The recent mass shooting in Colorado has prompted many observers to claim it is only a symptom of serious problems in American society. The United States has been the strongest and most powerful nation in the last century, a beacon of progress and the good life for the world, but that view is becoming suspect. While predictions have been made before about the decline of America, there is good evidence now that makes the prediction more valid.
Great nations and empires have risen and fallen before. Alfred McCoy, writing in The Nation, contends, “Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.”
What is the evidence for the decline, if there is one? Here are some very convincing facts that come from the United Nations, the OECD, The Legatum Institute, The U.S. National Intelligence Council, Congress, the CIA, business publications and other respected institutions and organizations:
The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the U.S. Congress’ House Committee on Foreign Affairs stated, after examining the issue of the U.S.’s declining image abroad, “the decline in international approval of U.S. leadership is caused largely by opposition to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. support for dictators, and practices such as torture and rendition. They testified that this opposition is strengthened by the perception that our decisions are made unilaterally and without constraint by international law or standards—and that our rhetoric about democracy and human rights is hypocritical.”
What conclusions should we come to about this information?
In an article in The Nation, Alfred McCoy argues that “the demise of the United States as a global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” suggesting it will be complete by 2025. The U.S. National Intelligence Council admitted in 2008 that America’s global power was declining. A Global Trends 2025 report said, “the transfer of global wealth and economic power is under way from West to East,” without precedent. Citing an opinion poll, McCoy reports that in August 2010, 65% of Americans believed the country was “in a state of decline.”
McCoy argues that a big contributor to the U.S.’s decline is militarism; specifically what he calls “micro-militarism,” which has plagued previous empires. These are foreign military adventures, which are not full blown “wars” that end up costing horrendous amounts of money or end in defeats. He says, as “allies worldwide begin to realign their politics to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintain 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington.”
In his book, America’s Engineered Decline, William Norman Grigg, editor of the New American, contends that America’s decline has occurred because it is exhibiting the same characteristics of poverty, crime, and illiteracy and ill health that are found in third world countries. Grigg cites a quote by Mahatma Gandhi who said the roots of conflict and violence within a nation are “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.”
Gideon Rachman, writing in the prestigious journal, Foreign Policy, comments in the new economic and political order which is witnessing America’s decline: “Britain, France, Italy, even Germany—are slipping down the economic ranks. India, Brazil, Turkey are on the rise. They each have their own foreign-policy preferences which collectively constrain American’s ability to shape the world.” He concludes, “America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed in the 17 years between the Soviet Union’s collapses in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Those days are over.”
Economists J. Bradford DeLong and Stephen Cohen of the University of California write in their new book, The End of Influence, “it [influence] is gone and it is not likely to return in the foreseeable future...The American standard of living will decline relative to the rest of the industrialized and industrializing world...The United States will lose power and influence.”
James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic magazine, says, “our government is old and broken and dysfunctional and may even be beyond repair....it will make a difference if we improvise and strive to make the best of the path through our time—and our children’s, and their grandchildren’s,” rather than stay on the current path.
Whatever the causes, the decline of America as a dominant world power, with serious internal economic and social issues, has already begun, and is not likely to be reversed, without substantial political, economic and social changes The current situation presents monumental challenges to political and social leaders to create the kind of country and culture that’s desired, a path that is unlikely given the wide divide in perspectives that currently exist.