We all rely on models to make sense of the world. Some are grim, crude things, insistent that “we” are better than “them” for largely arbitrary reasons. Perhaps “we” have always enjoyed a historical systematic advantage over “them”. Perhaps “they” come from a “shithole country”.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” [Trump] asked in reference to African countries and Haiti, according to The Washington Post. Instead, the president reportedly suggested that the U.S. should encourage immigration from countries like Norway.
NBC News confirmed the report, and a number of lawmakers quickly responded on Twitter, characterizing the comment as racist. The White House did not deny that Trump had used the term.
Did the president of the United States actually say that? We don’t know for certain. We weren’t there. But given Trump’s reflexive dishonesty, his racist behavior in the past and the number of witnesses to this outburst, yeah, probably. We can see how Trump’s worldview dictates much of his political behavior, though it’s expressed in his instinctual, unbalanced way. It’s unfortunate he allows his biases to determine what the government does or doesn’t do on the world stage.
For the foreign policy establishment in Washington, it all raises a very troubling question: is the United States an empire in decline?
Some insist that the answer is yes — that the period of US global dominance that has reigned since the end of the Cold War is coming to an end. As things now stand, “the post–Cold War, unipolar moment has passed,” the National Intelligence Council reported earlier this year. Former CIA officials John E. McLaughlin and Gen. David H. Petraeus made a similar assessment before the House Armed Services Committee this past February. In the years ahead, McLaughlin argued, “the world will be without a hegemonic power — that is, without a country so powerful as to exert dominant influence and advance policy with little reference to others.” Petraeus agreed, saying that the post–Cold War era of “US domination of the world” is ending.
Still, there are some reasons to think otherwise. As former US diplomat R. Nicholas Burns recently observed, the United States maintains “alliances in Europe and Asia, and the Russians and Chinese do not.” In addition, the American military has begun to wipe out ISIS, killing more than sixty thousand fighters over the past two and a half years.
So do a resurgent Russia, an ascendant China, and the emergence of the Islamic State suggest that US power is ebbing, or are these challenges exaggerated? What do US officials really think about these matters?
If we take stock of their public statements as a whole, the foreign policy establishment certainly appears concerned about the latest challenges to US empire, especially the uncertainty that Trump’s election has introduced. But they also remain quite confident in their power to shape the world and steer the United States into a new age of global hegemony.
–Edward Hunt, The American Empire Isn’t In Decline