US Hegemony Is Already on Its Way Out; What’s Left Is for America to Decide What Its Role in the World Will Be After

US dominance in the world is in the rear view but the Imperial City refuses to make peace with it

More than 10 years ago, the columnist Charles Krauthammer asserted that American “decline is a choice,” and argued tendentiously that Barack Obama had chosen it. Yet looking back over the last decade, it has become increasingly obvious that this decline has occurred irrespective of what political leaders in Washington want.

The truth is that decline was never a choice, but the U.S. can decide how it can respond to it. We can continue chasing after the vanished, empty glory of the “unipolar moment” with bromides of American exceptionalism. We can continue to delude ourselves into thinking that military might can make up for all our other weaknesses. Or we can choose to adapt to a changed world by prudently husbanding our resources and putting them to uses more productive than policing the world.

There was a brief period during the 1990s and early 2000s when the U.S. could claim to be the world’s hegemonic power. America had no near-peer rivals; it was at the height of its influence across most of the globe. That status, however, was always a transitory one, and was lost quickly thanks to self-inflicted wounds in Iraq and the natural growth of other powers that began to compete for influence. While America remains the most powerful state in the world, it no longer dominates as it did 20 years ago. And there can be no recapturing what was lost.

Alexander Cooley and Dan Nexon explore these matters in their new book, Exit From Hegemony: The Unraveling of the American Global Order. They make a strong case for distinguishing between the old hegemonic order and the larger international order of which it is a part. As they put it, “global international order is not synonymous with American hegemony.” They also make careful distinctions between the different components of what is often simply called the “liberal international order”: political liberalism, economic liberalism, and liberal intergovernmentalism. The first involves the protection of rights, the second open economic exchange, and the third the form of international order that recognizes legally equal sovereign states. Cooley and Nexon note that both critics and defenders of the “liberal international order” tend to assume that all three come as a “package deal,” but point out that these parts do not necessarily reinforce each other and do not have to coexist.

While the authors are quite critical of Trump’s foreign policy, they don’t pin the decline of the old order solely on him. They argue that hegemonic unraveling takes place when the hegemon loses its monopoly over patronage and “more states can compete when it comes to providing economic, security, diplomatic, and other goods.” The U.S. has been losing ground for the better part of the last 20 years, much of it unavoidable as other states grew wealthier and sought to wield greater influence. The authors make a persuasive case that the “exit” from hegemony is already taking place and has been for some time.

Many defenders of U.S. hegemony insist that the “liberal international order” depends on it. That has never made much sense.

For one, the continued maintenance of American hegemony frequently conflicts with the rules of international order. The hegemon reserves the right to interfere anywhere it wants, and tramples on the sovereignty and legal rights of other states as it sees fit.

In practice, the U.S. has frequently acted as more of a rogue in its efforts to “enforce” order than many of the states it likes to condemn. The most vocal defenders of U.S. hegemony are unsurprisingly some of the biggest opponents of international law—at least when it gets in their way. Cooley and Nexon make a very important observation related to this in their discussion of the role of revisionist powers in the world today:

But the key point is that we need to be extremely careful that we don’t conflate “revisionism” with opposition to the United States. The desire to undermine hegemony and replace it with a multipolar system entails revisionism with respect to the distribution of power, but it may or may not be revisionist with respect to various elements of international architecture or infrastructure.

The core of the book is a survey of three different sources for the unraveling of U.S. hegemony: major powers, weaker states, and transnational “counter-order” movements. Cooley and Nexon trace how Russia and China have become increasingly effective at wielding influence over many smaller states through patronage and the creation of parallel institutions and projects such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

They discuss a number of weaker states that have begun hedging their bets by seeking patronage from these major powers as well as the U.S. Where once America had a “near monopoly” on such patronage, this has ceased to be the case.

They also track the role of “counter-order” movements, especially nationalist and populist groups, in bringing pressure to bear on their national governments and cooperating across borders to challenge international institutions.

Finally, they spell out how the U.S. itself has contributed to the erosion of its own position through reckless policies dating back at least to the invasion of Iraq.

The conventional response to the unraveling of America’s hegemony here at home has been either a retreat into nostalgia with simplistic paeans to the wonders of the “liberal international order” that ignore the failures of that earlier era or an intensified commitment to hard-power dominance in the form of ever-increasing military budgets (or some combination of the two).

Cooley and Nexon contend that the Trump administration has opted for the second of these responses. Citing the president’s emphasis on maintaining military dominance and his support for exorbitant military spending, they say “it suggests an approach to hegemony more dependent upon military instruments, and thus on the ability (and willingness) of the United States to continue extremely high defense spending. It depends on the wager that the United States both can and should substitute raw military power for its hegemonic infrastructure.” That not only points to what Barry Posen has called “illiberal hegemony,” but also leads to a foreign policy that is even more militarized and unchecked by international law.

Cooley and Nexon make a compelling observation about how Trump’s demand for more allied military spending differs from normal calls for burden-sharing. Normally, burden-sharing advocates call on allies to spend more so the U.S. can spend less. But that isn’t Trump’s position at all. His administration pressures allied governments to increase their spending, while showing no desire to curtail the Pentagon budget:

Retrenchment entails some combination of shedding international security commitments and shifting defense burdens onto allies and partners. This allows the retrenching power, in principle, to redirect military spending toward domestic priorities, particularly those critical to long-term productivity and economic growth. In the current American context, this means making long-overdue investments in transportation infrastructure, increasing educational spending to develop human capital, and ramping up support for research and development. This rationale makes substantially less sense if retrenchment policies do not produce reductions in defense spending–which is why Trump’s aggressive, public, and coercive push for burden sharing seems odd. Recall that Trump and his supporters want, and have already implemented, increases in the military budget. There is no indication that the Trump administration would change defense spending if, for example, Germany or South Korea increased their own military spending or more heavily subsidized American bases.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed how misguided our priorities as a nation have been. There is now a chance to change course, but that will require our leaders to shift their thinking. U.S. hegemony is already on its way out; now Americans need to decide what our role in the world will look like afterwards. Warmed-over platitudes about “leadership” won’t suffice and throwing more money at the Pentagon is a dead end. The way forward is a strategy of retrenchment, restraint, and renewal.

Source: The American Conservative

  1. Jozo Magoc says

    Swamp Trump, the zionist arse kisser got to Is-real-hell Stolen Heights, Jerusalem and West Bank. The last thing to do is to give United Snakes to Is-real-hell! It was annexed by the satanic zionists long time ago!!! He got his family members to the Chabad jews also!

  2. Jozo Magoc says

    Rat- child 1$ bill declares Novus Ordo Seclorum in 2033( well dated,11 times)! The ” great” zionist U SAtan is in 2023-2025 dead! Most states will go bankrupt thanks to their parazitic jews who looted them! The satanic jews owns everything there, including the 330 million ” goyim”- slaves!
    The entire world will rejoice and launch huge fireworks to celebrate the zionist ” great” U SAtan being dead! A 1,000 year of peace and human cooperation will take over our new,reborn world! The satanic,zionist jews shall be shamed and sent to assembly lines to work honestly on their own arses! Who will refuse,will be redireccted to judeo-bolshevik reeducation camps and labor camps!

  3. Jozo Magoc says

    It is the Tao-Path of Heavens( Precession) is taking care of our future! The zionist,war mongering U SAtan/ Is-real-hell tandem will go bankrupt and entering their deepest DARK AGE under the negative pole!
    China and Far East is starting a new age of human enlightenment, Far East is entering a new Golden Age of human development, that’s the Tao-Path of Heaven under the positive pole!
    The world shall rejoice the destruction and bankruptcy of the zionist U SAtan and 1,000 years of forthcoming peace! The satanic-zionist jews(ash-ke-Nazi hordes) shall be shamed and send to labor camps at last to learn to the honest work! Their highest state functions? Capo…

  4. Undecider says

    Americans can go back to making American great. What we were doing before being sucked into the idiotic Zionist wars.

  5. Genghis Gobi says

    Wants to fight Russia and China
    Venezuela and Syria
    North Korea and Iran.

    Got its head handed to it on a platter
    The Taliban.

  6. Al Carbone says

    US economy never recovered from the Vietnam war had to go off the gold standard and the economy will never recover from the manufactured war of terror. but what can you expect from the suicidal US who is in the middle of implementing the genocide of whites in the US

  7. cechas vodobenikov says

    Toynbee considered that all empires suicide—he found that in all decaying empires 3 occupations were revered: the soldier, businessman, engineer….he also observed that jingoism becomes more pronounced in empires near collapse. Another historian of empire, Tainter, emphasized the unsustainability of possessing an empire, where debt increases, bureaucracy is rigid and military spending chokes the empire.George Simmel found that collapsing empires internally fragment—this fragmentation in the USA is fully examined by Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone). Gibbon emphasized the loss of public virtue in Rome and Arthur Koestler compared amerikans to 5th century Romans: “a similarly contactless society populated by automatons…a similarly soulless, politically corrupt, everybody for themselves society”
    The peace studies scholar, Johan Galtung—a sociologist and mathematician has employed 15 indices to predict that the US empire will collapse in less than 10 years….he required 6 to predict that the USSR would disintegrate by 1990

    1. widhalm19 says

      Good comment but when the US Empire does decline or vanish what will happen then comrade? Do you imagine the Russians or Chinese will be better masters than Britain or the Americans? Will Europe become the collection of warring States it always was? Be careful what you wish for friend.

      1. cechas vodobenikov says

        the world will likely shift to a multi polar model where there r no empires, no “masters”—it is doubtful that there will be any wars in Europe—current conflicts in the ME and Africa are fueled by amerikan imperialism…recall that epidemics have accelerated the demise of many empires—byzantine, aztec, Mayans, etc
        if u were aware of sociology you would know that the anglosphere is “planned obsolescence …Hofstede ranks societies on the collectivist/individualist continuum—the most individualistic societies USA, Australia, NZ, Canada, UK…it was not only Tocqueville that wrote that individualism produces a “self doubting, conformist, antagonistic and anxious people”. Vladimir Golsteein wrote 20 years ago, “what unites the slavophiles, Alexandr Herzen, Peter Kropotkin and the Marxists, is the belief that western individualism is an enemy of individuality”. Gorer was puzzled as to whether amerikans were people or machines: “only in amerika do people act like machines, r treated like machines and only in the US r machine metaphors used to describe human behavior….amerikans—“mean and bitter” (David Riesman) who described amerikans as fake—(One of many including Hochschild, Gorer, Trilling, Christopher Lasch in his ‘The culture of Narcissism’)—“the cult of sincerity–amerikans r not sincere it’s a performance”—He described amerikans a s”over conformist semi automatons”. The antagonism is obvious—one must merely observe comments on US websites; Sacvan Bercovitch described the US as “the ultimate trickster’s paradise”—it is not accidental that 2/3 of the lawyers on the planet live in the USA….the anxiety, fear, insecurity amongst amerikans is obvious–as Thomas de Zengodita wrote 5 years ago, “busy busy numb—an amerikan cannot feel himself alive unless he feels himself busy. amerika is a vast goo of meaningless stimulation”—amerikans more puritanical and sexually repressed than 3 centuries ago…this regards why the US is a cultural desert, something examined by many philosophers, etc (for example the German, Joseph Peiper), Tocqueville,Stendahl, etc…..25 years ago Baudrilliard wrote, “the banality of amerika–the radical absence of culture”…to quote Marx—“cash as culture”…vonnegut described national civilization as “garbage”—the connection is made by Tocqueville, Slater, Freud, gore Vidal: “amerikans r farcical when it comes to money and force majeure —the 2 things they worship. my country has created 1 art form–the TV advertisement. you should not expect a democracy from a society like this”
        Many empires have collapsed without any resulting cataclysms—the Ottomans did, the Russian empire did, the Roman did, the British empire did….of course in collectivist cultures people think, feel and act differently—anxisty is absent, dialectical thinking exists, as opposed to the anglosphere “where people “particularize and decontextualize” (R Sennet), where connectedness is felt and cooperation, manners expected—something obvious to those that have lived in collectivist societies such as China, Russia, Serbia, Colombia, Peru, etc

        1. widhalm19 says

          LOL Your hating of America is noted and rejected. A cultural desert? Are you seriously quoting post-Modern idiocy? Enough said …..

          1. Robert Bruce says

            Guy is obviously well read and makes some rather valid points. As for the US being a “cultural desert”,how can you assert he is wrong? We are a rather narcissistic nation in thinking we are indeed exceptional, etc. We are in the age of selfies, Tik Tok, Facebook, and other social media that just produces junk. High culture is virtually non existent , and popular culture is really lacking anymore. There are only a few music artists out there worth naming, if even that.

            1. widhalm19 says

              What Western nation is not doing exactly the same things? Personally, I do not participate with any of the nonsense you listed … I don’t even have a mobile phone. This laptop is my only electronic vice. And, don’t confuse the hyper-urbanized to be representative of all of America.

      2. Genghis Gobi says

        Since neither the Russians nor the Chinese have ever shown any desire to be “masters” your comment is nonsensical.

        1. Mary E says

          Given their reins, they might prove to be different than that….I certainly hope not…What the Chinese are doing with the Belt and Road initiative is a
          Win-Win for ALL the countries that participate …and Russia seems to be a
          defender of the weak and undefended…they just have to be harder on Israel as well as the US, the perpetrators of world injustice and violence: the Rogue
          Evil Twins.

        2. widhalm19 says

          Tibetans have a different opinion. You might want to read up on the USSR moron.

          1. Genghis Gobi says

            Tibetans? You ever met a Tibetan?

            As for the USSR, I can absolutely guarantee I know more about it than you do. Apart from which Russia isn’t the USSR.


            1. widhalm19 says

              An idiotic response from a low IQ Leftist Moron. Learn some history then abort yourself before you reproduce.

            2. Genghis Gobi says

              I was taking a look at your page and the only response you seem to have is ad hominem. You’re an even bigger imbecile than I thought you were. Do you need someone to remind you to breathe?

      3. Séamus Ó Néill says

        ” Will Europe become the collection of warring States it always was? “…seems just a little ironic, given that America needs war to survive, always has. For its less than 250 years as a country, it’s only managed to be at “peace” for an amazing 22 years……belligerent warmongering is/was its modus operandi !

        1. widhalm19 says

          Yea … like those two world wars Europe dragged America into last century. Are you really that stupid?

          1. Séamus Ó Néill says

            I try to be neither abusive nor insulting but it’s you that needs an education. I’m not going to elaborate but I’ll give you enough to go on…you can research the rest yourself. Why was America building both tanks and planes for Hitler, shipping them in through Africa, if it was only dragged into that the second world war. What was their reason ?

            1. widhalm19 says

              Cite some sources you ignorant America-hating moron. And, educate yourself beyond conspiracy theories. I pity you fool …

            2. Mary E says

              Wasn’t it the Rothschild bunch that was in cahoots with Hitler and the US government looking the other way – or was US an overseer? That same group of financial rulers is the same, but stronger: it is what Trump calls ‘the Deep State’..
              the group aligned with Bilderberg Group and others to control the world..
              And the US is considered collateral damage in that plot…
              As an aside, Trump has made it very clear that the president of the US is not at all strong…the presidency is weak and controlled..just like the GOP…

            3. Séamus Ó Néill says

              Yes Mary E, you’re correct but the “Deep State”, “Cabal”, whatever you wish to call them, are losing and have become desperate, hence the Covid-19 ( in conjuction with 5G ) attacks. Cornered, their attacks on humanity will probably become more frenzied as they see their plans for mass-depopulation evaporate. Psychopaths like Gates, Soros etc want a human population of around 500,000,000 max and some of their clique would destroy the planet if they can’t achieve their agenda…..they must be stopped !

  8. mijj says

    the USA will continue as it always has: as a Mafia Thug regime.
    How will the USA deal with diminished power? = How does a Mafia organisation deal with diminished power?

    1. Canosin says

      by means of total replacement of the current system…….hopefully not so bloody

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