Opinion

Compass

A smaller America could be a stronger America

By Nader Mousavizadeh
August 25, 2011

By Nader Mousavizadeh
The opinions expressed are his own.

Last week, China quietly launched the aircraft carrier Varyag from the port of Dalian. The ship is expected to be deployed to Hainan province in close proximity to the strategic regions of Taiwan and the South China Sea. Amidst an atmosphere of existential gloom triggered by the debt-ceiling debacle and the deeper economic crisis, the reaction in the United States was dominated by the fear of a rising, militarist China challenging America’s global superiority. What few in the United States bothered to mention, however, is that the new Chinese carrier was built from an unfinished Ukrainian hull purchased in 1998 – and is the first and only aircraft carrier China has ever had. The United States, meanwhile, has eleven.

The real problem with the U.S. response was not, however, that it exaggerated the Chinese threat. It is that it greatly overestimates the benefits, to America, of the country’s continuing quest for global supremacy – politically, economically and militarily. To lament America’s decline from a dominant position of unaffordable and unsustainable strategic burdens is, in fact, to mistake an opportunity for a threat. For all of the past decade’s concerns around the world about the reach and military assertiveness of U.S. unilateralism, it seems increasingly clear that its principal casualty has been the U.S. itself. America is choking on the edifice of empire and the sooner it’s dismantled, the easier will be America’s return to a leading – not the leading – position as a dynamic, innovative economy.

Consider briefly what the past decade’s economic policies, military interventions and strategic priorities have brought the country: a Great Recession, debts that are fundamentally irrecoverable, a credit crisis, a housing collapse, and two wars with immense costs in lives and treasure. A country that employs more than one million people within its intelligence community, and still is surprised by the Arab Spring, is not being efficient with its resources. Waste and corruption are endemic to any enterprise of this size – and the U.S. military-industrial complex has been no exception.

Six numbers tell the story of empire’s price in stark terms: federal deficits, gross debt, military spending, infrastructure investment, income inequality and now endemic joblessness:

  • Seen over a ten-year span, federal revenue has largely stayed constant, rising from $2.02 trillion in 2001 to $2.17 trillion in FY 2011. Expenditures, meanwhile, more than doubled from $1.85 trillion to $3.82 trillion producing a deficit this year of $1.65 trillion.
  • Over the same period, gross U.S. debt has ballooned to over $14 trillion (roughly 100% of GDP) with net debt standing today at $9 trillion (of which 50% is held by non-U.S. entities).
  • Defense expenditure over the same period has risen from approximately $300 billion in the year prior to 9/11 to $700 billion in FY 2011, and the figure is hundreds of billions higher if military spending outside the Defense Department is included. The total costs (estimated and very likely low-balled) of the Wars of 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq now stands at some $1.5 trillion, financed of course entirely by deficit spending.  The result is that the U.S. now spends more on its defense budget than all other countries combined.
  • The U.S., which once led the world in infrastructure development, now spends just 2.0% of GDP in such investments, as opposed to 5% in the EU and 9% in China. Of the 30 largest infrastructure projects globally, half are in developing economies and just five are in the U.S.  A single Chinese project (the $150 billion North-South water diversion plan) involves more than double in total investment ($65 billion) of all five current U.S. projects.
  • Looking at the U.S. gini coefficient, the most commonly used measure of inequality, no country in the developed world today has a greater gap between rich and poor.  U.S. inequality is currently at levels not seen since the first decade of the 20th century – and greater even than in 1929.
  • Finally, last week’s payroll report for July showed that nearly fourteen million Americans are now out of work, and more than six million of them have been jobless for more than six months. For more than two years, the unemployment rate has been close to or above nine per cent – and if you include those people who’ve given up looking for work it’s nearly double that.

If this is what global dominance looks like, who needs it?

