What Happens After a Superpower Dies?
What happens when a superpower dies? What happens when the geopolitical order that has stabilized the world for several decades crumbles?
We are all about to learn firsthand.
For most of the past century, the United States of America has been the world’s single greatest guarantor of global stability. Without American might in World Wars i and ii, Britain, France and the rest of Europe would have been trampled under the boot of a German-led military takeover. After the Second World War, America stimulated the fastest period of growth in Europe’s history, providing massive aid that propelled the ravaged continent toward cooperation and prosperity. America rebuilt and stabilized war-torn Asia, significantly helping Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, China, India, Taiwan and other neighboring nations recover. Simultaneously, America checked the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and throughout Asia, countering Soviet aggression and eventually bringing down another totalitarian empire with globalist ambitions.
It’s called Pax Americana: the period of relative world peace that dominant American power has produced. It prevailed in the Western Hemisphere for most of the 20th century. It reigned throughout the Western world since World War ii in what is also felicitously referred to as “the long peace.” Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has been the sole superpower, again presiding over two decades free of any major wars between great powers.
But now, Pax Americana joins Pax Britannica and Pax Romana: It’s history.
America’s ability to influence other nations is in tatters. Its credibility has been shattered. Its will to cause political change in other nations is broken, particularly if doing so involves large deployments of soldiers. The era of the United States is over.
You may realize that America just isn’t what it used to be. But you probably do not grasp half the magnitude of this historical turning point.
America’s critics and enemies are heartened. They are thrilled to watch America fade—and are working hard to erase its influence completely.
Remarkably, even most Americans are relieved that the U.S. is relinquishing its powerful role.
The big question now is, what happens next? The answer is about to force its way into the consciousness of every American—and people the world over.
The decline of American power has been years, even decades, in the making. But this past November saw a sequence of events that effectively marked its end.
The stage was set with President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis in Syria. First he promised to attack the regime because Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons; then he hedged; then he accepted a sham “peace” plan that kept Assad in power and supposedly put the banned weapons under international control—a plan orchestrated by Russia.
Soon after, President Obama personally phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, showing his desperation for a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. (Read Gerald Flurry’s article “The Most Shameful Phone Call in American History” in the December issue for his analysis.) This move sent shock waves through the international community: America has been the number one constraint on the world’s biggest terror-sponsoring nation obtaining regional supremacy and nuclear power; Washington’s decision to abdicate that responsibility utterly changes the landscape of the Middle East and beyond. Iran’s primary neighboring enemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are beside themselves.
Finally came what Israeli journalist Caroline Glick called “the most significant international event since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991”—Washington offered Tehran relief from the economic sanctions it is suffering for its nuclear program. What made this so significant? Glick explained: “The collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the rise of the United States as the sole global superpower. The developments in the six-party nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva last week signaled the end of American world leadership” (Nov. 14, 2013; emphasis added throughout).
At the Geneva talks, Iran received a breathtaking proposal: In order to get a reprieve from sanctions, all it had to do was tentatively promise to slow its nuclear activities for up to six months to allow for more negotiating. “Not stop or suspend them, mind you, much less dismantle them, but merely reduce their pace from run to jog when they’re on Mile 23 of their nuclear marathon,” Bret Stephens explained in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 11, 2013). France’s foreign minister called it a “sucker’s deal” and backed out. Iran also rejected it, clearly convinced it could get an even better offer.
Thus, the deal fell through. But the damage to American prestige had been done.
Israel was practically screaming to the world that the agreement was insane. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it the “deal of the century” for Iran, and “a grievous historic error.”
On top of that, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had actually lied to Israeli and Saudi officials about it, exaggerating what it required of Iran and downplaying the sanctions relief it provided. This deceit further eroded America’s credibility, leaving Israel and Saudi Arabia convinced that they can no longer afford to trust the U.S.
What’s worse, evidence emerged that President Obama had already started giving Iran economic relief upon Hassan Rouhani’s election as president this past summer: His administration abruptly stopped prosecuting front companies that were violating sanctions by doing business with Iran. This means that after actively pressuring the United Nations to impose heavy sanctions on Iran until the UN finally agreed, the administration then unilaterally softened those sanctions behind the UN’s back! This is absolutely incoherent foreign policy.
