American Scholars Respond: Arrival of the ‘Post-American Era’?

The United States is Politically Damaged, Divided, and Shocked

Prof. James D. Savage

 “The march by President Trump’s supporters on the U.S. Capitol traumatized an already deeply divided and outraged American people.  Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives and his presidency forever shammed.  Military and police forces are surrounding the Capitol building and the District of Columbia to protect them from a possible uprising by Trump’s allies during President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.  The United States is politically damaged, divided, and shocked.

At the same time, claims that Trump’s behavior and those of his political allies have ‘accelerated the onset of a post-American world’ are premature and fail to consider American history.  Another interpretation is that in modern times the U.S. has overextended itself in places like Viet Nam and the Middle East.  Wars and “incursions” in these regions were deceptively conceived and ineffectively executed.  They resulted in countless lives unnecessarily lost and damaged, public resources immensely wasted, and a country left deeply divided domestically with its standing in the world profoundly undermined.  So, even when politically traumatized the United States has overcome far greater stress and trauma than that stemming from the Trump presidency.  Historically, what truly unites the American people when they are politically divided are genuine external threats, as proved by World Wars I and II.”        

Shocking, but not the Beginning of the Post-American World

Dr. Glen M Duerr

I deeply respect Richard Haass, but I do not believe he is correct. Although I think that China is now a peer competitor of the United States, this is not the beginning of the post-American world. Power has always been diffused, but the United States retains massive economic, military, technological, and soft power advantages over almost every country. Moreover, the existing world order is still heavily tilted towards American ideals, even if many Americans fail to recognize it.

Having said that, there are deep divisions within American society. What happened on Wednesday was shocking–hopefully, it is a major mistake, but one that is an anomaly. Several of my friends and former students work for members of Congress, so I have heard numerous first-hand accounts. I do worry about the future of the country, especially the one my children will inherit if some unity is not displayed. However, I think that there are issues that will unite the country–better tax reform is one.

Return to a Tri-Polar System

Prof. Jamsheed Choksy

History suggests that the global political system usually has several poles or dominant powers during each time period. Pharaonic Egypt, Hittite Anatolia, and Babylonian and Assyrian Iraq; Achaemenian Persia, Greek city-states, and Zhou China; Roman Empire, Parthian Iran, and Han China; Byzantium, Sasanian Iran, and Gupta India; Abbasid Caliphate and Tang China; Spanish, Portuguese, Safavids, and Mughals—these were some of the dominant states that both cooperated and conflicted with each other and with many regional powers. When World War II was coming to its end, the leaders of Britain, Soviet Union, and United States of America met several times—including at Tehran from November 28 to December 1, 1943. The tri-polar system they established became bi-polar with the end of the British Raj, leading to the Cold War. Subsequently collapse of the Soviet Union, produced a uni-polar world order led by the USA. 

The reemergence of Russia and emergence of China as competitors of the USA mark a return to a tri-polar system of superpowers alongside regional powers. This rebalancing should not, however, be mistaken as an eclipse of the USA which is still the dominant superpower. Internal US political and social struggles are not new—the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war protests, Watergate, and dual impeachments of Trump are just some of the changes that American society has and will continue to undergo in the 20th and 21st centuries. Moreover, transition of authority from one American administration to the next has occurred for over two hundred years, will continue, and will ensure a multipolar world benefits humanity. So no other superpower or regional power should presume the USA will not remain globally central and important. The USA still has much power, intelligence, and capability.

The US’s Declining Military Footprint in Middle East

Dr. Eric Lob

Scholars like Richard Haass’s post-America Middle East refers to the US’s declining military footprint in the region, culminating with the reduction of its troop presence to 2,500 in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. Moving forward, Haas advocates “greater US readiness to use limited military force, if necessary, and willingness to pair sanctions with diplomacy.” The incoming Biden administration’s expressed readiness to reenter the JCPOA and its appointment of a career diplomat to head the CIA indicate the US will rely more on diplomacy to advance its strategic interests in the region and beyond.

At the same time, calls for reasserting US leadership in the region and measures to increase sizeable military budgets, not to mention unrelenting pressure from regional allies to remain engaged, signal that a post-America Middle East may take longer to come to fruition. Whether the US has led from the front in Iraq or behind in Libya (and Syria and Yemen) and without taking the onus off regional elites, the legacy of US leadership in the Middle East since World War II has been authoritarian persistence, regional instability, and fragile or failing states. Paradoxically, these outcomes, along with the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, have conflicted with the interests Haas identifies including “fighting terrorism, resisting nuclear proliferation, supporting the free flow of oil, and promoting the security of Israel and American partners in the Arab world.”

Dark Days Ahead

Charles Ortel

Ten months into lockdowns and facing a period that President elect Biden himself describes as “dark days ahead”, America’s divisions have certainly hardened and it is not likely these will heal soon given calls by senior Democrats including Hillary Clinton to “de-Trumpify” America. That said, the American economy remains strongest and largest by far among nations, and I believe it will suffer less than any others will from policies mooted by Biden and his team to raise taxes, increase bureaucratic red tape, and pile on government debt. Certainly, committed proponents of unregulated globalism will do much to reverse Donald Trump’s pro-Constitution, nationalist initiatives. But, Trump supporters are vocal and determined to protect freedoms won and enhanced over centuries. Joe Biden and Democrats will be in charge for a number of years, but do not have a clear, defensible mandate to remake America in thrall to globalists and their cronies.

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