World slipping out of US hands By M Ziauddin

The world today is in the midst of the Asian Century. Led by China this new Century is shifting wealth and power from the first world to the third world with the US, the global hegemon of yester-years watching helplessly the world slipping out of its hands which are immersed in what is called the infamous military-industrial complex. American journalist, Fareed Zakaria in one of his candid pieces (The Self-Destruction of American Power) published in July/August, 2019 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine laments that in recent years Washington had squandered its unipolar moment. In Fareed Zakaria’s opinion, sometime in the last two years, American hegemony died. The age of U.S. dominance, according to him, was a brief, heady era, about three decades marked by two moments, each a breakdown of sorts.
He says, it was born amid the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. The end, or really the beginning of the end, was another collapse, that of Iraq in 2003, and the slow unraveling since. He maintains that it was the US itself which ‘mishandled’ its hegemony and ‘abused’ its power, ‘losing allies and emboldening enemies’. And now, according to him, under the Trump administration, the United States seems to have lost interest, indeed lost faith, in the ideas and purpose that animated its international presence for three-quarters of a century. Fareed says that just as American hegemony grew in the early 1990s while no one was noticing, so in the late 1990s did the forces that would undermine it, even as people had begun to speak of the United States as “the indispensable nation” and “the world’s sole superpower.”
First and foremost, Fareed Zakaria recognizes the rise of China, right at a time when the US is seen ‘mishandling’ and ‘abusing’ its hegemony. It is easy to see in retrospect, according to Fareed, that Beijing would become the only serious rival to Washington, but it was not as apparent, he insists, a quarter century ago. Although China had grown speedily since the 1980s, it had done so from a very low base. Few countries had been able to continue that process for more than a couple of decades. China’s strange mixture of capitalism and Leninism seemed fragile, as the Tiananmen Square uprising had revealed. Conceding that China’s rise persisted, and the country became the new great power on the block, Fareed acknowledges that this country today has the might and the ambition to match the United States. Russia, for its part, as Freed observes, went from being both weak and quiescent in the early 1990s to being a revanchist power, a spoiler with enough capability and cunning to be disruptive. With two major global players outside the U.S.-constructed international system, the world, in the opinion of Fareed, had entered a post-American phase. Today, he says, the United States is still the most powerful country on the planet, but it exists in a world of global and regional powers that can—and frequently do—push back.
The 9/11 attacks and the rise of Islamic terrorism, according to Fareed, played a dual role in the decline of U.S. hegemony. At first, the attacks, he said, seemed to galvanize Washington and mobilize its power. As such, according to Fareed in 2001, the United States, still larger economically than the next five countries put together, chose to ramp up its annual defense spending by an amount—almost $50 billion—that was larger than the United Kingdom’s entire yearly defense budget. When Washington intervened in Afghanistan, in the opinion of Fareed, it was able to get overwhelming support for the campaign, including from Russia. Two years later, despite many objections, it was still able, he laments, to put together a large international coalition for an invasion of Iraq.
The early years of this century marked the high point of the American imperium, as Washington tried to remake wholly alien nations—Afghanistan and Iraq—thousands of miles away, despite the rest of the world’s reluctant acquiescence or active opposition. In Fareed’s opinion Iraq in particular marked a turning point. The United States embarked on a war of choice despite misgivings expressed in the rest of world. It tried to get the UN to rubber-stamp its mission, and when that proved arduous, it dispensed with the organization altogether. It ignored the Powell Doctrine—the idea, promulgated by General Colin Powell while he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, that a war was worth entering only if vital national interests were at stake and overwhelming victory assured.
On the other hand, insisting that the vast challenge of occupying Iraq could be undertaken with a small number of troops and a light touch, the Bush administration believed Iraq war would pay for itself. And once in Baghdad, Washington decided to destroy the Iraqi state, disbanding the army and purging the bureaucracy, which, according to Fareed, produced chaos and helped fuel an insurgency. Any one of these mistakes might have been overcome, insists Fareed, but together they ensured that Iraq became a costly fiasco. After 9/11, Washington made major, consequential decisions that, in Fareed’s opinion, continued to haunt it, but it made all of them hastily and in fear.
But truthfully, more than anything else, according to Fareed, under Trump, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from engaging with Asia more generally. It is uncoupling, Fareed continuous, itself from its 70-year partnership with Europe. It has dealt with Latin America through the prism of either keeping immigrants out or winning votes in Florida. It has even managed to alienate Canadians (no mean feat). And it has subcontracted Middle East policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. With a few impulsive exceptions—such as the narcissistic desire to win a Nobel Prize by trying to make peace with North Korea—what is most notable about Trump’s foreign policy is its absence.
Had the country acted more consistently in the pursuit of broader interests and ideas, in the opinion of Fareed, it could have continued its influence for decades (albeit in a different form). The rule for extending liberal hegemony seems simple: be more liberal and less hegemonic. But too often and too obviously, Washington pursued its narrow self-interests, alienating its allies and emboldening its foes. Unlike the United Kingdom at the end of its reign, the United States is not bankrupt or imperially overextended. “It remains the single most powerful country on the planet. It will continue to wield immense influence, more than any other nation. But it will no longer define and dominate the international system the way it did for almost three decades.
“What remains, then, are Americ
an ideas. The United States has been a unique hegemon in that it expanded its influence to establish a new world order, one dreamed of by President Woodrow Wilson and most fully conceived of by President Franklin Roosevelt. It is the world that was half-created after 1945, sometimes called “the liberal international order,” from which the Soviet Union soon defected to build its own sphere. But the free world persisted through the Cold War, and after 1991, it expanded to encompass much of the globe. The ideas behind it have produced stability and prosperity over the last three-quarters of a century. The question now is whether, as American power wanes, the international system it sponsored—the rules, norms, and values—will survive. Or will America also watch the decline of its empire of ideas?”
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