Washington’s willingness to sell out its Middle Eastern allies in order to come to terms with Iran is pivotal. It marks the end of U.S. influence in the region. It will surely lead to Iran cementing its dominance. In addition, it puts all of America’s global alliances in doubt, leaving Saudi Arabias and Israels the world over scrambling for alternative arrangements to guarantee their own security.
The fallout will be enormous.
The Arab Spring-Loaded Trap
Yet, in the face of this collapse, most Americans are unconcerned. They’re not particularly sympathetic to or even interested in what is happening on the other side of the world. After 12 years of costly war in Iraq and Afghanistan—over 20 if you go back to the first Gulf War—few Americans want anything to do with Iran. In 2012, seven in ten Americans opposed U.S. military intervention, and that was before Iran’s “moderate” new president caused the political class and media to swoon.
Americans mostly just want the world and its problems to go away. They have had enough.
This reality was undeniable this past September, when Secretary of State John Kerry tried to sell Americans on an intervention in Syria. The strike the administration was contemplating, he assured us, would be “very limited, very targeted, very short-term … unbelievably small.” That is all that Americans would have the stomach for. In fact, polling showed that they were opposed even to that: An Economist/YouGov poll found only 28 percent of Americans supported the U.S. participating in a coalition military strike on Assad’s regime.
Sure, the nation looked pitifully weak when it reneged on its threat to make Assad pay for crossing its “red line” and then turned Syria over to the Russians. But most Americans were relieved anyway.
Sure, Iraq is turning into a violent jungle in our absence. In the first 10 months of 2013, over 7,000 Iraqi civilians were killed—mostly thanks to the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq. But most Americans are simply glad we’re out of there.
Sure, Afghanistan will likely revert to Taliban rule once we’ve withdrawn. But we have exhausted enough lives and treasure in that miserable place. Long-term success is unattainable; they don’t want us there anyway; why not just leave it to them to sort things out?
It’s not difficult to understand the thinking: America has invested so much into these theaters over the past 12 years, and what do we have to show for it?
And the wreckage of American foreign policy lies scattered even further afield across the Middle East.
In Egypt, Washington’s push to dethrone Hosni Mubarak opened the door for the Iranian-aligned Muslim Brotherhood to take over. Now the military has reasserted its power and is trying to keep a lid on the post-Mubarak turmoil. Meanwhile, Egypt’s alliances with the U.S. and Israel lie in tatters.
In Libya, America’s intervention to oust Muammar Qadhafi ended with extremists in power and a lethal terrorist attack on America’s outpost in Benghazi. Libya is now ruined and lawless, aligned with Iran and violently hostile to America.
All these endeavors started with noble rhetoric about squashing extremism and nurturing the blossoms of democracy and peace. But Americans can’t name one place where that promise has truly materialized. The U.S. has become Midas in reverse: Everything it touches turns to ash.
Now, Americans are tired of failure. The nation is $17 trillion in debt (officially—not counting unfunded liabilities). Why borrow money to fight foreign wars that end badly, or that never end? We have enough problems at home. What are we even doing over there, when it’s clear our presence is unwanted?
This is approximately the view of a great majority of Americans. A September 9 cnn/orc International survey found that nearly two in three now say that the U.S. should be extremely reluctant to use military power worldwide. Only 34 percent say America should be ready and willing to wage military campaigns.
In Americans’ view, we have done our part. We are weary of intervention. We’re broke. We’re sick of fighting. We’re tired of not seeing the benefits from all the effort and expenditure. “[T]he more humanitarian crises develop, the less we are convinced that we could make things better by intervening,” Victor Davis Hanson wrote, “or, even if we could, that those whom we thought we were helping would actually believe that we did.”
This war weariness has accelerated and reinforced America’s growing tendency to simply ignore the rest of the world and fix its attention on itself. Do you see this trend reversing? The mood of the American public is clear. What American politician would go against that?