Not that such a recognition appears anywhere on the horizon when listening to U.S. politicians or policy-makers – from either side of the political spectrum. Instead, reactions appear divided between those on the far right who appear to wish for perpetual hegemony while blithely defaulting on the full faith and credit of the U.S.; and those on the left who are hoping that the present crisis could trigger a second “Sputnik moment” – one that will shock America into redoubling its efforts to achieve global leadership through responsible policy-making. What this hope – fanciful as it seems today – assumes is that restoring the country to its pre-eminent global position is actually a good thing for America. It isn’t.

A nation that thinks it can do anything will do everything – deploy its military to wars of questionable strategic value at a vast cost in lives and treasure; issue IOUs in the trillions to finance consumption; turn the advantage of international reserve currency status into a curse by spending far beyond what creditors are likely to tolerate in the long term; and sustain the fiction of entitlements that no serious observer thinks will be honored.

A victim of strategic gluttony, America has gorged itself for the past two decades on unbridled consumption and military expenditure. And now, like an aging prize-fighter mounting the scales in advance of a major bout only to find that he’s disqualified on grounds of weight, the U.S. will need go on a crash diet.

None of this is to ignore the unique threats and responsibilities that the United States faces today – largely, though not completely, as a consequence of its hegemonic status. 9/11 was an attack on the country that required a strong and sustained global response. Nor is it to discount the future need for the U.S. to help provide essential global public goods – in trade, economy, and security.  It is rather to say that even those challenges will be met more successfully by a rebooted and re-sized America that engages with the world as a strategic partner, and not as patron.

From Brazil to Indonesia, Turkey to South Africa, the rising pivotal powers are not looking to replace U.S. hegemony with Chinese dependency.  In fact, as they focus on strategies of inclusive growth that sustain accountability and legitimacy, the mobile networked younger generations of these countries will continue to look to America as a model in many respects.  A new partnership with a right-sized America disciplined by limitations and constraints is there to be forged – if only U.S. political leaders are willing to rethink the value of empire.

In an Archipelago World defined by the fragmentation of power, capital and ideas where the winners will be those states able to vertically integrate public and private interests, America’s present global posture is more a curse than a blessing. Competitiveness, growth, innovation, and influence are today more a function of intellectual capital and a high-tech infrastructure built to navigate a resource-constrained future. And if you’re asking yourself who will stand up for the victims of aggression and human rights abuses around the world, an exhausted, over-extended, deeply indebted America “leading from behind” it is not.

Rid of the burdens of empire, mentally and physically, the United States will remain a singular country in the world – with its openness, ingenuity, diversity, rule of law, moral purpose and ability to renew itself. An object lesson in the paradox of power, the decline of the American Empire may well be the best thing that can happen to the American Republic – and the sooner the better.

Comments
119 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

This is a biased article. Without proper knowledge of North America. World has to fear China’s rise. China can never have values and standards that US have in every field of expertise. How do you think US can be challenged merely on the basis of economy ? What about the world standards set by US in every field of science, technology, medicine etc. Whatever has been achieved till now by emerging economies is by only copying the west(Literally in every field). Innovation and the best brains attraction of US that’s what gives it cutting edge. To achieve that China has to wait for 2000 years with communist regime but it could be cut short to 200years if they could change to liberal Democratic system. But wait a moment When people will start flocking at the China’s borders for better life…..

Posted by Rangeela1 | Report as abusive
 

Bravo.

Posted by Eideard | Report as abusive
 

It is very difficult to estimate the effect of “being a superpower” on GDP. However, it is clear that a lot of American privileges, like the ability to print dollars and exchange them for real working hours of other nations, like the ability to choose “mainstream” economic dogmas and then press them on other nations, like access to oil, like being at the recipient end of the rest of the world’s “brain drain” etc., has to do with the nation remaining THE superpower. Downgrading to “one among the many” would probably mean a GDP drop of some 20%.

