Z. Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor under President Carter, in his book, "Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power," argues that the United States and the West face a “crisis of power” for these reasons: (1) global power has shifted from the West (the U.S. and Europe) to the East, particularly to China, Japan, Indonesia and India; (2) today we are witnessing the political awakening of people in Muslim countries, South America and Central and Eastern European countries; and (3) the decline of America’s performance at home and overseas cannot be denied.
In regard to the first point noted above, no nation can afford to live as an island, cut off from other states, politically, economically and socially. For example, up until a decade ago, the West dominated the G-8, a financial and economic powerhouse. In 2008, China and other countries joined the G-20, bringing in its train a globally interdependent world. This meant that what happens in one country reverberates in other countries, and the larger the country, the more its effects are felt by other nations. No longer can one country last over time in isolation from other states.
America’s isolationism did not begin with the Trump administration. It goes back to Pres. George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, when, in fact, none were ever found. It seems that we took over Iraq because of its oil reserves and not primarily to depose of a dictator. By invading Iraq the U.S. lost the respect of the world and its leaders.
Concerning the second point, for most of the past, humanity lived in “silos” or isolated compartments, that is, up until the time of the French Revolution in 1789, after which there was a surge in the national identity of the French people. The military triumphs of Napoleon were possible not only by the genius of Napoleon, but also by the politically awakened consciousness of the French people.
With the invention of the computer, the cell phone, and the Internet in our own time, political and religious activists can be in communication with millions of people around the globe. For example, just hours after 9/11, the people of Sweden could turn on their TVs and see firsthand the damage done to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the Middle East, Latin America, in Nigeria and the Congo, we have “youth bulges,” that is, large populations of young adults who encounter difficulties in their economic assimilation and in their culture. These countries cannot absorb these huge youth populations economically, hence these “youth bulges” are susceptible to militancy, (think of ISIS) and disaffection from their culture.
What we have today, as noted in point three above, is the decline in the respect other countries around the world have for the U.S. Why so? Many countries do not view the U.S. favorably for two main reasons: domestic issues and the lack of a coherent foreign policy.
In this article I will discuss the domestic issues, and in a later issue of The Villager, I will consider the foreign policy issues that put the U.S. in a bad light.
Brzezinski calls our national debt “unsustainable.” In 1981, our national debt stood at 31.7 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). By 2010, that national debt was 60 percent of the GDP. However, the GDP in 2017 rose to 105.40 of the GDP.
Two public policy analysts, R.C. Altman and R.N. Haass in the journal, Foreign Affairs published in 2010, remark, “If America continues to put off instituting a serious reform plan that … reduces spending and increases revenue, the U.S. will face a downfall like ancient Rome or twentieth century Great Britain.”
The second issue concerns our deeply flawed financial system “driven by greedy Wall Street speculators,” hedge funds, reckless trading houses and investment banks that together caused the financial mess we had in 2008, which President Obama had to face when he took office. Obama did reform the financial system through regulation, but I would observe that the current administration rolled back many of the positive steps Mr. Obama took to control our financial system.
Third, Brzezinski points out that there’s a widening gap between rich and poor according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1980. That gap has grown larger over the years. About 1 percent of the richest families in 2007 had 33 percent of the total net U.S. national worth, while the bottom 50 percent of U.S. families had only 2.5 percent of the wealth. Brzezinski notes that these trends have “launched the U.S. to the top of global indexes of both income and wealth inequality, making America the most unequal major developed country in the world.”
Fourth, we have a huge problem with decaying infrastructure like bridges, highways, railways and airports. On the campaign trail in 2016 President Trump promised to put more money into our decaying national infrastructure. However, we are not doing that. Rather, President Trump and Congress are putting billions of dollars into the military, even though the Department of Defense is the only federal agency that has never passed a financial audit.
Fifth, we have gridlock in our people, one that mirrors the gridlock between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as exemplified in the debate over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Adding gasoline to that fire is this: our political system is “vulnerable to the power of well-endowed but narrowly motivated domestic and foreign lobbyists who can advance their agendas at the expense of the national interest.”
It’s important for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to be civil toward one another and to respect the diversity in our nation, mindful of the motto “E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”). Kindness and respect for differences never goes out of fashion!