This is why you can be sure this is no anomaly. America’s global role has changed for keeps.
A Pivot to Nowhere
America’s impulse to retreat from the world is evident everywhere you look.
The Obama administration said in 2011 that it would pivot its attention away from the Middle East and toward Asia. Yet all its signals reveal its desire to withdraw from there as well.
Rather than boosting aid to the region as promised, U.S. foreign assistance to Asia for 2012-2013 dropped 19 percent from the 2009-2010 level, according to State Department figures. The main military component of the pivot was an agreement to deploy 2,500 U.S. marines to Australia’s northernmost city of Darwin by 2016; so far, only 200 troops have arrived there for a six-month rotation. The president promised to increase the number, but many people have their doubts.
In October, President Obama canceled visits with four Asian countries and missed two regional summits because of the U.S. government shutdown. In addition, an American-Japanese military exercise in Japan was nixed. Reporting on the trend, Joseph de Courcy wrote, “The credibility of the U.S.’s pivot to Asia, like the credibility of its Middle East policies, is being openly questioned. Even the economic element of the U.S.’s Asia pivot is looking unconvincing” (Courcy’s Intelligence Brief, Oct. 10, 2013). After Mr. Obama canceled his trip, Singaporean strategist Barry Desker said a consensus is building among Asian leaders that “you’re not going to have a significant shift of U.S. forces to this part of the world.”
Another huge development occurred in October: The Pentagon quietly announced that all U.S. troops will leave the Transit Center in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, by July 2014. Since its establishment in 2001, this base has been a key installation for the U.S. military, with around 1,500 airmen who operate refueling aircraft and process all U.S. and coalition soldiers entering or leaving the Afghanistan theater. It was the largest manifestation of American power in Central Asia. Now it’s about to disappear.
Why did Kyrgyzstan vote to kick the Americans out despite the huge profits it was making from Washington? Russia. The Russians offered Kyrgyzstan a $1.1 billion arms package in exchange for the ouster and also wrote off a big chunk of the nation’s debt. It’s no coincidence that the Kyrgyz Parliament voted to end America’s lease just a few days after Vladimir Putin visited. This was a big win for Moscow, which has been growing increasingly assertive in Central Asia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping also recently visited Central Asia, which analysts say marked a key moment in China’s pivot to the region. Eurasian expert Alexandros Petersen called China’s burgeoning focus on the area “one of the most profound geopolitical trends of the early 21st century.” Both Moscow and Beijing are rapidly moving to fill the void the U.S. is leaving in this resource-rich region, and America is in no position to stop them. Does anyone really expect Washington to directly confront China, to whom it is $1.3 trillion in debt? The best strategy America has devised is to encourage Japan to militarize so it can deal with Beijing.
Washington is taking a similar approach to instability in Europe: stepping back and hoping that an economically and militarily dominant Germany will be able to hold down the fort.
And don’t forget the contentious missile defense shield. For years, Russia fiercely opposed U.S. plans to complete the Europe-based defense system, especially its final phase that would deploy upgraded interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. At a meeting in March 2012, a live microphone picked up President Obama telling Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to nix this final phase after his reelection. Sure enough, once he secured a second term, he quickly used that increased “flexibility”; in March 2013, Washington canceled that final phase. Many nations in the region were terrified at the U.S.’s capitulation to Russia.
In arena after arena, the post-American world is becoming reality.
“American foreign policy is in unprecedented free-fall,” wrote analyst Daniel Pipes, “with a feckless and distracted White House barely paying attention to the outside world, and when it does, acting in an inconsistent, weak and fantastical manner. If one were to discern something so grand as an Obama Doctrine, it would read: ‘Snub friends, coddle opponents, devalue American interests, seek consensus, and act unpredictably’” (Nov. 12, 2013).
Domestically, Mr. Obama is amassing unprecedented powers for himself. But in the international arena, he has become the post-World War ii era’s weakest president. “Even the in-over-his-head Jimmy Carter was more of a factor in foreign affairs than Barack Obama,” Forbes wrote on October 30. “Diplomats are still astonished, for instance, at how little prep work Obama engages in before international conferences. He doesn’t arrive with much of an agenda, nor does he interact with other leaders in advance to line up support. He more or less just shows up. This is deliberate. The president … wants to reduce [America’s] footprint on the world stage to something the size of Belgium’s or Albania’s.” This is one goal that the president is achieving with conspicuous success.
