Under the Influence: A Yardstick of American Power

Under the Influence: A Yardstick of American Power

Conventional wisdom now claims that America is in decline. In its report, "A Transformed World," the National Intelligence Council predicts that in the next 15 years, the United States will be a "less dominant power." Fareed Zakaria calls it "the rise of the rest." Parag Khanna argues that in many places, "America is no longer viewed as a provider of security but rather of insecurity," which allows China and Europe to exert competing imperial influence. And Paul Kennedy, who wrote about the perils of imperial overstretch in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers more than 20 years ago, just last month penned a column for the Wall Street Journal entitled, "American Power is on the Wane."

However, others believe American power has never been so potent. Robert Kaplan says that by the turn of the century, the United States had "appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment's notice." Though strained, U.S. Armed Forces can fight two major wars simultaneously, and the country now accounts for nearly half of all military spending around the globe. The economy of the United States is double that of the world's next largest, China. Historian Niall Ferguson argues that, when you add its cultural and commercial power, the United States is, without a doubt, an empire.

The truth actually lies somewhere in between. Grand theoriesabout the rise or fall of empires lack the tightly focused lens needed to capture the strategies of specific wars, the fine print of individual trade negotiations and the narratives of discrete diplomatic endeavors. In the details, of course, lies not only the devil, but also the reality of American foreign policy. Every week, "Under the Influence" will expose these nuances, measuring the way U.S. power is fading, as well as flourishing, and then attack the essential question: Why?

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