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:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail