand and six was the year Hugo Chavez, ideological heir to Fidel Castro who had mocked Bush as El Diablo from the rostrum of the United Nations, coasted to a reelection victory and saw radical allies Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador carried to power on a populist wave. Radical leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador came within a point of winning the presidency of Mexico. In Brazil, said Roberto Abdenur, the former ambassador tothe United States, the ascendant ideology is "anti-capitalistic, anti-globalization, anti-American."19
The year 2006 saw U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate and Chinese-Russian relations deepen. At the Munich security conference in February 2007, President Vladimir Putin denounced America's alleged attempt to create a "unipolar" world of "one centre of authority, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making." 20 By August, Russian and Chinese forces were holding joint maneuvers, and Russian bombers were making practice runs toward U.S. territory.
In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution that had brought pro-American Victor Yushchenko to power collapsed. And Georgia, home of the Rose Revolution, whose President Mikheil Saakashvili had sought to join the European Union and NATO, was under an economic blockade by Moscow, with only the feeblest of protests from NATO capitals.21
From Latin America to Russia, from Old Europe to the Middle East, we had entered an era marked by anti-Americanism of a depth and breadth Americans had never known. In the Middle East, Osama bin Laden was more highly regarded than President Bush. In Europe, China was seen as less a threat to peace than the United States. U.S. hard power was being defied and U.S. soft power--its political, diplomatic, and cultural influence--dissipated all over the world.
The military forces Ronald Reagan had left to George H. W. Bush had shrunk. Instead of the 15 carriers in a fleet of 574 ships in 1990, America had 12 carriers in a fleet of 284 ships. The army of 18 divisions was down to 10. The 24 fighter wings of the air force had been cut to 13.22
As America stumbled toward the worst defeat in her history, nations great and small rejoiced in the impending humiliation.Sen. John Kerry's wail at Davos that America had become an "international pariah" was excessive.23 Yet never before had the country seemed so isolated. Like the Brits of the Boer War era, America, in the fifth year of the Iraq war and sixth year of the Afghan war, seemed almost friendless.
In 2006, too, the ideology undergirding the global economy was exposed as another god that failed, as Middle America arose in rage at news that a Dubai company would be taking over operation of half a dozen U.S. ports. America's elite was stunned.
"This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades ... a xenophobia tsunami ... a nativist, isolationist mass hysteria ... . God must love Hamas and Moqtada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill," wailed David Brooks of The New York Times.24
Times colleague Thomas Friedman awoke to the realization the world just might not be flat after all. This is "borderline racist," Friedman ranted of America's reaction to news Arab sheiks might be running her ports in a war on terror.25 "There's a poison loose ... . If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitchfork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages."26
In 2006, the Doha Round of trade negotiations foundered over a First World refusal to slash subsidies to their diminishing numbers of farmers to appease Third World regimes. In November, economic nationalists of the Democratic Party rolled to victory. In December, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson led a delegation including the chairman of the Federal Reserve and half a dozen cabinet officers to Beijing to persuade the People's Republic to reduce the $233 billion trade deficit America hadrun with China in 2006.27 Paulson & Co. were sent home with a bag of stale fortune cookies.
In 2006, Ford Motor Company posted the largest loss of any company in history, $12.7 billion, breaking the General Motors record of $10.6 billion set in 2005. After four decades of free trade, America had ceased to be the self-sufficient republic she had been at the dawn of the twentieth century. U.S. industry was being hollowed out. One in six U.S. manufacturing jobs, 3 million in all, had been lost in the Bush years. The job falloff was heaviest in computers and electronics. The proportion of U.S. jobs in manufacturing was down to 10 percent, a figure unseen since before the Civil War, as the U.S. trade deficit in goods reached $836 billion and the current account deficit $857 billion--all-time records for the fifth consecutive year.28 No world power has long survived the levels of debt and dependency America is incurring. As in colonial times, Americans rely again on foreigners for the necessities of our national life and the borrowed money to pay for them.
In 2006, China's trade surplus with the United States became the largest ever between two nations. Where U.S. gross domestic product had grown by 3.3 percent, China's had grown 10 percent, accelerating to near 12 percent by mid-2007, when China's hard currency reserves exceeded $1.3 trillion and Americans were borrowing $2 billion a day to cover imports. The dollar was in free fall, sinking toward its lowest level against the British pound since the Carter era and lowest level ever against the euro. For the first time since before World War I, U.S. stock market capitalization had fallen behind Europe's.29 And retired Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was talking of the euro replacing the dollar as the world's reserve currency.
