The U.S. Colossus with Feet of Clay
Why is the United States losing its footing as the world’s economic and diplomatic leader?
- The reputation of the once-fearsome republic is in shreds, and countries once in awe openly defy it without consequence.
- We all know how this happened, and the fault is entirely ours. We lost sight of and allegiance to the timeless principles on which the United States was founded.
- If we are an empire, we must behave as such — or suffer terminal decline. If we are not, then we must return to our founding principles — or suffer terminal decline. Those are our choices.
- We really have no choice except that between regeneration or eventual disappearance as a great power.
As the year 1992 opened, the United States bestrode the world like the Colossus it had always had the potential to be: Unchallenged and, so it seemed, unchallengeable politically, economically or militarily. Between 1989 and the end of 1991, the seemingly invincible totalitarian giant, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, had literally disintegrated.
Never since the beginning of time had the world been so totally dominated by a single power. Even the Roman Empire was always challenged on its eastern frontier by the Persian/Parthian empire, with which it fought several indecisive wars.
In 1990, the Iraqi tyrant, Saddam Hussein, had foolishly challenged the Colossus by invading Kuwait, a U.S. client-state, and promptly had his head handed to him. The United States swat down the butcher of Baghdad like an annoying fly.
Thus did the triumphant presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush end. To everyone's surprise, including his own, a few months after, President Bush was defeated for reelection by a folksy, good-old-boy from Arkansas, nominated by the Democrats as a mere fall-guy to be crushed by the victor of Mesopotamia so that the grandees of the party could save themselves and their reputations for 1996.
Clinton governed for eight years. Chastened by his congressional defeat in 1994, the president followed a conservative economic and fiscal policy, which led to the first substantial budget surpluses since the Eisenhower administration.
As a result, when he left office in January of 2001, nine years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Colossus was not only intact but fortified, although Clinton's chosen successor, Vice President Al Gore, was defeated in 2000 as unexpectedly as Bush's father had been in 1992.
His successor, George W. Bush, inherited a robust economy, a country at peace and a seemingly benign international situation.
Eight years later, handing over the presidential office to someone with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama, the Colossus was in tatters, the country mired in two interminable wars, the budget heavily in deficit and getting worse — and the international situation one of multiple challenges to address where ineffective and/or inappropriate actions were being taken.
Worst of all, the world's greatest creditor country had become the world's greatest debtor, and the most damaging economic downturn since the 1930s was underway.
Under the unlikely Mr. Obama, all of these circumstances have worsened — and the former Colossus is headed for oblivion, due to a near-fatal overdose of triple-strength hubris. Overwhelming military force has proven to be impotent to a large extent to face the threats unleashed by the events of 9/11/01 — a mere eight months after the second Bush took the oath of office.
The federal, state, local and individual debts and deficits are monumental and getting worse in an accelerated fashion. The reputation of the once-fearsome republic is in shreds, and countries once in awe openly defy it without consequence. The gaps between social strata have widened dangerously, and political discourse has degenerated into shouting-matches at best — and vile insults at worst.
All this in less than a decade.
It took Rome decades to decline and, even as the Western half of the empire disappeared in 476 AD, the Eastern half survived and at times flourished for another 1,000 years. It has taken us so far only a few short years, and the ending is clearly visible on the not-distant horizon. This time there will be no Constantinople to stand between Western civilization and the threatening outer world.
We all know how this happened, and the fault is entirely ours. We lost sight of and allegiance to the timeless principles on which the country was founded (with much backsliding, to be sure) from 1776 to the day before yesterday.
Imperial overstretch can only take place in empires — it does not afflict republics. It is not by chance that our enemies refer to us in contemptuous tones as "the empire" and revile us, again without consequences.
An empire must defend itself as such or it will disintegrate, as the Soviet Union did when Gorbachev ordered his troops out of Lithuania, after abandoning his allies in East Germany, Hungry, Poland and elsewhere.
If we are an empire, we must behave as such — or suffer terminal decline. If we are not, then we must return to our founding principles — or suffer terminal decline. Those are our choices.
The country has no appetite or will to behave as an empire should. Thus, we really have no choice except that between regeneration or eventual disappearance as a great power. If we have the will, it can be done. If we do not, the path is now open — and we will continue to follow it into the abyss. The choice is ours. May God help us to choose rightly.