The Stagnant Hegemon

Although the United States are mired in recession and political disparity, the end of American ascendancy is not inevitable in the short run.

As the United States remain mired in recession and political disfunction, other great powers, China especially, are on the rise. Is the end of American ascendancy nigh?

Critics of the current administration are quick to blame President Barack Obama for projecting weakness and undermining American foreign policy thereby. In truth, America’s prestige and appeal to moral leadership were shattered by the last government that acted, in the eyes of the world, as though it hadn’t to concern itself with the dissent abroad.

America’s position may be materially and military unsurpassed; it is slipping slowly. Obama managed to salvage much of his country’s authority overseas but he can’t get it to keep pace with the economic powerhouses that are Brazil, China, India and, less impressively, the European Union. The former have all moved out of the recession while Europe’s integration process ensures a solid basis for future prosperity.

The United States must overcome high unemployment rates, economic dissatisfaction and political disparity, all of which have been stated intentions of the Obama Administration but are impossible to enact effectively before the next election. Recovery may loom afar but it will probably take years before the country can return on a growth path.

Meanwhile the political process is increasingly hampered by staunch opposition which makes it difficult for the ruling party to govern. The Republican obstructionism is, in part, legitimate. With the federal government’s finances in misery already, there should be little incentive to plunge the country further in the red yet with economic stimuli and health-care reform plans, that is precisely what the Democrats intend to do. Any policy that threatens to undercut the traditionally high level of confidence in the solvency of the American state and the stability of its currency should sound alarm bells in Washington DC. This is the worst of times to signal to investors and foreign lawmakers that they can’t depend on the United States.

The polarization taking place in the political discourse affects the public which, compared to just a few years ago, is both more willing to mobilize and more fragmented along moral rather than party lines. America is, understandably, turning inward. In the process, it risk turning the decline narrative into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

America’s descent in global prowess is not so much to blame on the rise of others. China, economically, is no greater than Japan while the other BRICs are even less well-off. Their booms are substantive but won’t allow them to become First World powers at present. Japan itself is weakening and the European Union hasn’t been able to formulate a common foreign policy approach as of yet.

America is still very much the sole superpower. It will have to surrender this preeminence eventually but in all likelihood, not for many decades to come. A constant reiteration of doomsday scenarios and a diplomacy recklessly based upon them could go a long way at speeding up the process however.


  1. “less impressively, the European Union” – Is the EU still not the world’s single largest trading block? :p
    Ah, and here’s soemthing on a seperate issue that I read in the RUSI this morning which may interest you; China has larger and stronger economic links with the EU/Europe than it does with the US by a considerable degree.

  2. I meant the EU’s recovery, on the whole, has been less impressive.

    China has stronger economic ties with Europe? Why, I thought the US was its foremost trading partner.

  3. No, it’s economic trading with the various states of Europe outweigh the U.S, the distortion I suspect being due to the fact that the EU isn’t considered one partner but rather a block there of.

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