Posted by tk2 | Report as abusive
 

@Danny_Black,

I did mention, and add in the additional 4.62 million Palestinian refugees [UN number, see WikiPedia] who have UN mandated right-of-return. That makes 9.1 million versus 5.0 Jewish Israelis. Also, you presume that all Jewish Israelis would vote of a pure Zionist Israel rather than a truly democratic one-state Israel-Palestine. Not to mention, the large numbers of Israelis that have dual citizenships, and live in Israel only part time. (I have heard 300,000 in California, although that seems awfully high).

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive
 

xcanada2, how exactly does “apartheid” Israel rule over Palestinians who don’t live in land currently under Israeli control or claimed control – ie Gaza? By UN mandated ight of return you mean the non-binding GA resolution that also calls for them to be settled in the countries they are already in?

As for the vote we can see how many Israelis would vote for one state “solution” by the results of the Knesset for non-Zionist parties. It is less than 13% – and that is pushing the definition of non-zionist – and that includes the 20% of voters who are not Jews.

Every single one of your claims are simply laughable and most trivially proven false.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive
 

To Andao,

There couple misunderstands that plaque your analysis of the world view.

1)I lived in US most of the year but travel overseas frequently to tell you that the current status of “Freedom of Press” in US is just a wish rather than fact. Practically, the media is monotonous even though in legal terms we are allowed to say anything we want but in reality not so. Many information or news feed start to disappear when that particular information or news feed start to generate a momentum opposite of the media’s view(which in effect s our government pushed views.) The relations between our media and our government is a subtle one, not like the boss telling a slave to do this or that but rather when our government expresses an opinion, our media will follow suite AUTOMATICALLY mostly WITHOUT critically think over the logic of the view. In some cases, I found that the anchorman actually knew it’s wrong but never the less sided with the our government.

2)The censorship of China is not what the west media want you to believe. While I read news from at least from 3 countries over three continents everyday, I found US main stream media is the ONLY one trying to push viewers to an opinion. The technique is to overwhelm you ONLY with evidences that support their views but intentionally ignore ALL evidences that counter it. For example, last month a bullet train rear ended another in China. The US media is fast to say the government is censoring the information and try to sway viewers to feel the Chinese media are all government controlled and that they are muted by the government. I can tell you this is propaganda, I can still read NEW articles from television in China criticizing the management of transit department as of today! News and “negative” opinions are all over the news channels the whole month when it happened in China and mind you that those news are publicly broadcasted so you can see them in PPS(a streaming website) which collects all these news from various TV channels and rebroadcast them on internet. I wonder why the US news channels did not receive such info(are they censored by our own government or they choose to ignore these facts?) May be China is not as open as US when it comes to political views but we can have our share of censorship when it goes to torture and war-the standard US government respond is that it’s national security-ZIPPED. Our government did so many things we don’t even know about and our media covers them up INTENTIONALLY and WILLINGLY.

Posted by ClearMind | Report as abusive
 

@Danny_Black,

Checking into number of Israelis moving to US, I find 265,000, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerida
This is not the same as dual-citizenship, living part-time in the US, but it makes the 300,000 in California look unlikely.

Nevertheless, total Palestinians in the area, either in the Occupied Territories or with UN supported right-of-return, is around 9.1 million.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive
 

The Roman Empire fell long ago, but the city of Rome still exists, and is quite a nice place to spend time.

Posted by effoff | Report as abusive
 

America is a constitutional democracy, not an empire. There is no emporer. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon all came and went while Ghadafi, Assad, Hussein reigned. Arabs like this author villify America as if it were an evil person, but this hatred is misdirected. It is not a person, it is a political construction. The blame for Arab oppression lies with Arab dictators, which should be obvious. They try to deflect it to the West, but this deception no longer works. This editorial is a perfect example of Arab scapegoating to avoid responsibility. Look within, Mousavideh, your problems are of your own making.

Posted by Chazzmatazz | Report as abusive
 

The article is, of course, agreeing with everything Ron Paul has been saying for decades, and people say he’s radical? Sensible is more like it. The only reason some people throw derogatives at Dr. Paul is because they’d rather buy into the media slander than bother to do the research.

