“Ronald Reagan . . . was responsible for one of the worst single blunders in post-World War Two American foreign policy when he sent the Marines into Beirut as peacekeepers, only to withdraw in ignominious defeat after suicide bombers killed 220 of them, along with 18 from the Navy and three from the Army. ”
Huh? I’d say he set an exemplary standard: when you commit an error correct it immediately without fanfare or excuse and don’t make it an issue of state. If only we’d handled 9/11 with the same wisdom and dispatch!
This was a most enjoyable essay and once again Mead is on target.
Numerous historians, pundits, journalists and other commentators have spent the better part of three decades worrying about the decline of the United States. Perhaps it all stated in earnest when Professor Paul Kennedy published his famous book on the decline of great powers.
Anyone who goes back and rereads Kennedy’s book will see how anachronistic it seems today. What Kennedy and many others forget is that empires and superpowers have tremendous staying power; The British Empire lasted 168 years; the Hapsburg Empire lasted 392 years and the Ottoman Empire lasted 623 years.
Despite their long lives, all of these superpowers experienced military defeats, economic calamities and numerous other disasters. The British argued continuously about what they thought the precarious state of their Empire was and they worried constantly that their best days were behind them. Many thought that the loss of the American colonies spelled the doom of Great Britain; we know that it wasn’t until the American colonies gained their freedom that the British Empire really began to thrive.
Killing a superpower is not easy. Rebecca West famously said that “nothing fills the nostrils like the stench of a dying empire” and she was right. But it takes alot to push a superpower into extremis. It took World War I to destroy the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires; it took the combined effect of World War I and World War II to destroy the British Empire.
While the United States is not an empire of the type the British, Austria-Hungarians and Ottoman Turks were, it is a superpower nonetheless.
As Mead suggests, those predicting or rooting for its demise are likely to be disappointed.
Going to the Albuquerque TEA Party today, going to wear red, white, and blue, and carry a small flag. Not going to make a sign, just going to let my action in being there, and my display of the colors, speak for themselves. I feel a great fear, and hope and pray that the Flag will still be there.
Thank you Dr. Mead, your post a pleasure as always. But there is more!
Our country is not a tribe that coalesced over time into a country, we are an idea.
What does a human being desire? To eat, to sleep, of course but I’m talking about immediately after that. I answer to speak freely, to assemble at will, to know that the government is the creature of the people and that all power ultimately resides in the people. Is there a better understanding of the political human than “The Federalist Papers”, the United States Constitution? But much more than talk and writing we put the whole into practical operation, with some principles holding their breath to be sure but it worked, it works!
How radical are our ideas? Radical enough to beyond the ken of any other country existent. Radical enough to bet our present day lives and sacred honor that on average the common man will show integrity, fortitude, loyalty, dedication, selflessness and wit. A bet we’ve won to this day.
You identify many reasons why we are still thought of as world leaders, good ones all but also ephemeral. An article yesterday said that Angela Merkel (yes, that Angela Merkel) would like nothing better than to buy a car and drive across the United States until she reaches the Western Sea, an ideal she has had since her teen years. When Kati Martin’s (Enemies of the State) parents were incarcerated by the communist government of Hungary they were allowed in those bleak months one half hour meeting. To lift her husband’s spirits she whispered in his ear, “The Americans will save us.” No one can destroy an idea, though some world class uglies have tried their best.
The ideas are loose, we made them our own, no one can ever contain them again. And if every self proclaimed American should fall at some vulgar wall still our ideas would be imperishable. Free men and not will always look to us; always.
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We alas might not stand there tomorrow once Iran gets the bomb. We may find the post cold war (and post World War II) American led system of international order comes to a dramatic halt. If a President who isn’t doing much to stop Iran getting the bomb isn’t a declinist, I don’t know who is.
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I just finished my second reading of “God and Gold”, which expands the ideas in this piece. Mead gives well argued case for optimism about the American future and shows how the basic structure of the Anglosphere has endured since 1688. This a wonderful and thoughtful book that gives the reasons behind the success of capitalism without avoiding speaking of the dangers and challenges we face, especially as our success brings trouble and resentments and competition from other cultures.
I see a major Foreign Policy blunder by Obama that could undermine this system permanently….ObamaCare. The ability of these type of entitlements to change and alter the Character of our People, the “Euro-Weenies” weren’t always weenies afterall. The State is in effect annexing away our primal instincts incrementally as we become more and more of a nanny-state.
Plus, the Cost/Budget is insane. At rate we are going, we wil have to begin to shut down Military Bases, since its politically impossible to cut the butter instead. That will open the door for someone to fill this void, and I don’t think there is anyone capable of doing what the British/US system has done.
” … for better or for worse, the United States remains the world’s leading power.’
What a strange thought.
If the U.S. wasn’t the world’s leading (and only) superpower, which country, Mr. Mead, would you perfer to be in that position?
You may get a chance to answer that question. Americans are beginning to demand that we lay down the burden of being the world’s policeman that our foreign policy elites have signed us up for.
Great stuff Mr Mead. Clear, concise, and convincing. This portion:
It is not the brilliance of our foreign policy elite that has brought the United States to its current position in the world. The dynamism of American society and the structure of world politics and power are the true wellsprings of American power. Politicians can employ them wisely or foolishly undercut them, but American greatness (or failure) does not finally depend on whether the president gives the right orders to the secretary of state. Ultimately, the greatest danger to American power externally comes from within; if American society ever loses its dynamism, its culture of risk-taking and the odd combination of radical openness on the one hand and a deep attachment to its spiritual roots on the other, we will all learn what inexorable decline is really like.
is exactly spot on. American power is more substantial than any one leader or decision.
Oh and to JP’s post +1
Reagan couldn’t deal with Beirut, he was in the middle of a winning a cold war. It was a huge mistake because of that.
He did deal nicely with Gaddafi in Lybia though, against the wishes of France.
Relating the reading list question to this subject, I’m curious what Walter’s opinion of Philip Bobbitt’s work is, and whether he thinks it warrants attention.
Inspiring and I want to believe. At the same time, one bomb, one city and it all becomes, “Well, isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Two quick points:
1.) Regarding Reagan and the demise of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union was doomed from the very beginning when it adopted an economic model of central planning.
2.) Regarding Nixon’s blunders, let’s not forget his Cambodia adventure and how he handled it.
There are some great wallpapers in there that are now added to my collection. Thanks a ton!