Power Meters
A Case of Terminal Decline?

Americans’ outdated conception of power could undermine U.S. foreign policy.

Published on: July 22, 2014
Ali Wyne is a contributing analyst at Wikistrat and a coauthor of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (2013).
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  • VD Hanson lays out the compelling “Western Way of War” in his book of the same name. Our “way of war,” sustaining organized violence past an individual battle or even short campaign, to the total defeat of an enemy, was part of the rise of Western Civilization. Now that we have rejected our “way of war” since 1945 – eg NOT pursued total war – one certainly can make the case that Western Civilization is on the decline. One can note that the way a civilization wages war is inseparable from the values of that civilization, and Hanson does just that. And one can note that when we pursued total war, those we defeated became long-term political, economic and military allies (as did those Rome defeated when they waged early Western wars) and were wealthier, better-educated and more free than at any previous time in their history, while those we have engaged in what essentially are non-Western, ie non-Total wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan) have been left in utter destruction and chaos. Are we in decline? The way in which we wage war certainly suggests this to be the case.

    • FriendlyGoat

      So, total war against what? China? Russia? Islam? All of them?

      • You miss the point. More force more quickly always results in fewer casualties and better long-term results. Japan & Germany both are better off now – freer, wealthier, better educated – than at any time in their history because we used overwhelming force. Had we nuked Pyongyang, all Koreans would today be better off. Same with Hanoi. If the goal of our culture/civilization is to better the lives of others around the world, then first they need to be freed, educated, employed, etc. Destroying the despots keeping them down historically does exactly that.
        China? Nope. They are progressing and arguably more capitalist today than are we; they are more of an opponent than an enemy.
        Russia? Nope. They are not a threat to us. More opponent than enemy
        Islam? Unless you are willing to continue to absorb casualties from a 6th century death cult, and somehow able to alter Western demographics to support large ground warfare, there is one answer to radical islam: yank it into modernity (the clash is not religious, it is modern v pre-modern) – forcibly or otherwise. Is my country and family more important than islam? You bet. Isn’t yours?

        • FriendlyGoat

          Well, we agree that Islam is a total crock. And a dangerous one. I think we may disagree on the practicality of nuking anything—–if for no other reason, because other people have nukes too.

  • Corlyss

    Atlantic? Aspen Institute?

    Surely you jest! This is known as advocacy polling. American declinism has been one of their favorite memes for at least a decade with Atlantic, and it may be in the Aspen Institute’s DNA.

    • Bruce

      It’s hard to imagine an country that elected a Marxist not declining.

  • Curious Mayhem

    Russia a great power — ? Take away their oil and gas, and there’s not much.

    • Duperray

      This is useless hypothesis: Gas, Oil are there, both on soil or arctic plateu. And this for much longer time than in US. And the key customer is just next door: China with its large population. Once China-Russia block succeeds to settle remaining historical grievance, they would become invincible in matters of economics, not depending upon sea lane trade. Just add India and then it is even more formidable….

  • Duperray

    US have enjoyed a 70-year period of world domination due to WWII victory (moral and physical victory), defeated enemies having been transformed into slaves states, large natural resources. US have overall abused of this situation by invading international institutions, pouring money into many local presidents or empowered men’s pocket in order to keep their population quiet. This has been the way UK succeeded to control Europe during 18° century.
    But several massive phenomenums are changing the game now:
    Economy domination goes to China, whatever soon or late, it is a question of 5-10years. And much money make leaders to rise much ambition, look to arabs: 60 years ago, none of them was considering to impose islam everywhere in the world. Now, with a lot of money, thence power, they resurected their old historic willingness to perform it. Men are the same everywhere across centuries and land.
    Ukraine: Most of international institutions are shown themselves clearly under hidden and full US control: no longer accepted and the BRICS – 20% of world GDP – start to emancipate from this. OECD is only 40% of world.
    Immigration: More than 50% of US born babies are non-WASP, rather latinos. And they bear with them other values than predecessors. The future US international behaviour will gradually move towards less ambitions, alike Brazil.
    Personal morality: With an extreme importance of “ME, myself, I only” propaganda, eliminating any previous morality limitations, individuals become more and more selfish: which one will even accept to fight and die in a war in 2050? The WWII GI’s spirit is gone.
    As per all previous large dominating Empires, US is doomed to decline and give up command to another one.
    Romans, Spanish-austrian, France, UK, Germany, all suffered this.

    • Greg McDowall

      The degree to which Hispanics can assimilate to American culture is a major factor for the long term potential of US power. However, China will not dominate economically. It will reach the Lewis Turning point within a decade, as happened to Japan in the early 1990s. Even in the present its economy is house of cards, so reliant on misallocated investments, due to the insuffiicency of its low consumption rate to pick up the slack from its depressed exports after the 2008 financial crisis. If the US government could order banks to make the loans China did our economy would have appeared to have rebounded strongly as well, but It’s not sound growth. I suppose the CCP felt it had no choice, though, since without it they faced prolonged economic downturn, perhaps even a crash given the many non-performing loans, thus removing the foundation of its legitimacy to rule. Nevertheless, they will come to regret not taking the high road when its day of reckoning arrives. The US will have its own when the pumped up stocks from the Fed’s money printing relax to below their true value. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride for everyone not too long from now. Great power war is a possibility in such an environment, meaning that any prognosticastion about who will stand atop the pecking order is premature. So I wouldn’t count the US out just yet.

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