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Sunday, 3 March 2013

Over the cliff – The on-going decline of a superpower

The die is cast! The worst case scenario could not be prevented. After the deadline has expired and no consensus has been made between the Democrats and the Republicans, the US is facing a painful austerity programme.

No one can predict the full extent of the cost cuts yet, but it will be horrific for the US economy and society. But besides of all cost cuts with all possible consequences for domestic economy, social structures, the US labour market and social stability as a whole, it will be a massive blow for the US regarding its own position in a shifting global world, in which the US is continuously losing its predominant leading position – and this time it’s for good.

From hero to zero
No one asks when this American decline did start, since it’s pretty obvious: The 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy – combined with the subprime mortgage meltdown – marked the beginning of the end of America’s predominance in global economics and finances. Ever since, the US has not only lost credibility and accountability in the finance sector, it also lost its leading position in all the other policy fields: in international trade, security, climate policy (although it was never ever a serious actor in that particular field), and international diplomacy.

Today, the US is no longer an economic leader, it’s China. It isn’t a diplomacy leader either, but it left this field without leaving it to a clear successor. This post remains vacant until now, with the EU stuck in its own economic crisis and other actors reluctant to take a leading position. But it is pretty obvious that China is on the brink to jump into onto it sooner or later. And looking at the crisis regions of our times (Syria, Mali, Israel-Iran, Afghanistan etc.), the US’ strategy is either marked by withdrawal or a complete absence of action.
Is a country that behaves like this supposed to be a global superpower? Certainly not!

For a very brief period of time between 2008 and 2010, it looked like the US could restore some of the international reputation and respect it had lost during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Unfortunately, international needs were severely overshadowed by domestic political quarrels and inflexible political trench warfare between the Democrats and the Republicans.

Domestic political immaturity
If you want to look for someone to be blamed, you have to blame both, the Democrats and the Republicans. Of course, either side will tell that it was the other’s fault. But at the end of the day, both messed it up. An unwillingness to cooperate, unreasonable stubbornness, and above all mutual party bashing lead to a step which makes it almost impossible to comprehend the full scale of the imminent disaster. But what makes the whole situation even more incomprehensible is the simple matter of fact that none of the political leaders – not even President Barack Obama – showed any sign of determination to prevent a fiscal cliff at all costs, never mind the obvious and painful cuts waiting to hit the bottom of this cliff.
This kind of immaturity on both sides is a disgrace for such a “superpower” like the US, a superpower that claims to be a shining example for most parts of the “free world” and claims overall global leadership for all policy fields. After the failure to prevent the fiscal cliff, however, this leadership is shot into bits. The US cannot be regarded as a global leader any longer, but rather as a political amateur.

The fiscal cliff is nothing that has occurred out of a sudden; it was a looming threat for the past two years. American policy makers, economic leaders and the public were aware of this, with all consequences. And still, being aware of all these crucial fiscal consequences and painful cuts, neither the Obama Administration, nor the Congress, nor both together have succeeded to come up with a deal.

What effects?
There is only one who is going to pay the bill, and this bill will be humongous: the American people.

It’s not only a matter that the defence budget will be affected by the cliff, since there is a general consensus in the American public that the defence budget has been way off scale since the Busg Administration. As President Obama has clearly stated, people are going to lose their jobs, unemployment and social aid assistance will be cut, state-funded services will be painfully cut, and even Obama’s main project (the public health care system) is at stake. The people is losing because their leaders were unwilling and not qualified to find a reasonable and feasible solution.

But even on a transatlantic agenda the fiscal cliff will have severe effects. The proposed free trade area between the US and the EU will be questioned in the view of the economic disaster waiting for the American economy. US protectionists will shout for rising tariffs and trade regulations. Basically, history is about to repeat itself, again.

From bad to worse
Fact is that the US’ role in the world will continue its nosedive, not only in economic terms. Since the defence budget will be massively cut as well, America’s role as a predominant global military power will be jeopardized, especially in the view of the rising number of regional conflicts throughout the world. Even more, it seems likely that the US will pull inwards, leaving a power vacuum to be filled. The fiscal cliff will not only have domestic effects, but above all international ones as well.

US foreign policy was already declining through false foreign policy implementations of the former Bush-Administration. Even though the new Secretary of State John Kerry promotes a rejuvenation of the Transatlantic Bridge during his visit in Europe lately, it is more apparent that the fiscal cliff will lead to a general re-evaluation of the transatlantic relations under domestic economic pretences.

In short, fiscal cliff is also a foreign policy cliff, and Washington, D.C. is continuing its self-destructive downsizing. The American decline is entering a new stage, a new chapter leading to the end of American saga – a humiliating and disgraceful end of a world power, just because none of their leaders was willing to prevent the cliff.

If the US was a person, it would be diagnosed with severe masochism and self-mutilation symptoms – but who wants to be its therapist?

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