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article imageOp-Ed: Is the US still the only superpower? Maybe, for a while

By Paul Wallis     Jun 22, 2019 in World
Washington - The world’s experts have come up with interesting, if somewhat predictable, findings that, “The United States is the only superpower, but..." The criteria for the various views, however, is pretty tacky and often dated, and as usual superficial.
Using military, trade and economic criteria and applying them to a single nation can be a great way of distorting logic and misreading facts. Leave out the social metrics and all other functional national issues and you’ve got a postcard, not an analysis.
Let’s check out the basic analyses:
After years of unrivalled, if turgid, military supremacy, the United States is still considered by far the world’s most militarily powerful nation. That’s not too surprising, after decades of spending multiples of other nations’ budgets.
That big spending has covered a generation or several of technologies, many of which will be totally obsolete soon enough. The natural result will be catch-up spending in the trillions of dollars over the next decade. America can do that sort of spending easily enough. The problem is that defense spending is usually unquestioned, and often at the expense of the broader economy in so many ways.
The other issue, inevitably, is how and where that military power is applied. The record is patchy, to say the least. After Vietnam, the US military, to its credit, upgraded itself considerably across the board to deal with the many deficiencies that war exposed.
Subsequent wars, however, have called in to question the US ability to pick and fight the right battles in the right way. A lot of criticism, notably from the military and Congress has been levelled at the conduct of wars overseas. The criticism includes military deployments, equipment, logistics, spending and pretty much the whole inventory of warfighting essentials.
Being the world’s military superpower may be one thing – Applying that power seems to be a problem. If every war leads to a decade or more of commitments and casualties, how well are these wars being waged? To what end? Being top superpower doesn’t mean quite as much if you insist on losing in multiple ways, particularly against the advice of the military. (America wins its wars on the battlefield and invariably doesn’t seem to know when to leave.)
Economics and revenue
You’d think this one would be an easy win for the US. The world’s biggest domestic economy is the US, without doubt. Superficially, there are no competitors. As usual, however, the US has managed to turn a victory into a mess. Dollars have to translate into other things to be valuable, and for a large percentage of the population, that’s not happening. Cost of living is brutal in the cities. The divide between rich and poor has never been greater.
The “world’s biggest economy” doesn’t stand up at all if you remove the rich and the big corporations which eat up most of America’s wealth. The other 300 million or so Americans aren’t doing anywhere near as well. Their dollars go to survival. In effect, it’s two economies. The big money economy is certainly a superpower. The rest of the economy is more like a pathetic shadow of its former status, barely worth a mention.
Revenue is a pretty good indicator of future capacity and trends. In superpower terms, revenue matters, a lot. Revenue is sourced from the mainstream economy, the have-nots. It directly reflects the real state of the economy, and it’s not a good picture right now.
The rich side of the economy is famous for not contributing to revenue, and apparently proud of it. An obsolete and absurdly complex tax system which allows massive tax evasion, and in fact apparently encourages it, is no recipe for a future economy. The plug has been pulled on national revenue, and the bathtub water is pretty stagnant. If revenue tanks, it’ll take the nation with it, sooner or later, and in big economies, it tends to be sooner.
Diplomacy and trade
Another measure of a superpower is its relationship with the world. America’s relationship with its allies has been called in to question by Trump. Until now, both sides of American politics were pretty consistent in maintaining good relationships. Now, the exact opposite is the case, and it’s annoying a lot of people. People who may not be too keen to cooperate with American foreign policy, for example, after so many repeated insults.
This America First crap doesn’t sell to people who aren’t Americans. America First was the policy basis for staying out of World War 2, the war that turned America into a superpower in the first place. It’s a relic of 1940, pre-Pearl Harbor and pre-Cold War. America First policies would have actually prevented the US from becoming a superpower. It has no place at all in the 21st century.
Add to this the fact that the America First policy is damaging trade, America’s forte and critical cashflow stream, and it’s even less impressive. Tariffs were the main cause of the Great Depression. They directly contributed to the causes of the Second World War, notably the rise of Hitler in impoverished Germany.
