In the Summer of 1897 the The New York Journal published an obituary commemorating the life and legacy of renowned author Mark Twain. Upon receiving news of this premature proclamation, Twain sent a message to the Journal, retorting that, “[t]he report of my death was an exaggeration.” To say the least!
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in fact far earlier, public intellectuals have predicted the fall of American international prowess. For many, this fall was to be a result of an unstoppable tide of international liberalization which would expand the role of organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank. For others, America was destined to be outpaced by foreign adversaries like the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.
Reports of the United States’ decline, documented and disseminated throughout the free world, the Far East, and within our own borders… have been greatly exaggerated.
In the Journal’s untimely obituary, it was claimed that Twain had died a poor man on the streets of London; a once-great man who rotted among rats and in squalor. Of course, none of this was remotely true. Whether or not the proclamation was journalistic mishap or purposeful sensationalism is lost to time — or perhaps I would rather not care to dive deep. But this is irrelevant.
The popular international consensus of American decline is in many cases an earnest assessment, and in others strategically disseminated foreign propaganda. What’s important however, is that it isn’t true.
Mark Twain outlived the New York publication, which according to the Library of Congress was the poster child of Yellow Journalism. Similarly, American ingenuity and leadership will outlive the premature — and in many cases hopeful — proclamations of its demise.
For the past decade, predicting the rise of Russia was in popular fashion. In 2012, former Governor and then-Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney campaigned on a strong foreign policy focused on deterring the Russians. Throughout President Obama’s second term, Russia dominated discussions within the National Security Council and the Oval Office.
And in 2014, Vladimir Putin executed the culmination of a decades-long campaign, invading Crimea. All the while President Obama and the White House continued to work alongside China — furthering the Nixonian detente with the Communist power — in hopes that the nation under Xi Jin Ping would gradually ease its way into the international liberal consensus. That day never came.
Russia is a nation in decline. For the past three years the Eurasian power has had negative population growth, and their military has steadily been weakened despite calls from Putin to the contrary. Further, Russia’s economy has seen steep losses stemming from international sanctions and a corrupted corporate structure that is in bed with officials in Moscow.
Their lifeline remains Western Europe’s dependence on natural gas, and this grants them plenty bargaining power in relation to NATO and the transatlantic alliance.
This is not to say that Russia should be ignored. A nation in decline, particularly one with the vast resources, landmass, and geographic position of Russia, is not to be underestimated. They continue to interfere in Western elections and society, orchestrating vast disinformation campaigns via social media and the internet which have succeeded in further dividing the populace of America, not to mention our allies across the world.
But Russia is no longer our arch-nemesis. We are entering into a new bipolar world, and the rising dragon in the East poses a significant and primary threat to American interests and global security.
In 2015, Graham Allison — former director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans — prophesied the future to come, saying that, “The preeminent geostrategic challenge of this era is not violent Islamic extremists or a resurgent Russia. It is the impact of China’s ascendance.”
Allison was correct.
China’s economy continues to surge ahead, annually tripling American GDP growth and expanding its share of global output. By 2026 many economists predict that China will overtake America in share of global GDP, in real terms. Xi Jin Ping continues to brilliantly cement his power and defy the international liberal consensus, expanding strategic-economic prowess through investments in developing economies, infiltration of global organizations, and advancement into Western educational institutions.
Key to understanding China’s ambitions is its history. From fable to recorded history, the dragon of the East has always viewed itself as the center of the universe.
Throughout its myth and imperial history, the ruler of China possessed the “Mandate of Heaven.” From the capital of the empire flowed all legitimate power. When greeting foreign emissaries, Chinese diplomats and the Emperor would address them as barbarians who were not representing foreign powers, but less-than-Chinese extremities of the Sinocentric world order, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger detailed in his classic On China.
Despite the Maoist Cultural Revolution and “Great Leap Forward,” China remains the same culture it has always been. Chinese leaders have kept the Communist references in popular culture and power structures in order to maintain their prowess and control, but the ruling class has no disillusions about the reality of the matter: China is an imperial power, and they are not tied down by dogma.
Above all, China seeks domination. Their ethnic cleansing of the Uighur Muslims in Western China illustrates their allegiance to expounding upon the superiority of the Han Chinese, and their domination of international organizations allows them to get away with it.
Despite these issues only America has the power, resources, geography, and alliance structure to maintain a truly hegemonic and free world order.
As Abraham Lincoln said in 1838:
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”Abraham Lincoln, 1838
Pax Americana, a new series from The Western Tribune, aims to provide students, business leaders, and civil servants with an in-depth understanding of America’s position in the world in the twenty-first century. Coming from a perspective which emphasizes the United State’s role in the world, Pax Americana will also propose solutions to national security challenges our nation faces.
While I will not discuss it further in this incipient piece, we will make the case that America remains on the rise. We are still in our dawn. Our generation, and the next generation, must pick up the torch passed down to us from our forefathers and their unique backgrounds in the Western tradition.