The 2006 rout of the Republicans brought the curtain downon a political era. Nixon and Reagan had won forty-nine states in reelection landslides. Bush won thirty-one states in 2004 and, in 2006, lost both houses of Congress. The Reagan Revolution was over, the Reagan Democrats had gone home, the New Majority had gone the way of FDR's New Deal coalition. America was a nation with no governing party and no prevailing political philosophy. Independents could make as strong a claim to being "America's Party" as Republicans or Democrats.
By mid-2007, America was no longer the united, confident nation she had been from September 11 to "Mission Accomplished," but a sour and polarized country. The president's approval rating had plunged from 80 percent to 30 percent, and his reputation for competence had been ruined beyond repair by Katrina and Iraq. The country had stopped listening to him.
According to a Yankelovich poll sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, eight of ten Americans thought Bush's unilateralism had caused the world to see America as arrogant and 90 percent saw this as a threat to the national security. Writing in National Journal, Paul Starobin reported that a poll of eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds found that 72 percent did not think the United States should take the lead in solving the world's problems.30
A BBC survey of twenty-seven nations found only Israel and Iran viewed less favorably than America.31
The sudden and shocking end to Pax Americana is an epochal event. Since 1945, it has been the United States that helped to rebuild Europe, held back the tide of Asian Communism, insured the security of the Free World, and led mankind into the most prosperous era it had ever known.
At the end of the Cold War, it was America that chaperoned the liberated nations of Eastern Europe and the former SovietUnion and China into the world community and global economy, established the rules of trade, threw open her markets, and enabled developed and developing nations alike to prosper as never before. From the Balkans to the Gulf, when crises erupted, it was America that answered the call.
That era is over. We built this world, but the world has turned its back on the master builder. Militarily, America remains the strongest nation on earth. No other nation is close. But she is no longer able to translate strength into power, which, as Machiavelli said, is the ability to get others to do what you want and to prevent them from doing what you don't want them to do.
At home, confidence in the president and Congress alike had, by mid-2007, plummeted to near-record lows, with Bush's support at 29 percent and not one in five Americans approving of Congress.32
By August 2007, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker described the U.S. government as on a "burning platform" and laid out "chilling long-term simulations" for the nation's future.33 Risks included the possible need for "dramatic" tax hikes, slashed government services, and a sudden foreign dumping of U.S. debt. Comparing his country to Rome, Walker bewailed the "declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands, and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government."34 Said Walker, "Simply stated, America is on a path toward an explosion of debt."35
At the end of the Reagan decade, America found herself the last superpower. The United States had no peer rival or great antagonist anywhere. The phrase "Not since Rome" began to appearin usage among our elites. Almost all were in agreement: The twenty-first century would be the Second American Century.
What happened? How did the baby boomers squander the patrimony of the Greatest Generation? What happened in the fifteen years between that June day in 1991 when President George H. W. Bush stood in a reviewing stand on Constitution Avenue to take the salute of the victorious army of Desert Storm as it paraded past--and that November of 2006 when President George W. Bush was forced to fire his war minister Donald Rumsfeld, the morning after his country had repudiated him and his war policy by removing his party from power in both houses of Congress?
As President Bush moves toward the end of his term of office, his country is alienated from much of the world and headed toward the worst debacle in its history. How did he preside over so sudden an end to the promise of a Second American Century?
What America lost between 1992 and 2008 calls to mind what Britain lost between her victory over France in 1763 and her defeat at Yorktown in 1781. At the end of the Seven Years' War, Britain ruled North America from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from Spanish Florida to the pole. Fifteen years later, 3 million colonial subjects had cut their ties to the mother country, formed an alliance with the former enemy, France, and effected the expulsion of British power from the thirteen seaboard colonies that were the crown jewels of the empire.
What happened to America between 1992 and 2008 is a tragedy of historic proportions. And, like the tragedies of literature, it came of a character flaw, a failure of vision that cost the country its legacy from the Greatest Generation: the leadership of the world.
How did America lose the world? Through an ignorance of history, an embrace of ideology, and an arrogance of power--hubris. And George W. Bush came to personify all three. Great empires and small minds go ill together, said Burke. Small minds, wedded to great egos, may have cost us the Second American Century.
"Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role," said Dean Acheson in 1962.36 Wounding, but true. Half a century later, so may it be said of America. What does the future hold? Who inherits the earth if Pax Americana is at an end?
DAY OF RECKONING. Copyright © 2007 by Patrick J. Buchanan. All rights reserved.No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin'sPress, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.