|Last night, I asked you to consider several simultaneous factors weighing on the news of late, and asked what they have in common. Allow me to connect the dots.|
A superpower is not measured simply in terms of its military might; a superpower gains preeminence in evert facet of international life, though that is commonly led by or accompanied by military supremacy. As you look at history, I think you will see the distinction. Nobody considered Japan, Germany and Italy gained a degree of military strength in the 30's, but never had the sort of economic preeminence that dominated world events. In fact, that sort of economic inadequacy can actually be, in some ways, blamed for the outbreak of open hostilities. However, if you consider the state of the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century, you see not only a military standoff, but competing economic visions, the resolution thereof being the actual cause of the fall of one of the superpowers. If you look back at other superpowers in history, I think you'll see the same sort of situation--England in the 1800s, Rome and Greece and etc. . . The point being this: "superpower" is a rather broadly-based term, with a great deal more meaning than simply a martial one.
Therefore, if you were to look to bring down a superpower, you would have to deal with both the military aspect of the power and the economic element. How, then, could you possibly bring down a country which is alone in its supremacy in the world?
Simple: wait for them to do it.
The American military was, thirty-forty years ago, a bit of a joke, having struggled to cope with being run out of southeast Asia, and in the midst of restructuring and strong political/domestic pressure to reform. Yet, still, there was an obvious adversary at the time, one whose strength demanded strength on our part. There were still enough serious people to make sure that we were strong--military spending as a percentage of GDP was solid, the size of our forces was adequate to a two-theater scenario, with Naval power to support. In general, even though the political and philosophical will was weak, the actual state of the U.S. military was still solid enough that when Ronald Reagan took office, his tough rhetoric was credible (as opposed to Jimmy Carter's weak rhetoric . . .which was, also, credible).
Today, our military, while preeminent in the world, and surely manned by the greatest, most intelligent and capable personnel of any military in our history, is fast fading from fearsome to irrelevant. In 2003, the U.S. military was a credible enough threat that Iran opened up its borders to inspections, Libya revealed all of its NBC programs, and Russia was a quiet ally. But, handicapped by political considerations like ridiculously restrictive Rules of Engagement and a faulty, politically-motivated strategy, our fearsomeness became perceived as ineptness. Casualties climbed in Iraq, a general state of chaos befell the country, and people around the world began to wonder if we had the spine for the fight the insurgents wanted to bring to us.
Even now, when a better strategy has been implemented and the battle is surely turning in our favor, the perception clings to us tenaciously of an inept military. On top of that, aided by a corrupt media and the partisan Democrats in Congress, the mantra of an "overstretched, inadequate" military has become the perceptual reality of our situation.
So, in spite of obvious gains on the battlefield, the country now seems poised to elect as Commander-in-Chief a man who has promised as his central act to order a surrender and retreat from the field of battle.
And, to add insult to injury, one of the great successes of the war--the removal from the field of battle of combatants without uniform or heirarchy--has now been undone by a Supreme Court intent on extending the rights guaranteed to all Americans to the enemy in our custody. In other words, men and women removed from battle before they could blow themselves up trying to kill a couple Marines are now going to have free rein within the court system of our country.
Our obvious military superiority in the world is completely undermined by political and judicial activities in the rearguard. Our strength is irrelevant--imagine Muhammed Ali in his prime by Gerald Cotzea, but with a patch over one eye and one arm tied behind his back.
But, that's not the only stab it takes to kill Caesar. Economically, America is still the engine of the world economy. Unfortunately, this engine needs oil, and the world has decided to start gobbling up heaps of it to try to catch up to us. Which makes it more expensive. Which has had a notably crushing effect on the U.S. economy. Inflation is ticking upwards, the cost of a gallon of gas is starting to put the trucking industry--the lifeblood of commerce--in jeopardy, not to mention how difficult it is becoming for normal people to get to work or for anybody who travels to get a plane where they need to be.
All of that is causing unemployment to start lurching upward--to its highest level in several years. And as people lose their jobs, the plummeting housing market has chewed up all of their equity savings, which makes it nearly impossible to keep their heads above water. While still far short of a crisis, there seems to be universal recognition that the economy is hurting, and that it may continue to hurt for the foreseeable future.
And, yet, of the two candidates for President, one has admitted to "little knowledge or interest," and the other has proposed--of all things--a massive tax hike on businesses and investment which would drive the economy further into the hole.
And there is still the lurking threat that oil may still get vastly more expensive--some (though I don't know how credibly) experts are predicting that oil will more than double in the next couple years.
The thing is, America DOES have the resources to get off the world market and manage its own energy policy. Unfortunately, even the "pro-business" candidate for President has said he would not open up ANWAR to drilling, nobody seems to want to join Cuban interests sixty miles off of our own shores to get deep-sea reserves, and environmental interests have prevented any new development of other resources like the oil shale in the Colorado mountains. On top of that, this country hasn't built an oil refinery in 35 years, and an alternative that France has embraced--nuclear power--has not brought anything new online in 30 years.
The possibility--the very real possibility--exists that in about twelve months, we could be in the throes of a massive recession/depression brought on by our own energy ineptness coupled with running back home from Iraq with our tails between our legs after an ignoble surrender.
I don't know quite enough history to know what sort of conditions existed as the Roman Empire began to collapse; nor do I know about how the other great, historical superpowers began to fall apart. But I'm having a difficult time imagining that the conditions weren't very similar to where we stand right now.
This isn't just to howl at the moon. If I'm pessimistic, I also have a few thoughts on how we can pull back from the edge. I seem to remember that people were pretty gloomy around about 1980, and then Ronald Reagan was elected, the country rebounded, and we've enjoyed almost thirty years of that standing.
I think we can pull back from the edge, too. And I'll say more about just how to do that tomorrow.