Yes, America still possesses unmatched military might, but it has no will to use it. Rather than exercise enough power to stabilize nations and solidify lasting change, modern America treads gingerly. Washington’s longing to appease the various bickering voices in the international community is undermined by its lack of will to stabilize trouble spots with force. The naive desire to avoid any criticism from the UN trumps the desire to defeat enemies. What was once decisiveness became apology. Now the apology has become retreat and retrenchment. America’s will is inarguably broken.
People can criticize the Obama administration for its weak foreign policy. They can point out how America’s standing in the world has plummeted during his presidency; how he surrendered Iraq and is surrendering Afghanistan; how he did nothing about Benghazi; how he crumpled over Syria. The truth is, though, that he is acting in approximate accordance with the increasingly isolationist view of more and more Americans. He is giving the American people essentially what most of them are asking for.
The end of the era of American-led peace has many people around the world elated and even many Americans relieved.
But what sort of era will come next?
What Happens After Pax Americana?
Before Pax Americana was Pax Britannica, the century that preceded World War i during which Britain ruled the seas and much of the world. The passing of the baton from one to the other was perhaps the smoothest, most seamless transition of superpower ever. In fact, historians have difficulty even pinpointing exactly when it occurred; some say it was in the middle of World War ii when America’s troop count exceeded that of the Brits. In many outposts of the British Empire around the world, America simply stepped in and took over, preserving order and stability with very little disruption.
“[I]n the future no one will bother to make a distinction between the British Empire-led and the American Republic-led periods of English-speaking dominance between the late-18th and the 21st centuries,” wrote historian Andrew Roberts. “It will be recognized that in the majestic sweep of history they had so much in common—and enough that separated them from everyone else—that they ought to be regarded as a single historical entity …” (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900).
How smooth and seamless do you think the next transition of global dominance will be?
Look at the powers that are poised to take over in America’s absence, and it quickly becomes clear: Two centuries of Anglo-American rule are about to be superseded by something very different.
Historically speaking, the fall of an empire is a dangerous time. As Roberts warned, “[T]he most costly wars in modern history have arisen whenever there is confusion about which is the world’s preeminent power” (ibid).
World Politics Review, a website intended to inform foreign-policy professionals on key international trends and events, ran an article on November 14 with this headline: “If America Doesn’t Lead in the Middle East, Others Will.” “The debate over whether America is the world’s indispensable nation will continue, but when it comes to the Middle East, nobody is waiting for the answer,” the article said. “Washington’s gradual but steady retreat from its once-unabashed exercise of influence in the region has sparked a rush by second-tier powers to fill the vacuum that has resulted.
“As the U.S. holds back, other nations are raising their profile …. The more passive the U.S. becomes, the more assertive others grow.” This is exactly the sort of competition that will increasingly dominate post-American global politics.
As far as global stability is concerned, America is shrinking to an Albania-size power at a terrible time. The Middle East is a terrible muddle. Iran’s power is growing. Weapons of mass destruction are proliferating and will end up in the hands of more and more tyrants and terrorists. Islamism will spread in northern Africa. Volatility in Europe will rise, even as Germany’s power grows. Contention over resources will fuel increasing tension among European and Asian nations. Arms races in multiple regions will continue to mushroom.
You can be certain that the number of crises is going to increase. The calls for action, for intervention, are bound to escalate. And because America is no longer the one to step up, the position of dominance is up for grabs, both within regions and globally. It will be ugly. We are leaving behind a comfortable era of Western dominance—and entering a new and uncertain era of violent competition for supremacy among remorseless foes.
All that “pax” is about to get the axe.
The Times of the Gentiles
The truly remarkable thing is, this cruel era was specifically prophesied by Jesus Christ.
