America’s “Golden Age”?

What the starry-eyed commentators are forgetting

In their new-millennium forecasts, many commentators and news analysts are giddily saying the United States is entering a golden age.

The two greatest factors they use to support the idea are the U.S.’s military superiority over every other nation via technology, and its economy’s apparent unstoppability.

No one contests U.S. preeminence. Consensus seems to be that the U.S. is so far ahead of anyone else in military technology that the advantage is immeasurable—too great to be lost for years to come. At the same time, the U.S. economy is enjoying unprecedented growth. Virtually every standard economic indicator points to a rosy future; U.S. markets closed out 1999 at record highs to much fanfare. All this at a time when much of the globe is languishing in economic purgatory.

These two areas are the source of such swelling pride, it seems these “golden age” analysts are forecasting in blind ignorance of their foundations of sand. As Solomon said, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

Has America become so trusting of technology that we’ve forgotten how drained of hardware and personnel our military has become? In addition to closing shop in Panama, the U.S. has substantially pulled its troops from Europe, the western Pacific and Asia—outposts that we fought bitterly for just last century. Since 1985, the Pentagon’s budget has been cut 38 percent; 97 bases have been closed in the U.S. alone. Active military duty personnel has been in steady decline for three decades, and is now about half of what it was in 1970. The cuts have eliminated the practicality of ever waging Desert Storm-like operations on two fronts.

The ardor over precision, video-game-like military technology has given rise to a fear of combat. Consider this statement from John A. Gentry, a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer, from an essay titled “Military Force in an Age of National Cowardice”: “The United States presents a schizophrenic posture to the world: We crow about being the world’s only superpower and claim the perquisites of that status, including the world’s obeisance under the threat of sanction, but we radiate fear about using power if our people are likely to be hurt.”

Meanwhile, as the U.S. military is shrinking, Europe is quickly working to create a strong, unified military force of its own. Its explicitly stated aim is to check U.S. military dominance. “Whining about U.S. dominance doesn’t help. We have to act,” German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in a December 25th interview. And, in truly perplexing fashion, the U.S. is openly supporting this goal. Now even Asia is talking about creating a unified regional military. The drive to counterbalance and stunt American power is the most universal goal among nations (including, it seems, the U.S.) on Earth today.

As for the U.S. economy, it is foolish to label as “unstoppable” this economy so burdened by debt ($5.7 trillion and growing, 22 percent of which is owed to foreign investors), so dependent upon runaway spending by American consumers (who themselves carry over $1.5 trillion in personal debt), so over-inflated by stock market speculation (according to Foreign Report, stocks would have to lose 54 percent of their value to match historic values based on price-to-earning ratios).

In this area, too, the world is doing its utmost to counterweigh U.S. dominance. Much as America would like to pattern all the world after its free-market system, all the world would rather do things its own way, thank you. The floundering of U.S.-underwritten institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization is testimony to the limits of trying to run everything everywhere the American way.

Aside from the instability of those two much-hailed pillars of American strength, commentators are also leaving out of their analyses other potential threats which could upset the balance of world power. These would include unforeseen, but highly possible, blows from domestic or international terrorism (surely we can’t ignore the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, made scarier by rife anti-Americanism) security breaches and espionage (of which there have been recent highly publicized examples) and weather disasters.

The pride of those forecasting a new golden age is unrealistic. It reminds one of the American schoolchildren who, despite ranking at the very bottom of a list of nations in math scores, ranked at the very top in how they felt about their math scores.

But what makes such pride truly alarming is that it is vested wholly in Americans themselves. No genuine credit is given to God for any of the blessings of power America enjoys. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). That is the biggest guarantee that what is exciting the commentators is nothing more than fool’s gold.