The US Decline in Mainstream American Academia
Until a few years ago, critics of US imperialism were traditionally disregarded by the media pundits and the conventional wisdom, and mainstream scholars. But this is no longer the case.
Until a few years ago, critics of US imperialism were traditionally disregarded by the media pundits and the conventional wisdom, and mainstream scholars. We were accused of being “ideological” and disrespectful with the realities of the international scene, or, in some cases, marginalized as vociferous “anti-American” pamphleteers undeserving of any serious consideration both in front of the public opinion of in academia. Not anymore. Today the literature discussing the multiple dimensions of the US decline is immense and keeps growing by the hours. Surprisingly enough, many in the ranks of the left still cling to the old conception of America as an omnipotent and unconquerable power. But this is no longer the case.
With the purpose of exemplifying the true situation of the American empire, I am going to briefly review the article that Richard Haass published earlier this year (January 11, 2021) in Foreign Affairs. Haass is far from being an obscure professor of International Relations or a die-hard leftist lacking a massive audience. On the contrary, he is a thinker of paramount influence in the US foreign policy establishment. During almost two decades, since 2003, he presided over the most important foreign policy think tank in America: the Council on Foreign Relations. Formerly, as a consummated diplomat, he was Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and close advisor to George W. Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell. Haass is not only a refined scholar holding a doctoral degree from Oxford but a policymaker when the White House launched its ill-fated “war on terrorism” after the 9/11 attacks. And the piece we are now commenting on was published in the most important foreign policy journal in America. The title of his article, “Present at the Destruction”, summarized quite well his pessimistic views on US foreign policy and the role of this country in the current international scenario.
His paper was written under the gloomy impressions left by the January 6 events at the Capitol, in Washington DC. He rightly points out that the consequences and implications of the assault by far-right gangs to the locus of the popular sovereignty in America would go far beyond the domestic scene. It was a devastating blow to the exemplary image of the U.S. as the “natural leader” of the so-called free world and the model for all countries struggling to outrun the autocracies that have oppressed them for centuries. This configuration of internal and international circumstances signal, according to Haass, marked the advent of a “post-American world, one no longer defined by US primacy.” A negative situation, adds, that “is coming sooner than generally expected—less because of the inevitable rise of others than because of what the United States has done to itself.” The final outcome of this series of events, among which the disastrous Donald Trump Administration plays a crucial role, is a “marked decline in US influence, to the benefit of China, Iran, and Russia.” Haass tries to calm the anxiety that his opinion could produce among his fellow citizens by assuring that even in the “post-American world, US power and influence remain substantial.” But he twisted a little bit his statement by saying that the time-honored belief in “American exceptionalism” must be definitively filed. After the invasion of the Capitol a decisive component of the US “soft power”, that is, the idea that American democracy is an eternal shining example for the rest of the world was lost. The country now has to handle, with diminished power resources, the “great power rivalry” and deal with complex global challenges like climate change, infectious diseases and future pandemics, huge movements of people (displaced because of wars, droughts, floods, poverty, political crisis) nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and cyber threats. The message of the article is straightforward: “a post-American world will not be dominated by the United States, but that does not mean it has to be led by China or defined by chaos.” China emerges as the great enemy, no longer an economic competitor. The New Cold War is here and the US diplomats would save no efforts to convince the leaders of many nations that the choice is America or China. And, if they fail to make the right choice chaos would surely follow.