Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Downhill All the Way


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 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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”