During the recent Presidential Election, there was one issue on both candidates mind – a possible American decline but the fact they felt obliged to mentioned but denied it instantly, suggests that, while they do not want to give other nations the opportunity to gloat, nor are they sure whether they believe their claims that America is not in decline . While there are many that argue against America’s waning power such as Robert Kagan, in recent years and specifically since 9/11, it is hard to say that America is not declining, in fact “the United States has been fading as a global power since the 1970s, and the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks has merely accelerated this decline” (Wallerstein, 2003, p.13). America’s decline can be argued due to its limits of hard power and soft power. Joseph Nye coined the term soft power as the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion (2004a, p. x) and while America has many elements of soft power such as its culture visible through the institution of Hollywood, it also has a large hard power basis namely its economy and military. In recent years, it has become clear that these aspects of American hard and soft power are facing decline mostly due to its foreign policy and the rise in anti-Americanism and terrorism which have had a significant effect on the decline of different aspects of American hard and soft power.
N.B. This is a paper I wrote for my class at university. Please do not copy any of this unless you are prepared to source me as the author. © Thank you
Adam Quinn states in his article “The Art of Declining Politely” that declinists have been crying ‘wolf’ for a long time, but that wolf did come and it is only a matter of time till America’s decline becomes too obvious a problem that it is impossible to deny its occurrence (2011, p. 805).
America’s ‘superpower’ status is defined by its apparent strength in hard power and soft power but with China a strong competitor in the 21st century, it is difficult to ascertain whether America will hold this superpower label for much longer, after all, with a new superpower on the rise, it is inevitable that another nation will reduce the United States down to the same state as the United Kingdom. Since the United States’ rise to global hegemony was at the expense of Great Britain and its receding economy, it is only to be expected that another country will rise above America to be global superpower. The Pew Research Center’s survey (2011a) reveals that of 22 nations, 15 feel that China already has or soon will replace the United States as the world’s primary superpower – a view which is consistent throughout Western Europe – but “only in Pakistan, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Kenya do majorities see an upside to China matching the U.S. in terms of military power”. This could partly be due to America’s military power already being in decline.
What has also affected America’s superpower status in terms of soft power is the United Kingdom’s rise above America in the country with the best soft power policies. According to Forbes, “this is the first time the US has been dethroned” with relation to matters such as “standard of government; diplomatic infrastructure; cultural output; capacity for education; and appeal to business” (2012). Although the United States and United Kingdom are close allies, it appears the British have aspects of soft power which attract other nations more than that of America. This may have been affected by the UK’s recent two years filled of festivities such as the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics but surely these factors are only have a small effect on soft power ratings in comparison to politics concerning education for example. While the UK’s hard power status is little to none, it “ranks among the ‘soft power superpowers’ of the 21st century”, (YouGov, 2012).
The term ‘hard power’ is using threats via coercion and payments in order to get what you want. This is usually through the use of the economy and the military. Of late, both of these factors of American hard power have been under attack by ‘declinists’ who say that American power is in decline. This is mainly due to the recession and Obama’s rationing of America’s use of power.
Both the economy and the military are inextricably linked. The economy is undoubtedly what is seen as the United States most powerful source of hard power especially because America holds the key to the World Bank but due to the rising debt and poor fiscal outlook, it appears as though American economic power is decreasing more rapidly than Americans first thought. Since 9/11, the economy has had its main focus being on the war against terrorism and although “Osama bin Laden failed in his lifetime to achieve his goal of ‘bleeding America to bankruptcy’”, America’s economy suffered massively due to the “avalanche of spending of spending military on military and counter-terrorism operations [...] estimated at up to $4 trillion in foreign wars” which have contributed to ‘the deficit crisis’ that has crippled the country (ABS-CBN, 2011). “Following on from the recession of 2001 to 2003, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars started amidst weak economic condition [...] [causing] the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts [to be] entirely financed by debt.” Although military expenditure significantly increased, Bush administration cut taxes which in effect caused income to fall considerably. “This was the first time in American history that the Government cut taxes as it went to war”, (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2011, p. 15). As a consequence United States has now amassed a $16 trillion dollar and counting and considering this debt is only fractionally due to other governments, causing experts to emphasise how the “US government spending now depends on borrowing money from China [...] [therefore] perhaps the moment in Britain’s decline that American policy makers should be focussing on is [...] when the US stopped the fighting by threatening to pull the plug on the British economy” (BBC, 2012) This and the still high unemployment rate have both contributed to the failing American economy and the problem may lie with Obama (a Democrat) being President but the Republicans having control over the House of Representatives and this was proved when first came into office and “offered only the heavy fist of government intervention, rising taxes, increasing poverty and welfare dependency” (Gardiner, 2012). Because of these conflicting views between the parties, it is no wonder America’s hard power is in decline under the democrats and this is only set to continue, especially with Obama having been re-elected President.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were “dazzling display[s] of America’s hard military power that removed a dangerous dictator” during Bush’s presidency but since Obama’s time in office and his slow withdrawal of troops from these countries, the question is “does withdrawal from Iraw and Afghanistan really mean that American power is in decline and that of its adversaries on the rise” (Global Post, 2012)? Since the US military’s failure in Vietnam, the implications have had a significant effect on its power in modern politics and warfare with American forces having to surrender their base in Saudi in 2003 due to the threat of Al-Qaeda while in Afghanistan, the US forces failed in their attempt to overturn the Taliban rule, resulting in them leaving Afghanistan in the same in if not worse state than before with it “still run by landlords”. In more recent years since the Iraq and Afghanistan War, America’s intervention in Egypt has seen them unable to “secure the pro-revolution tilt that it wanted” and in Libya, US influence has had no effect on the fighting that still ensues (Left Futures, 2012). Therefore, it is reasonable to say that with reference to the past few decades since the Vietnam War, America’s military power has been significantly declining.