Though this fact is ignored by many Christians today, the Bible is a book full of prophecy, from Genesis to Revelation. There is so much that it’s not possible to truly believe the Bible is the Word of God and not study prophecy.
During Christ’s ministry, His disciples asked, “[W]hat will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3; Revised Standard Version). Jesus didn’t correct them and tell them that the world as we know it would never end. Instead, He responded by warning His disciples of specific events to beware of when the close of the age came (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). He concluded with the words, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).
Nearly one third of the world’s population considers itself Christian. So it should hardly seem unusual or unorthodox to take Jesus at His word. Do you?
In one of these specific signs, Christ said that the people of “Jerusalem” would “fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (verse 24).
Who are the Gentiles? If we want to do what Jesus Christ said and watch for this sign, we must know.
The common idea that any non-Jew is a Gentile is false. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 49 lists the 12 tribes of Israel, and prophesies their fate in “the last days.” This means that these 12 tribes must exist, today, as separate individual entities. The identity of the Jews—the descendants of Judah—is well known. But what about the other tribes?
Herbert W. Armstrong’s The United States and Britain in Prophecy proves from the Bible that the modern identities of these tribes include the United States and Britain, as well as other English-speaking nations. If you have not proven this truth, it is critical that you read this book to prove it for yourself.
The nation of Israel split into two separate kingdoms after the death of King Solomon. The northern nation became known as Israel, and the southern as Judah. The kingdom of Israel went into captivity in 721 b.c. But books of the Bible written long after the fact contain warnings to both Israel and Judah of impending captivity.
What’s the point in that? Why warn Israel several hundreds of years after the event?
Jeremiah 5:11-15, for example, specifically mentions both Israel and Judah, and warns Israel that it will be taken captive by “a nation whose language you know not.” This passage is clearly not using Israel as a generic term for the Jews: Israel and Judah are mentioned separately. Jeremiah 11:10, 17; 12:14; 13:11-14; 19:3; 30:3; 32:30-32; 33:4, 14 all give similar warnings. Yet the book was written 100 years after Israel went into captivity. The minor prophets contain similar messages. Even the prophets who lived after Judah returned from Babylon warned of a future captivity for Israel and Judah.
Why? The book of Jeremiah explicitly states that it was written for “the latter days” (Jeremiah 30:1-3, 24). The only explanation is that Israel would come out of captivity, and again be conquered in the end time.
Christ prophesied that we are about to enter a time when America’s and Britain’s global influence will be snuffed out, and Gentile powers—that is, non-Israelite nations, specified in other prophecies—will wreak unimaginable havoc on the Earth. Jerusalem, the literal city located in modern-day Judah, will be “trodden down of the Gentiles.” Revelation 11:2 also shows how the Gentiles shall “tread under foot” the “holy city” for 42 months, or 3½ years. But Bible prophecy also uses Jerusalem, the capital of ancient Israel, to symbolize all of modern Israel—chiefly the Americans and the British.
This seismic shift in geopolitical momentum—away from America and toward a clutch of non-Israelite, Gentile powers, accompanied by an escalation in brutal violence and war—is actually good news, ultimately. It is one of the signs Jesus Christ gave of His imminent return!
The darkness and evil that are about to flood this globe presage the most wonderful news in human history!
In this issue, the Trumpet illuminates this sign: the geopolitical shift in favor of this world’s growing Gentile powers. We will look squarely at where the reshaping of the Middle East is leading (page 7). We will examine what we can expect a post-American Europe to look like in the time ahead (page 10). We will expose how the Asian landscape will be transformed when that continent’s native powers return to dominance (page 14). We will take an unblinking look at just what this world should expect when the early indications we see today explode into their full scope. We will see how all of these events are already lining up perfectly to unfold in precise accordance with the Bible’s prophetic outline.
And we will discuss the hope of physical protection God affords those who put their trust in Him—and the far greater hope of a new world, governed by God, which will begin when the darkness has passed (page 35).
But what darkness! Soon we will look back upon the problems making headlines today and recognize that they were merely, as Jesus Christ termed it, “the beginning of sorrows.”
The time for complacency is past.
The times of the Gentiles are upon us.