Pondering the possibility of American decline has become a recurring issue among commentators and pollsters. At the domestic level, it is easy to see why. Our cities are witnessing an upsurge in lawlessness, deterioration, and filth. Common items such as toothpaste are placed behind locked partitions to discourage shoplifting. Youth mobs from Chicago to Compton trash businesses and terrorize bystanders. In a development reminiscent of the Dark Ages, New York City’s rodent infestation has grown so extensive, the City has appointed its first “Rat Czar” to deal with the crisis.

But American decline is not only a domestic issue. Less visible, but equally if not more serious, are the signs of America’s decline abroad. The recently leaked military documents reveal a worrisome world in which American prestige is diminishing.

Consider for example our relations with South Korea, a nation which we saved from conquest at the cost of over 36,000 lives lost in the 1950 – 1953 Korean War , and which we have shielded from outside threats ever since.

The leaked documents disclose that the United States turned to South Korea to supply Ukraine with artillery shells. In view of America’s commitment to that country, this would appear to be a modest request. But according to the leaked documents, the Koreans balked at responding.

The documents  report on a conversation between two top advisors to President Yoon Suk Yeol, in which they expressed concern that providing the shells to Ukraine would make it seem as though South Korea had “given in” to the United States. One advisor suggested selling the shells to Poland instead, with the understanding that the Poles would transfer them on to Ukraine. Ultimately, South Korea agreed to sell the shells to the United States on the condition that they would stay in this country.  

According to a review of the documents by the BBC, Seoul was “reluctant” to accede to America’s request due to “worrying about burning bridges with Russia.”  Seoul was concerned that supplying Ukraine would “strain its relationship with Moscow.”

Now it is odd that the United States would depend on South Korea to provide artillery shells. Preventing a Russian conquest of Ukraine is the stated policy of the Biden administration, which recently assured visiting President Zelenskyy: “We’re with you for as long as it takes.” If we truly are in it for as long as it takes, then why aren’t we supplying the shells ourselves?  This is not a matter of finding a supply source of Warsaw Pact weapons, which on other occasions has necessitated turning to Poland and other former Soviet satellites for help. South Korea uses the same military hardware that we do. With a defense budget close to $1 trillion, one would assume that the United States could manage to supply Ukraine’s needs itself.

Assuming that for reasons of efficiency or economy it would make more sense for the weapons to come from a smaller ally, one would expect that ally to comply with our request. We have publicly committed ourselves to doing whatever is necessary to halt Russian aggression in Ukraine. South Korea is a close ally, which has thrived under U.S. protection. When such a nation balks at answering our request out of fear of “burning bridges” with our adversary, there is only one unpleasant but obvious conclusion: American influence is diminishing.     

The leaked documents also revealed troubling conduct by another U.S. ally, Egypt. Since 1978, the United States has provided Egypt with over $50 billion in military aid and $30 billion in economic assistance. According to the Washington Post,  the documents show Egypt’s plans to produce 40,000 rockets for Russia. The Post said President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi told officials to keep production and shipment secret “to avoid problems with the West.”

Exposure of the plan has apparently caused its cancellation. But the very fact that a supposed ally was considering a transaction so antithetical to American foreign policy says much about our reduced standing in that part of the world.

Of course, we did not need the leaked documents to tell us that. Shortly before the leak, we learned that Saudi Arabia had reestablished diplomatic relations with Iran, in a deal brokered by China. It appears that the United States had no advance notice of this dramatic realignment.  

American policy has been to guarantee Saudi security, a policy that dates back to February 1945, when President Franklin Roosevelt, returning from Yalta, met with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on a Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal. But that was then. Today, Saudi Arabia is understandably unsure of American reliability in the Middle East. So it is strengthening its commercial and security ties with China. The Saudi government recently approved partial membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a political and security bloc that includes China, Russia, and India.

The Saudis are also reportedly nearing an agreement to restore ties with Syria following negotiations mediated by Russia.

Where is the United States in all this diplomatic maneuvering? It is on the sidelines, purely a spectator, not a player.

It is tempting to lay the blame for America’s diminished international prestige on the Biden Administration and its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. That inglorious exit undoubtedly shook the faith of regional powers like South Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others, in America’s reliability. It likely emboldened Putin to invade Ukraine.

At the same time that we have unsettled our friends, we have enhanced the power of our enemies. Thanks to the Biden administration’s energy policies – including halting the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, and ending offshore drilling – the United States has reverted to the status of an energy importer, pathetically importuning Iran, Libya, and Venezuela to increase their oil production.

But in fairness, the decline in American prestige abroad did not start with Biden. It has been a bipartisan project going back several administrations.

It can be traced back at least as far as the Obama administration and its stated policy of “leading from behind.”  That policy was worse than oxymoronic. It was moronic. It produced disasters in Libya, the Crimea, and Syria. The decline continued through the Trump administration, which made the original deal with the Taliban to exit Afghanistan in a rush, and which disparaged and discouraged our NATO allies while cozying up to Russia and North Korea.

Admittedly, while these setbacks and embarrassments were occurring, our military was not idle. We may not have the capacity to produce artillery shells for Ukraine, but thanks to Executive Order 14035 signed by President Biden in 2021, we now have Diversity, Equity  and Inclusion offices at all of our military organizations, and those offices are busily manufacturing DEI plans, goals, and bureaucratic structures. The Chinese and Russians may be outpacing us in the development of hypersonic weapons, but they lag far behind us in “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage” and in dealing with “White Power at West Point” – both the subjects of recent lectures at the U.S. Military Academy.

Sixty years ago, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Charles de Gaulle, that inveterate critic of U.S. influence, saw American resolve and noted: “There is really only one superpower.” A decade later, observing the divisive effects of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon warned of the danger of America becoming “a pitiful, helpless giant.”

Which description better fits America today? Sad to say, the United States of 2023 appears increasingly pitiful and decreasingly super.

Recognizing these grim facts need not cause despair. Nor should it lead us to wallow in despondency. Decline is a choice, not a fate. America has the physical and human resources to reassert its position of global leadership. But the first step in achieving that end is to acknowledge how far we have fallen. After that, we can collect our strength and rise again.


Filed under Foreign Policy

2 responses to “IS AMERICA IN DECLINE?

  1. I find much to commiserate with in your piece but disagree with your assessment of causes. Countries no longer trusting U.S. assurances did not begin with the Afghan withdrawal mismanaged as it was. It was added to by U.S. politicians and leaders questioning the utility of NATO. It began with our recent trade wars having little concern for their effect on friends and allies. Adding to it was leaders questioning whether support of Ukraine was worth the cost. Adding to the distrust of the U.S. as a trustworthy ally was the dramatic showing that the United States was not the bedrock solid democracy that had long been assumed after the events surrounding the 2020 elections. It is little wonder that countries are starting to hedge their bets in ways and big and small. It is only prudent, especially given the country’s flirtation with alternative facts. Given this backdrop much will depend on how we support Ukraine on whether our decline is only a blip or a symptom of something much more serious.

  2. I vote that what we are seeing is a symptom of something much more serious. We area very different country than we were sixty years ago. Our population is different. I don’t see anything that will keep it from getting worse. We have uncontrollable riots crime that is condoned and even encouraged. I see a failed state on the horizon. Parts of our country are there already

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