Terrorism has had a significant effect on American soft power and has led to it almost disappearing from American foreign policy. Since the 9/11 attacks, terrorism has emphasised America’s vulnerability which has shown through for the world to see thus leaving America in a state of paranoia leading them to attack all possible threats to its superpower status. This is what has led to the rise of anti-Americanism among many other nations and hence the decline in popularity of America as a result. This is mainly the result of the war on Iraq which may have eliminated the rule of Saddam Hussein but it did not solve America’s main problem – terrorism (Nye, 2004c, p.114). In fact, America’s war on Iraq saw a rapid decline in its soft power, “in the aftermath of the war, polling by the Pew Research Center (PRC) showed a dramatic decline in the popularity of the United States even in countries like Spain and Italy whose governments had supported the war. And the standing of the US plummeted in Islamic countries from Morocco through Turkey to Indonesia”, (2004, pp, 114-115). This ever changing favourability of America has been influenced by the different Presidents. According to the Pew Research Centre, “under the Bush Administration, American anti-terrorism efforts expanded [but] many [people] around the world turned against the U.S. Widespread anti-Americanism remained a key feature [...] before fading significantly following the election of Barack Obama” (2011b).
The new struggle in America is that with Islam and Muslims. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the struggle was with the integration of African Americans into a society dominated by white Americans but now, in the 21st century, a century which has been dominated by and obsessed with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it appears that the hostility towards Muslims has significantly increased thus causing a rapid decline in American soft power. Since the Bush Administration, many Americans have stereotyped all Muslims as being ‘terrorists’ as well controversy regarding an American anti-Islam film causing a less than favourable view of America from Muslim-countries which has caused many Anti-America protests. This constitutes as ‘Anti-Americanism’ and has spread all around the world – people’s view of America has declined and this has more to do with their public diplomacy – hence their soft power – and although “observers [were] already noting a distinct change in the prominence and tone of U.S. public diplomacy [...] [and] some [suggested] President Obama by his very person and style [represented] a game changer for U.S. public diplomacy in the Islamic world”, (Zaharna, 2009, p. 1), this was only an introductory and Obama only has partly succeeded in his attempt to improve “America’s dismal image in the Muslim world”. America’s image in the Muslim world is still rough especially among Pakistanis and Jordanians where “America’s already poor ratings have declined further since 2008 [when] 19 percent held a positive of the U.S. [...] compared with just 12 percent in 2012” (Pew Research Center, 2012]. This view from Pakistanis has been significantly influenced by the hard power tactics imposed on their country since Obama’s time in office during which drone attacks have significantly increased and Therefore American culture no longer suffices to attract other nations when American hard power actions, values and institutions override its attraction and with the “world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years” (PRC, 2011c), this is surely not a good outlook for America’s relations with Muslim countries and is a reminder of America’s still hostile relations with the Vietnamese following the war on Vietnam. If America is to keep its superpower status, it needs to limit its attack on fellow nations and keep its soft power intact because it appears to be significantly declining.
To conclude, it can be said that America is in decline and this is mainly due to 9/11. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and The Pentagon in 2001, America’s war response to terrorism was imperative on how they were viewed in the eyes of other nations. Its war on Iraq and Afghanistan along with its receding economy has caused fellow countries to lose hope and faith in it as a superpower nation and with its values and policies as well as its poor public diplomacy with fellow countries being a part of the decisions to declare war on other nations, have also had a negative effect on its soft power hence causing an equal decline in both hard and soft power.
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N.B. This is a paper I wrote for my class at university. Please do not copy any of this unless you are prepared to source me as the author. © Thank you