I really try to be optimistic about the future, but almost every week I run across something that challenges my positive outlook.
The latest strike against my optimism is this post by Michael Klare, which raised the question in my mind: Is the US becoming a second rate power?
In the post, Klare talks about the stupidity with which the US is handling the situation in Iraq:
In the years after invading Iraq and disbanding Saddam Hussein’s military, the U.S. sunk about $25 billion into “standing up” a new Iraqi army. By June 2014, however, that army, filled with at least 50,000 “ghost soldiers,” was only standing in the imaginations of its generals and perhaps Washington. When relatively small numbers of Islamic State (IS) militants swept into northern Iraq, it collapsed, abandoning four cities — including Mosul, the country’s second largest — and leaving behind enormous stores of U.S. weaponry, ranging from tanks and Humvees to artillery and rifles. In essence, the U.S. was now standing up its future enemy in a style to which it was unaccustomed and, unlike the imploded Iraqi military, the forces of the Islamic State proved quite capable of using that weaponry without a foreign trainer or adviser in sight.
In response, the Obama administration dispatched thousands of new advisers and trainers and began shipping in piles of new weaponry to re-equip the Iraqi army.
Now, with the fall of Ramadi, the whole process has happened again. In Ramadi, elite, US-trained Iraqi forces fled rather than face the threat of a smaller force of ISIS fighters. Again, the Iraqi troops left behind for ISIS a large cache of weapons provided by the United States.
Klare points out that it would be a lot cheaper to just arm ISIS directly.
But it is not just ISIS that is the problem:
Take a look around the world and it’s hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington’s dictates, or actively combating them. Russia refuses to curtail its support for armed separatists in Ukraine; China refuses to abandon its base-building endeavors in the South China Sea; Saudi Arabia refuses to endorse the U.S.-brokered nuclear deal with Iran; the Islamic State movement (ISIS) refuses to capitulate in the face of U.S. airpower.
Professor Klare believes the reason for these failures is because the US can no longer act as an imperial power. Our military resources are too limited to deal with every possible situation that erupts. The US administration has been jerking the military back and forth as it tries to deal with new situations
Klare’s solution is for the United States to accept that it is becoming a second rate power and retire gracefully from the world stage.
But for me, this raises more questions than it answers. Why is the US in a position to have such a thin military?
Certainly, one factor is that we have had back to back presidential administrations that seem to be clueless about foreign policy and the Islamic world. Our secular leaders don’t get how religion can be so important to Muslims because our “elites” themselves are irreligious. It came as a complete surprise to the Bush administration that Muslims didn’t embrace secular democracy. The Obama administration has been similarly caught off guard with the failure of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt and other countries.
But why was the US able to carry on massive campaigns in both Europe and in the Pacific against much more dangerous enemies during the Second World War? How was the US able to fight the cold war against another super power? What has changed?
I don’t know the answers but I believe it ultimately comes down to a shrinking of the spirit of the American populace. I think it is ultimately just another example of the decay of our society.
If the US is suffering from imperial overstretch, there is little that we can do to reverse the decline. Of course that doesn’t mean that our standard of living will plummet immediately or that the US is more susceptible to a foreign invasion. But it does portend changes in the future.
Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic, but it would be prudent to use this time to prepare for more difficult times ahead.