Whither American power?

Posted by on Jul 3, 2011 in Perry's Blog | Comments Off on Whither American power?

Once again on July 4 we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the great experiment known as the United States of America. At this time it might be useful to take a step back and analyze our multidimensional nation of 310 million people and where it might be headed.
A number of pundits and historians have concluded that the 70-year period of American predominance in world affairs is coming to an end this year. To take an historical perspective, the 19th century was clearly the British Century. From the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the beginning of World War I (1914), Britain was the only true global power. The “Great War” seriously damaged Britain. By 1918 it was clearly time for new leadership on the world stage.
The American Century might have commenced at the end of World War I, but this was not to be. We returned to splendid isolation by refusing to join the League of Nations and not taking action when Japan invaded China in 1931, Mussolini invaded Abyssinia in 1935 and Hitler marched across much of Europe in 1939 and 1940.
In the late 1930s, we were mired in a deep economic depression. We had no allies, and our population was poorly educated and modest in size (less than 140 million). Our military, which was ranked 16th in the world, was pitiful in size, equipment, training and morale. Only in the early 1940s did America emerge as the world’s leading power.
FROM 1941 TO 2011, America was engaged in seven major wars (six hot wars and a cold war); helped Japan, Germany and Italy become working democracies; defeated Soviet Communism; and became a superpower — by 1991 America had become the world’s first hyperpower.
The question for today: Is this era of political, economic, military and cultural dominance over?
I don’t think so. No other power — not China, not India, not Russia, not Brazil, not the European Union — is ready or able to replace America as the premier force in world affairs. In fact, both China and the European Union are now demonstrating systemic weaknesses.
Across the American political spectrum, there is a growing consensus that we have overreached militarily, especially with our ground forces. As we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, our weary military should get the break it so richly deserves. One of the great stories of the past 10 years is how strongly the American people have supported our military professionals and their families. This support should continue.
There is, of course, considerable doubt that this administration’s grand strategy of retrenchment and counterpunching will be successful. Much depends on whether we can (1) get our financial house in order; (2) find greater civility in our political discourse; (3) do a better job of gaining intelligence about future threats and opportunities; and (4) find, once again, the fundamental optimism that has carried America through so many past crises.
There will be strong temptation by many — both on the left and right in the political spectrum — to return to the isolationism of the 1930s. American leaders of both political parties should resist that temptation.
TEN YEARS FROM now, America should be more heavily engaged in Asia, less focused on the Middle East and less dependent of overseas oil. I am a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist about America and its future role in the world.
How can we here in the CSRA best lift up our positive patriotic spirits as we celebrate America? My suggestion: Attend the marvelous concert that will be held Monday evening in downtown Augusta.
The Star-Spangled Fourth commences at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, on the corner of Sixth and Reynolds streets. Tickets may be purchased at the door. Adult tickets cost $15 and children are admitted free.
The multitalented musician Keith Shafer, who has brought such joy to so many in Augusta, has assembled the annual event’s largest combined chorus, soloists and orchestra. More than 100 hand-picked musicians will be performing our favorite patriotic hits.
There are still seats available. There is plenty of free parking, and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Personally, I love to sit in the balcony. The view of the beautiful sanctuary, the red-white-and-blue-clad audience sitting below and the wondrous music all make for a very special treat.
Please come, and be sure to bring your kids and grandkids.

This guest column appeared in the Augusta Chronicle on July 3, 2011

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