It might just be past success.
A wise man once pointed out that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Relative to the 1970s and 1980s, the United States is almost incomparably powerful and secure, enjoying presumptive military advantage over any opponent or plausible coalition of opponents. We sometimes forget, for example, that there is some history to the idea of Russian troops freely operating in Ukraine. And the point is not that the United States deserves some kind of comeuppance for its arrogance. Geopolitics isn’t a Shakespearean drama, or a morality play. Noting that Russia, China, and others have the growing capability to act independently in their regions does not imply that they will act justly, or that they have any special right to torture their neighbors.
Back in Sept. 2015, Air Force General Frank Gorenc argued that the airpower advantage the United States has enjoyed over Russia and China is shrinking. This warning comes as part of a deluge of commentary on the waning international position of the United States. The U.S. military, it would seem, is at risk of no longer being able to go where it wants, and do what it wants to whomever it wants. Diplomatically, the United States has struggled, as of late, to assemble “coalitions of the willing” interested in following Washington into the maw of every waiting crisis.
(This first appeared in Sept. 2015.)
Does this mean that U.S. global power in on the wane? If so, should we blame this decline on specific policy decisions made by this administration, or the previous administration? As Dan Drezner has argued with respect to who is “winning” the Ukraine crisis, the answer depends crucially on the starting point.
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