The Great Depression also contributed to the rise of a totally hostile class of working and jobless poor, and support for everyone from Chiang Kai Shek to Mussolini. That era was also the golden age of communist propaganda, targeting the rich very effectively and creating a generation of truly convinced anti-capitalists. As a policy for America’s future, the overall motif is an ignorant, factually baseless approach to global and US domestic realities.
You’d think that technology, the mainstay of US supremacy for 3 generations, would be another great American claim to unrivalled superpower status. Not anymore. Chinese names, both from the PRC and expatriate, clog the credits for so much research it’s glaringly obvious.
The US has let its technology slide in some truly bizarre ways. America was at least 20 years ahead in space. Now it’s not, in mainstream terms, if you leave out some of the more exotic and much less publicized advanced US space research over the last 10-15 years. Problem being, that tech is also obviously coming in reach of American rivals, with or without espionage. Time has been wasted by the decade, and it’s showing.
The super-tech is there, but it’s not doing much. The super-secret tech seems to be managed by political pets and other strange creatures. These incompetent buffoons are part of a political power structure which includes arguably America’s Least Wanted on every level. Again, judgment is questionable at best.
Meanwhile, who’s driving future tech? Could be anybody. The one thing you can be sure of is that America’s future tech will have more idiots per square millimetre than anyone else. In the glory days, there were no American idiots. Now, they’re compulsory. That means missed market opportunities, expensive military deals, and a logistics chain that looks like a pretzel on opioids.
China? Russia? Someone else as rivals?
One of the most unmentioned criticisms of American superpower status is that the perceived rivals to America aren’t playing the same game. If America is playing to the grandstands, those grandstands are pretty empty, internationally. Nobody really gives a damn if a spoiled brat has a sort of political orgasm, except when it costs so many lives every time.
The most obvious American rival is China. China is working in the back rooms, using money, diplomacy and some common sense offers to its neighbours to expand and secure its influence. It’s roughly the same as postwar American foreign policy, but much more agile. Military force is much less overplayed. The South China Sea issue, a debacle for the anti-Chinese faction in the US, hasn’t turned in to any sort of military confrontation.
(Even when in the right under international law, the US has fudged the South China Sea badly. The Chinese have been put under no real pressure at all. Add to this the fact that the Chinese claims relate to the Taiwan region, and their real position is pretty obvious. Under the globally accepted One China policy, they’d have a far stronger legal claim to that region, too.)
President Xi, China’s taciturn leader, is no fool when it comes to big picture politics. Instead of penny-pinching obscenities, he’s building a gigantic trade network. Chinese money and credibility is going global quite nicely, without much more than bluster from the US. The presidential comparison with Trump is a top tier businessman vs a noisy drunk whose every statement has to be fact checked.
If the last few years have proved anything at all, they’ve proved beyond doubt that Trump is no match for Vladimir Putin. It’s a pro vs a store dummy, and has wound up accordingly. Even with indictments of Russian nationals about the 2016 election in US courts, Trump has babbled his way through the issue, rather badly.
If there was ever an admission of impotence by any US president, this would have to take the cake and most of the rest of the menu. It’s “peace in our time”, in the sense that a major offense has generated no effective, and more importantly, no credible response. Superpower, or super-fake? It’s more than an admission of weakness; it’s an acceptance. That position is incomprehensibly stupid and the results can’t be good.
Russia’s efforts to undermine the West could ask for no better ally than the totally ineffectual, politically illiterate and blinded current US administration. (Who benefits from breaking up the EU? Russia. Who benefits from an isolated, fractured UK? Not the US. This is kindergarten stuff, and the US isn’t understanding it except where a few bucks show up.)
Russia still is a military nuclear superpower. Russian conventional weaponry isn’t to be dismissed lightly, either. The Soviet We Got Big Many Stuff approach has been replaced with properly costed weapons development. The services are less bulky but obviously combat efficient to a significant degree. The US should be paying attention and responding and apparently isn’t.
Still a superpower? Yeah, but…
America is still a superpower, but that comes with a few heavy loads upon itself. From the top of the dunghill, the most likely direction is down. The superpower status is the product of inertia, rather than consciously controlled. The very smart and perceptive America, however, has gone missing in action at management level. Guiding a superpower requires a lot more than rhetoric and self-serving bulldust.
Meanwhile, America – Look out. It’s a very long way down.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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