The Post-American World

In 1941, Henry Luce, the founder of Time and Life magazines declared the 20th century to be the American Century. And, though at times reluctantly, America lived up to that lofty ideal, winning both World War II, and ultimately, the Cold War with the Soviet Union, passing sweeping civil rights legislation, and maintaining the highest standard of living of any nation.

It was fun while it lasted.

As Mark Steyn writes in After America, his upcoming book due out next month, the 21st century may well be the Post-American Century. Here's a glimpse of what could be coming down the pike for the nation, and the world, via Mark's latest op-ed:

We are chugging a highly toxic cocktail: 21st-century spendaholic government with mid-20th-century assumptions about American power. After the Battle of Saratoga, Adam Smith replied to a pal despondent that the revolting colonials were going to be the ruin of Britain: “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” said a sanguine Smith.

That’s generally true. Americans of a certain bent looking at post-war France or Germany might reasonably conclude what’s the big deal about genteel decline. The difference, of course, is that Europe’s decline was cushioned by America. Who’s around to cushion America’s decline?

If the IMF is correct (a big if), China will be the planet’s No.1 economy by 2016. That means whoever’s elected in November next year will be the last president of the United States to preside over the world’s dominant economic power. As I point out in my rollicking new book, which will be hitting what’s left of the post-Borders bookstore business any day now, this will mark the end of two centuries of Anglophone dominance — first by London, then its greatest if prodigal son. The world’s economic superpower will not only be a Communist dictatorship with a largely peasant population and legal, political, and cultural traditions as alien to its predecessors as possible, but, even more civilizationally startling, it will be, unlike the U.S., Britain, and the Dutch and Italians before them, a country that doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet.

The American economy has been “stimulated” to a bloody pulp by the racketeers in Washington, mostly to buy off approved interests. Meanwhile, as Nancy defends life on this planet today, the contours of life on this planet tomorrow are beginning to emerge.

Read on for more from Mark on the topic, and Victor Davis Hanson has some very much related thoughts, in his latest column here at Pajamas Media:

But it is in the Pacific where we may well see the most dramatic changes of American withdrawal. Insidiously, the Chinese are translating their formidable financial power into a new muscular military profile. North Korea is as crazy as ever. The proverbially terrorized shop-keeper in the region thus does not know where to turn—to the mostly absent cop on the beat dreaming of his union pension, or the young thugs who demand protection money or else.

The result is that Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines have one eye on China, and one on Washington—and therefore are increasingly terrified. One of three things will happen: our shaky allies will demand a higher U.S. profile in the region, and new assurances of safety under the U.S. nuclear umbrella (all quite unlikely); or they will go nuclear and, unlike North Korea, their missiles will work like Camrys and Kias; or they will make face-saving accommodations with the Chinese that will result in a new version of the old Co-Prosperity Sphere (China 2011 reminds me a lot of Japan 1935).

Right now, I could not imagine that anyone in Taiwan would believe the Obama administration would say or do anything should Chinese ships tomorrow show up a mile off the Taiwanese coast—but could envision the most eloquent speech why Taiwan must inevitably rejoin communist China. Indeed, Obama would call on both sides for restraint, while chewing out the Taiwanese for provoking the Chinese, while working out a “balanced” deal that ceded Taiwanese waters to China—until the next incident.

In short, we will be back soon to about 1937. The old rules are disappearing. All that we await for is some audacious trouble-maker to make perfectly clear that there are no such rules, demonstrated by some flagrant violation of the international order—in 1979 fashion of taking an embassy, crossing a border, or overthrowing a government. We would then know the protocols to come: a U.S. warning of “grave concern”; a meeting at the UN or some regional council; various “deadlines” (as we saw with the five given Iran); a private tongue lashing of the victim for provoking the aggressors and putting the U.S. in an uncomfortable position; a much heralded “international” solution that concedes to the instigator what he wishes; some sort of post-Nobel Prize award to Obama for his sobriety and statesmanship. What is new this time is that the majority of the population (50% of whom pay no income tax and either receive all or a large part of their income from government) will greet retreat with relief, in the sense of more food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid funds released by mothballing ships and planes. (Does my future federally-subsidized hip and knee replacement have to be sacrificed on the altar of frigates patrolling in the Sea of Japan?)

There will be no new world order, much less an end of history, pan-global democratic capitalism. Instead, regional hegemonies will fill the void and do as they please. For the Black Sea and Eastern Europe, a 19th-century-like Russia will set the rules. China will have sway over Asia up to the Indian border. A new Ottoman Empire will pressure both Greece and Cyprus, and give power and credibility to the Islamic anti-Israeli nexus. A chaotic Arab Islamic world will be united in its hatred for Israel. In the same fashion that the public is turned off by the now near daily teleprompted sermons from their “let me be perfectly clear” and “make no mistake about it” and “let’s be honest here” Obama, so too the world will tire of a Reverend Obama whose sermons increase in direct proportion to his threats of “consequences” and “ramifications.” At first, we Americans will appreciate the cost-savings and end to the hassles; soon, we will learn what we learned last time in 1941.

I understand why Obama, like most all who are products of the university and government, believes reason and dialogue should trump deterrence. I wish that he were correct, and the humane rules of the Harvard Law School lounge were those of the international community. It would certainly be cheaper and safer if logos rather than pride, fear, and perceived self-interest adjudicated relationships between powers. Eloquence should outweigh muscularity; and listening at times is as critical as acting. But the problem is that the world beyond our shores is largely non-democratic, poor, tribal, zealous, and angry, and wants the sort of power, affluence, and influence that we long ago took for granted as our birthright—and it looks for ways of fulfilling its agendas, often at the expense of weaker others.

The world by 2016 will be a very dangerous place, as Americans see every dollar “wasted” on national security as a dollar “stolen” from their own god-given federal entitlements.

Kathy Shaidle spots a recent line from CNN may sound Orwellian to you and I, but I bet there's lots of elderly Americans who'd take such rhetoric for granted:  "For some, a loss of Social Security income could mean a loss of independence."

The staggering growth of transfer payments, combined with a unsustainable demographic imbalance, and an "unexpectedly" anemic economy all mean that the bill is about to come due, both literally and figuratively, for all sorts of aspects of 19th century-style Progressivism that passed their freshness dating decades ago, but we still take for granted today. The hangover will not be pretty for anyone.