We all secretly love the United States. List your top ten heroes, writers, musicians, actors, anything; chances are most of them will be citizens of the United States. As much as we may dislike its government, it’s easier said than done to turn our backs on American Culture. And on what is still sometimes referred to as the American Dream. To their great credit, some of the most vocal opponents of President George W. Bush have been American citizens.
So what will change if Barack Obama becomes president? In a word, everything. Secretly or openly, we all want a US president we can really like. Al Gore would have done nicely. Clinton seemed alright, but there was just something fundamentally sleazy about him. And as for the others, well, the less said the better. So give us our Obama fix, and we’ll probably forget the Iraq War as quickly as we forgot Vietnam. Given, of course, that the war can be brought to an end. Then in about ten year’s time, we can expect a slew of great movies about how much of a mess the Iraq War really was, directed by future Oliver Stones and Stanley Kubricks. Then again, if we forget too easily, we might wind up with another Rambo.
So, will everything be back to normal then? Not quite. Even if we manage to forgive and forget, that doesn’t mean that the colossus will be back on its feet. US dominance is being challenged by other powers. It has lost the firm hold it recently had on many parts of the world. If Obama does win, he will undoubtedly be popular in Europe, and rightly so. But he will also be the first president with a non-European sounding name. Irrespective of this, in the long run, the US is likely to spend most of its attention on the Asia Pacific Region and the Middle East. We may be willing to love the US again, but it might no longer be as eager to love us back.
The United States was at the peak of its powers in 1945. When Europe and Asia lay in ruins, the US alone accounted for more than 50% of the world’s industrial production. The European nations would not rise again as global superpowers, but the US predominance was challenged militarily by the Soviet Union and financially by Japan. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Japan‘s economic problems in the early 90‘s, the United States enjoyed an Indian Summer as world hegemon. Campaigns in the Balkans and in the Middle East seemed to herald a New World Order, where the US could win any war without having to face casualties on its end.
But on September 11th 2001,changed that perception. Seven years later, the War on Terror has managed to do what neither World War II nor the Cold War could, to make the US seem weak both militarily and economically. None of the nations that are now rising, China, Russia or India, seem likely to supersede it in the near future, but no longer can the US lay claim to being the world‘s lone Superpower.
For many, particularly those in South America who have had to bear the brunt of US domination, this is a time to rejoice. Leftist governments have come to power in Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Chile without bringing US intervention on themselves. This would have been inconceivable in the 20th Century. And it is no wonder that many people are tired of a Superpower that as often abused its position by supporting numerous dictatorships around the world, as well as with its wars in South East Asia and the Middle East.
But the Decline of the United States is not as much cause for celebration as many who have criticized it would like to think. The rising powers are even less likely to take human rights into consideration than the US was. Russia supports a dictator next door in Belorussia while it invades Georgia, and the Chinese occupy Tibet while they do business with genocidal regimes such as Sudan. The American Hydra may be humbled, but other beasts will take its place. And they will be far less tolerant of criticism, from its own people as well as from abroad.
The tragedy of the American Century is not that so much power was concentrated in the US, but how badly that power was abused. It may not yet be time to forgive the United States. But perhaps we will soon start to miss them.
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