To quote an unnamed author at Norwich University,
“The dissolution of the USSR left the U.S. as the only true world superpower, freeing the U.S. government from the constraints imposed by the existence of any threat from a powerful rival.”
Here’s an interesting idea.
What if a nation like ours cannot exist without a rival that is actually able to counterbalance our impulses?
That, like in the 1850’s, without that rival we turn against each other?
The fall of the USSR has resulted in the decline of liberty in the United States, a loss of belief in the founding principles of liberty, and the rise of extremist right-wing movements.
Every one of these metrics is measurable. For instance, according to The Human Freedom Index – a measure of personal freedom published by the Cato Institute, the United States fell from 16th place in 2008 (the first year the Institute published the report) and 19th place in 2013, bumping back up two points to 17th in 2017. The fact that Hong Kong comes in at number 2…. well. Numerous other institutes publish similar reports as well as reports addressing other issues of freedom. For instance, the Fraser Institute measures economic freedom, a report in which the United States has fallen from 1st to 16th place from 2000 to 2015. Both these institutes are considered “conservative” (whatever that means.)
I will leave you to do your own research on the topics of the loss of belief in the founding principles (start looking in the “they must follow the law” arguments – cause, honestly, I don’t think the Sons of Liberty or anyone at Lexington or Concorde would agree), and the rise of right-wing extremism (and conversely, the decline of organized left-wing extremism towards the end of the Vietnam War).
These right-wing, nationalist movements have been unable to find stability in power without the counteractive far-left force of the Soviet Union. Without the Stalinist bogeyman, they turn their focus inward. Thus the polarization of the American public today.
But we have rival nation-states, right?
Who are our current nation-state rivals? North Korea? A barking dog. Iran? Also a barking dog. Fears of both of these nations are a stalking horse. No matter how much damage either could do, they can never hope to compete with the United States. Even if they should become nuclear powers.
Scenario: in the event of a nuclear exchange with N.K., the alliance of nations that would come against them. A single missile from an American Ohio-Class Ballistic Missile Submarine turns Pyongyang into a glowing crater uninhabitable for… well, forever… with nearly a million dead and over a million injured and dying.
Even that is extreme overkill. We have 14 of these ships, each carrying up to 24 missiles each (the SALT treaties make this a more complex equation though – but not enough to change the argument). Tehran suffers the same fate in scenarios involving Iran.
Of course, this scenario is one that no one wants to come to pass, but the failure of Western leaders to get a handle on this is another essay.
This lack of a viable rival has resulted in the promotion of terrorism as the chief bogeyman to fill the vacuum.
Terror is of course not a nation-state, it is merely a tactic that is used by non-linear forces – so any declaration of war against it is meaningless, pointless, and endless. As one terror organization wanes in power, another rises. This is a fact of history since the Sicarri (1AD) were murdering Romans and their collaborators in Judea.
But by blaming terrorism – one could point to any shadow and scream to the masses – “THERE’S ONE!!!! LOOK OUT!!!!!” Whether one is there or not. A tactic similar to the Red Scares (or the Lavender Scare) – it need not be based in fact. All the while, of course, ignoring one’s own culpability in the creation of these same terrorists (Taliban, Al Queda, ISIL, Saddam Hussein – Etc. – Sorry boys and girls, all these groups are our own creations).
Unfortunately, the ephemeral nature of terror and terrorism makes it a poor rival for the maintenance of internal power and thus those in power (on all sides) must continuously expand the use of power, and the necessary propaganda behind it, to ensure stability.
This unfettered ability to impose American policy, often through “gunboat diplomacy” is actually enabling – no, enabling isn’t the right word – our behavior since the fall of the Berlin wall is actually fueling the rise of both China and Russia into nascent superstate status. Both to support their own national interests and to resist, maybe even roll back, Pax-Americana.
I look forward to it. As crazy as that sounds, I think that we, as a nation, looking at our history, need an international rival to focus us. Otherwise, it seems, the focus turns internal, and we feed upon ourselves.