Posted by revisinator | Report as abusive
 

Are you kidding me! While there is no arguing that US defense spending has been on the rise it pales in comparison to domestic entitlement programs that coddle it’s citizens with every conceivable “right”. Strategic involvement and defense of US interests is not the reason for American financial ills. Gap between rich and poor…please….go visit India for a look at a gap between the rich and poor.

Posted by Genrule | Report as abusive
 

xcanada2, I’ll take that as the closest you’ll come to admitting that Israel doesn’t in fact lord it over a majority non-jewish land.

Stick to spouting nonsense to similarly clueless people and then you can safely avoid the facts.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive
 

Surprising how often discussions turn sour when Israel is mentioned. The issue at hand is that the U.S. is having its foreign influence reduced due to a waning economy and just can’t get used to it.

Posted by Lambick | Report as abusive
 

Lambick, the US foreign influence is being reduced because it is currently run by a team ideologically determined to reduce said influence. Hence the phrase “lead from behind” which sounds perfectly sane to someone who buys into a constrained US being better for the world.

The author of this piece used to work for the UN, in particular he worked for a scumbag who presided over 4 genocides during a time when there was a US president who also was pragmatically inclined to ignore foreign affairs, until they intruded on him.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive
 

To Danny_Black,

England completely decimated Argentina, even though the UK was attacked by surprise and thousands of miles from the UK, and 200 ish miles from Argentina. Further, the US had NO involvement in that war except for logistical support. Tell me how many US troops were killed? 0

Are you saying that the UK’s efforts were laughable because their ‘tiny’ budgeted military defeated Argentina within a few months. They lost 255 people according to the wiki, how does that compare to our decade + wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

My point is that Western Europe is not in danger of invasion. Russia was recently caught feeding some of their army dog food for crying out loud. Surely, you do not believe that Russia could mount a successful invasion of France, Germany, or the UK. Russia’s defense spending is 53b, which is less than UK or FR.

IMO, the greatest danger to the free world nations is currently socio-economic in origin.

Posted by ConstFundie | Report as abusive
 

ConstFundie, the argentinian army barely fought, with a few notable exceptions the army mostly surrendered when the British turned up. Their airforce was “unlucky” to have missed some more of the boats with exocets.

In Korea and Vietnam, the allies were facing an enemy fighting a total war. In Iraq, the allies lost 4,000 troops in 8 years as opposed to 255 in just over a month of fighting. From recollection, Afghanistan is an even lower casualty rate.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive
 

There is no American Empire.

Posted by Bagwa | Report as abusive
 

First of all, just because the Author’s name sounds different does not mean he is Arabic. Second, his view makes sense. All corporations know that downsizing is the name of the game to become leaner and more efficient. What the author is suggesting is that if America realize that its golden age is over and start triming its fat by becoming smaller militarily and shedding its egotistical view of superpower status, America can remain a superpower still by virtue of its becoming more efficient and becoming less burdened by debt and thus remain very influential in the economic, political circles. Right now, because of its economic woes and political division, America has becom a laughing stock in the developed world and a running joke in the developing world. Investors point to Italy and Spain and even Greece for their faults of accumulating huge debts. But American debt dwarves all those countries debts put together. The only reason why America stayed afloat is because it kept printing money and by countries such as Japan, China and even Russia buying up American bonds. Please give some actual thought to what this article is trying to say rather than bashing it in the face just because the Author’s name is not western sounding and the view expressed is different from the mainstream.

Posted by blacktryst | Report as abusive
 

Great article, and it’s extremely important that Americans come to understand the degree to which they have been misled by the military/industrial complex – so presciently diagnosed by President Eisenhower – and its own vision of “manifest destiny” gone wild.

I have found it very helpful in life to work with people as a friend, and never a bully. While we have done good things, and our efforts in ex-Yugoslavia were appropriate, most our other uses of force in the last twenty years were just plain wrong.

Posted by jfxwsr | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •