The British empire lasted nearly 400 years before sinking beneath the waves of economic turmoil. The Ottoman Empire was the uncontested master of the Near East for nearly 600 years before buckling under the weight of a world war. The Roman Empire lasted 1,500 years before being shattered by migrating barbarian hordes. The tides of time have a way of eroding even the greatest civilizations, many of which we study here at the University of Dallas.
Currently, the United States has existed for a paltry 240 years, with an even more infantile 20 years of uncontested international dominance. Yet just as the sun sets on the British Empire, dusk is upon the United States as we enter a new age.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has enjoyed a period of unchallenged superpower. Even now as we discuss issues like North Korea and Syria, we do so with the assumption that, if diplomacy fails, we can still win a conventional war.
But if the United States continues down the path we’re currently on, it is quite possible that we could no longer win an engagement with a near-peer rival in the distant future. That means if North Korea were to invade the south with China’s backing, and if we sent troops over to defend our ally, we would lose. If Russia decided to steamroll the Baltic states and even go as far as Poland, we would not be able to repel them.
We are entering a new era of international diplomacy: not exactly a return to the Cold War
with mutually assured destruction and strategic games of chicken, but something more dangerous.
This will be an era of empires spanning the globe and fighting wars through proxy states, not for the ideological goals of spreading democracy or the revolution, but to ensure international supremacy.
Well within our lives, we will bear witness to countries like Russia, China and possibly India, Brazil and Iran successfully challenging the United States’ role in the world.
So what’s the solution to all of this? How do we ensure that the United States does not go the way of Rome in our lifetime? I posit two solutions: the modernization of our military and the rejection of isolationism.
It is an undeniable fact that our military is woefully out of date. We are still capable of winning against terror cells hiding in the mountains and against paper thin militaries like Saddam’s former Iraqi Army, but against countries like Russia and China, who are quickly modernizing their militaries, this may not be the case.
The United States in recent years has adopted an incompetent streak of isolationism. Whether it’s Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy or Trump’s “America first” policy, the message around the globe has been the same, and it has been received loud and clear: “America is not here for you.”
These past two administrations have made politics out of castrating our diplomatic reputation in a world where reputation is worth everything. While America was publicly debating whether or not to leave Iraq, the Iranians decided the future of the region for us.
General Qasem Soleimani, a senior officer of Iran’s feared Revolutionary Guard Corps, summoned the leaders of Iraq and, essentially, vassalized the country on the logic of “The Americans will leave you one day, but we will always remain your neighbors.” In the blink of an eye, an enemy of the United States took one more step toward becoming a hegemonic power in the Middle East, and the clock ticked once more toward midnight.
Many in the previous generation saw the ascension of American supremacy, and are too content resting on their laurels by viewing the conclusion of the Cold War as the “end of history.” By contrast, many in our generation find it hard to imagine a world where America is anything but the sole superpower.
Furthermore, many of us at UD can fall into a bad habit of viewing the Western World as an unstoppable monolithic juggernaut that is now united and marching forward under America’s leadership. That being said, if I may submit a piece of historical information for your consideration, the Congress of Vienna instituted the longest relative peace in the Western World for nearly a century, and then the Great War ripped humanity apart. Pax Americana is currently clocking in at 72 years.