FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Downhill All the Way

by SERGE HALIMI

In 1952, when the US was at the very height of its power, General Douglas MacArthur – hero of the Republican right since President Harry Truman relieved him of his command in Korea – warned fellow Americans of “our own relative decline, our inability to conserve resources, the rising burden of our fiscal commitments, an astronomically rising public debt mortgaging the future of our children.”

Eight years later, Democrat John Kennedy, campaigning against Republican Vice-President Richard Nixon, spoke of his alarm over the “missile gap” between the US and the USSR. The gap mysteriously disappeared once Kennedy was elected. Doubts about American power did not surface again until the Watergate scandal in 1974 and the US defeat in Vietnam.

The US clearly lost ground in the 1970s. Nations destroyed by war a generation earlier had recovered and had become serious economic competitors. The “American challenge” of the 1960s gave way to the “European challenge” and the “Japanese challenge”. The superpower appeared to be sinking under the burden of its own weaknesses: dollar crises, inflation, trade deficits. The Islamic revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Washington’s loss of influence in international organisations, all conspired to create an atmosphere of gloom and despondency. Until 1980, when Ronald Reagan emerged to save the day with his war-cry: “America is back!”

“Back”, but not for very long… At the end of Reagan’s second term, the sharp rise in public deficits and debt (the US was in net debit to the rest of the world in 1985-86) prompted renewed talk of “decline”. Historian Paul Kennedy’s book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, published in 1987, included a chapter added at the last minute – on the United States. Following the chapters on the Ming dynasty, France under Louis XIV, the British empire…

George Bush senior sought to emulate Ronald Reagan. In a major campaign speech, delivered on 18 August 1988 at the Republican Convention in New Orleans, he gave this reply to Paul Kennedy and his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis: “What it all comes down to is this: my opponent’s view of the world sees a long, slow decline for our country, an inevitable fall mandated by impersonal historic forces. But America is not in decline. America is a rising nation. I see America as the leader, a unique nation with a special role in the world. This has been called the American century because in it we were the dominant force for good in the world. We saved Europe, cured polio, went to the moon and lit the world with our culture. Now we are on the verge of a new century. I say it will be another American century.”

Since then, every US military success (the Gulf, Iraq), every financial bubble has renewed the myth of the superpower or “hyper-power”. And every military mess (Iraq again), each economic or social crisis has lent new strength to MacArthur’s gloomy prognosis.

Translated by Barbara Wilson

SERGE HALIMI is editorial director of Le Monde Diplomatique. His article appears in the November  edition, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features one or two articles from LMD every month.

 

 

 

 

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail