The Crisis of Confidence in US Hegemony

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Chen Jimin via The Diplomat,

The 21st century is still young, but it has already presented the United States with a series of internal and external challenges. In the very first year, the U.S. faced a major security threat from non-state actors manifest in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which completely changed Americans’ traditional view of their homeland as a safe haven.

Following the attacks, the Bush administration launched its global war on terrorism. Rather than achieve its stated objective, however, the war placed the U.S. under fiscal pressure and damaged its international standing. Meanwhile, America now faces a new challenge: the rise of non-Western countries, a development likely to have a much more far-reaching impact on U.S. hegemony.

When U.S. President Barack Obama took office, he found that global power had subtly but irreversibly shifted in a way that reflected the new features of the international system. Thus, in the U.S. National Security Strategy (2010), the administration acknowledged that the international system needed to adjust to accommodate the interests of new centers of power.

Even as the United States was trapped in two wars, the U.S. domestic economy was  facing its own crisis: the meltdown that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Out of the recession that followed, new political and social movements emerged. The rise of Tea Party in 2010 produced a rupture in domestic politics. Late in September 2011, Occupy Wall Street targeted injustices in American society. Political squabbles on domestic issues such as health care, immigration reform, and the debt ceiling have had repercussions for U.S. diplomacy. For instance, Obama was absent from the APEC summit last year largely because of the government shut-down.

In the name of fiscal austerity, the U.S. Department of Defense was required to cut military spending by $487 billion over the next decade. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was prompted to complain: “these cuts are too fast, too much, too abrupt, and too irresponsible,” asserting that they would seriously restrict America’s readiness and ability to respond to challenges.

Indeed, the limits of U.S. military strength are already evident. One example could be found in the so-called “leading from behind” strategy in the Libyan war, which reflected constraints on U.S. forces. Washington’s Ukraine policy today is another example. Obama has made it clear that “We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine.” At a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on March 27, he stressed that the U.S. would not make promises to Ukraine it could not keep.

In both cases, the embarrassment for the United States lay not only its “defensive” geostrategic posture, but also in the questions raised by its allies over its ability to fulfill the commitments. This distrust has implications for Washington’s ability to retain global leadership, given that the international order created and dominated by the United States depends heavily on the broad U.S. alliance and partner network. The elements that support this network are the comprehensive power of the U.S. and the confidence that it will provide protection at a critical moment.

How does the U.S. ask its allies and partners to retain confidence in those security commitments when it is in decline? There are two ways: one is to constantly stress that the U.S. has the ability and willingness to fulfill its obligations. This is what Washington is currently doing. For example, on March 20, 2014, Obama stressed that “America’s support for our NATO allies is unwavering” when delivering a speech on the Ukraine crisis. On March 26, he reiterated this point during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Before visiting Japan, Chuck Hagel told a press briefing that “another reason I’m here is to reassure our allies of our commitments to their security.”

Obama is currently visiting four Asia countries, including its major allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. One of the main aims of the trip is to tell the allies and partners that the U.S. is and will be a Pacific power whatever the international situation. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on April 18: “The President’s trip to Asia is an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia Pacific region…The President will reaffirm as well our steadfast commitment to our allies and partners, which allow us to deter threats and respond to disasters.”

The other approach is to demonstrate the effectiveness of U.S. security commitments through action. For example, the United States may take practical steps to support the interests demands of its allies or partners in international disputes, such as providing weapons to some countries, deploying advanced weapons systems to relevant areas, and conducting military exercises with its allies.

However, this latter approach is not without risk. First, the United States could find itself drawn into international disputes and forced to make clear its position on the issues. In the past, the United States has adopted a strategic ambiguity towards international disputes that did not involve its core interests. Second, the United States could face real strategic risks, such as conflict with another major power.

History tells us that when one hegemon is in decline, international relations become more complex and uncertainties increase the risks. We may be in such a period today. But if the declining hegemon is careful in its strategic choices, and if other powers take into account its real interests and need for prestige, history need not necessarily repeat.

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Kirk2NCC1701's picture

HUBRIS:  We're #1!  We're #1!  We're #1!

Pride goeth before the fall.  Like a declining Rome, at this point we're the #1 bully, not the #1 leader (whom others want to follow).

asdasmos's picture


Hayman Global Outlook Pitfalls and Opportunities for 2014 by Kyle Bass


Oh regional Indian's picture

Hegemony to Hedgie Money in 100 short years.

Quite the fall.


Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

The real problem with our foreign policy comes from overreach. If we would have restricted military activities to defending true US intrests and true allies, we would not be in this mess. Invading 3rd world countries to enrich the MIC does not fit into a genuine US interest.

Lost My Shorts's picture

You could state it even more strongly.  US hegemony is maintained by Washington elites on borrowed money, isolated from the will and even the knowledge of the people.  US hegemony was never even intended to serve US interests.  It serves big-money special interests -- Israel, the MIC, Wall Street, the oil industry, and other major corporations.  US hegemony will end when they can't borrow money anymore.  Ironically, China is the key enabler of American hegemony by buying the debt.  The American people have already been irreparably harmed by having all that debt piled on their backs.  The end of US hegemony will be a net benefit to the American people, but not a salvation by any means.

The American elites are at least smart and experienced, and have done a marvelous job of stringing out their debt-based games longer than anyone would have thought possible.  The Chinese, in contrast, are sophomoric.  They should be very worried that the Washington elites will seek a war with China as a pretext to cancel the debt held by the Chinese and confiscate property in the US owned by Chinese nationals.  That would preserve US hegemony for at least another generation.  The Chinese probably are worried, and that constrains their actions.  Chinese hegemony is not coming any time soon.

Tengri Temujin's picture

The Chinese were buying the US debt because they were facilitating the continuing transfer of manufacturing and production lines from the USA to China, they basically facilitated the gutting of the USA by the greedy corporations who could not resist the slave labor wages and profits from that.

China played a great game, it used it people as it has in the past when it used them as cannon fodder in mass wave attacks like in Korea.  But now it is more subtle, those same waves of people were thrown onto American production lines brought to China, they got the machines and the know how.  I would love to see any USA company even try to take its equipment out of China to take it to another east asian country.  Its not going to happen unless they build one from scratch and that takes a lot of money, that is why they originally moved the equipment from the USA to China. 

This war was lost a long time ago.

Offthebeach's picture

Rehypothecated defense.

Just like bank reserves, fine if hardly anyone makes calls on it.

Real defense, warriors, leadership by example from the families of the elite BARBARIC!

Oldwood's picture

America has become a victim of its own success. Great effort and sacrifices purchased America its first world standing and subsequent generations have done the best they can to burn it to the ground. There is something strange about it, but to be blessed is to be damned. I have noticed how those who receive charity tend to resent the source of the charity more than persons who would do them deliberate harm. Like spoiled children who take the gifts of their parents and treat them with indifference at best and deliberately destroy them for fun. One's possessions and gifts are seldom appreciated unless they are knowingly earned. We see this in relation to liberty and freedom, but it is in everything in our lives. What you have sacrificed for, what you sincerely believe you have earned will always have much greater value to us than anything given to us or enherited. Freedom and liberty will require sacrifice before they recover value.

Anusocracy's picture

America has already been trampled to death by the marching morons that occupy it.

james.connolly's picture

A failed penal colony that allowed the worst sociopaths on earth take the bridle of power.

Tocqueville 150 years ago, spelled it out in Black&White exactly what the USA is/was, ... and now its even worse than what Tocqueville.

Malcolm X in 1960 the "USA Democracy is Hypocrisy"

onthesquare's picture

You can see that in the faces of the zqueegy kids.  Not really doing a good job but you can pay them to go away.  The reward for going away and not touching the windshield as they will make it worse seems to be evident in many professions these days.

IridiumRebel's picture

Yes, this article belongs in the toilet alongside Captain's log. By the fourth Hurrah! it should be fully pinched off.

TheReplacement's picture

Yeah so anyway, back to Putin.  It dawned on me in reading this that Putin's biggest rival isn't the US or EU or NATO.  His biggest competitor is China.  Europe is without power, literally and figuratively.   The US is in decline... to be supplanted by whom?

China would seem to be the answer except for the massive debt bubble, money printing, misallocations of everything, pollution, overcrowding, corrupt government, and dependence on foreign imports for everything but bouyant swine.  Now Putin has, at least, agreements to supply energy to Europe, India, and China.  The BRICS may be ascendant or maybe they will collapse.  If they are to rise then there will be a contest for leadership and it kind of looks like Putin is trying to be the strong horse as well as taking advantage of a certain buffoon that absolutely does not represent those of us here on ZH...  Except for the paid trolls of course.

Wahooo's picture

Well reasoned. The big question is whether Russia can supplant the US as the leading global power without a war, and how Putin gets from our static US global leadership framework to one less suffocating to the rest of the world. Putin seems to understand his own nation's vulnerabilities and how to balance them against the shifting global landscape. He has expressed a more open and optimistic view about how the world's politics and economies are changing than the ossified leadership in the US. Which allows him to be more agile and also more patient as the case may be. That should bode well in his relations with China.  Despiite their mountaintop view, Obama and his US supporters still see the world as the big gamecock in an oppressive, top-down pecking order, even as the chickens keep coming home to roost. We'll do everything we can to impede a peaceful Russia/China future. Hopefully, Putin will be able to maneuver around us and arrive at a the top without firing a shot.

onthesquare's picture

Lavrof and Putin understand each other and they are the only 2 voices and minds that speak for Russia.  The US has many mouths flapping at the same time and in different directions.  Contradictions abound.  Between Obama, Carrey, CIA, NSA, Joe B, Hillary, then a couple of retired generals and don't forget NATO and all those European leaders the position on Ukraine is not clear.  Throw in the lying and false photos.  Not to mention those stupid ignorant white house talking heads and "I think I have answered your question" bullshit. 

I would much rather listen to Lavrof.

Sean7k's picture

Why would you wish to supplant one tyrant with another? Russia is nothing more than a bully, like the US, they only pick on small fish- except they are incapable of global projection of forces. Where does this Putin worship come from?

Why not work towards the elimination of all tyranny and the tyrants that become the face of oppression? 

An isolationist US, that refuses to be the reserve currency would favor the economy and people of America. No more creating debt to fund the world's need for currency. No more excessive military spending. No more bases in every country. 

Eliminate government in every fathomable way until it is rid of its' ability to enrich the oligarchs and threaten the slave class. Return to honest money and the vanquishing of fractional reserve debt creation, as well as dollar inflation to effect huge wealth transfers. Wouldn't you like to keep the value of your labor and capital?

Why should we seek the answer to who will be our slavemaster, when we could seek to eliminate slavery? Russia and China are pathetic economic disasters. They are not a threat to anybody but their own people. Just as the US is a threat to the world. 

Now, who is running all these slave colonies? Why are the methods so similar? The chains of the pentagram are woven with debt and worthless paper. They use law to mesmerize and justify the greatest tyranny. Puppet political leaders are not an answer- they are a plague. Lady liberty is whom I want to ask to the dance of life...

mccvilb's picture

The chains of the pentagram? You mean hexagram. Therein lies the basis of worldwide tyranny.

Sean7k's picture

Sorry, both of them. Don't forget the Illuminati.

Anusocracy's picture

If Tyrant A has a 75% probability of being able to establish a world government and Tyrant R has a 10% chance, you would be crazy to support Tyrant A, and rational to support Tyrant R.

When Tyrants A and R are equally probable to rule the world, you would be rational to oppose them both.

Sean7k's picture

You mean choosing the lesser of two evils? Like we choose politicians? How is that working out?

Anything less than liberty is intolerable and irrational.

UselessEater's picture

I hope our solution is not Putin -the KGB is not the cuddly version of the CIA. History is living, alphabets morph into modern times.

So far no great solution is apparent; barracking for the leader you do not have without regard to TPTB he is aligned to is simplistic.

So Putin opens his mouth - these are words of a seasoned agent, power broker and long term power holder - these are not the words of an angel.

Your choice is not Obama or Putin. Thats the game.

Seriously research before you desire Putin at the the top.

TheMerryPrankster's picture

It matters not what we desire. Our desires do not influence the sphere of power.

We can comment as we wish our thoughts are tears that can't wear down the mountain except through centuries.

Do not impinge on free discussion by fearing our thoughts might come true. Putin is no worse than Obama and in fact is at least more honest - Putin gave Snowden asylum, Snowden offered a window into Obama's world, the NSA serves the president, and Obama doesn't want transparency or an informed populace, he is a worse tyrant than Putin, for he pretends to be a poor black man from America, and he is instead a corporate tool of the oligarchy bought and paid for with nice vacations and basketball with celebrities.

His price was quite low for selling us all out.

When you cannot breathe, it matters not who wears the shoe thats standing on your windpipe, but a smaller foot would be a godsend.

Notsobadwlad's picture

The US is in decline to ultimately be replaced by a global technocratic government of parasites (just like the unelected government in Brussels) who are willing to murder innocent people to take and maintain their power.

They will enslave with a global fiat currency that only they can create and distribute.

So much for the future of humanity ...

ebworthen's picture

Yes, the fall is all that is left.

Hell, the U.S. leadership in D.C. and Wall Street sold out the entire populace for short-term gains back in the early 70's.

Then, they sold us out for the banksters, insurers, the corporatocracy.

We are the flea-bitten tapeworm infested hogs for sausage.

This is just the dying gasps of the faithful.

What do people not get?


Raging Debate's picture

Ebworthwen - Go where? The Counciil of Nine, the Rothschild's rule the globe. Took a few hundred years but they did it.

I prefer to be like the Romans that moved to the outskirts of the cities and try to add value at a local level, educate a bit online for those with an ear so they don't get overtaxed or used as cannon fodder for corporate profits be it banking, food, energy or health monopolies.

I don't feel like learning Chinese and living there. Nothing against them personally. Where are the wealthiest investing now. Here. In America. Labor compared to output is a steal now. The Chinese leadership know they must go through a depression while America is at the tail end of ours. assets are due for correction, but I don't think this will shake out until about 2016. Maybe sooner but I am in no hurry to be stocks. There is more opportunity here in America for at least the next decade then China in my opinion.

The IMF stated clearly what I have for years about China becoming the reserve currency peg. ZH posted this article from the IMF. They said China is defacto the peg and converting therr currency into the Yuan because they can.

As for me, I knew that because I follow the money. I need not be a genius to have figured it out. The trade imbalancing needed to start in 2005. It didn't. Those at the top make the most profit from imbalance and then by forcing taxes higher to subsidize losses and meeping gains. That is not capitalism. Risk and reward or risk and chance of failure is capitalism. Then in 2008 was the great looting of the treasury and bailouts. Laws that say government can kill you if you push reform to hard outside of what they permit. They got the dough while the dollar still has some value and dropped it into hard assets.

Those that have the peg are in charge of policing global trade. No, we are not going to just print anymore. Hyperinflation means certain revolution and the end of the private Federal Reserve franchise in America. It is still a $12 T economy which is huge. China seems about the same real GDP now. I do not think Rothschild's want dead customers. However, if the people revolt here I wouldn't be surprised to see Russia be a willing instrument of destruction to bring the proles in line.

The $500 B in military cuts will happen. So are healthcare cuts now along with social benefits. Ask some Medicare folks what happens if they need painkillers for example at a hospital.

The only thing I agree with on this article is that shifting the baton to China creates international security risks. Not everybody gets the memo.
Then there are betrayels of those that suppose themselves gods or those that play along while plotting revenge, to serve it up cold or try and take a bigger slice of power than assigned to them.

The problem with bankers owning the world is that they make loans, they don't like to make plans for organic growth. When they bought governments and got there way globally technically conquering the globe they doomed themselves because governments have to relearn how to basically get out of the way for the people to restart that organic growth and the corrupt dont want to hand the reigns off to anybody else in the population. Installing laws of further control is the opposite of supporting organic growth. There is a time for growth in lending, the money multiplier says when to go and when to stop. They are mostly sociopaths, the puppets in governments.

Mexican stand-offs at the top will happen. The little guy has nothing left to be looted, the big go after each other.

I don't the exact details as to how all this will unfold, just a macro outline. I just hedge and try to have a little fun, help a few when I can and for those with an ear. Teach a man to fish type philosophy.

Evolution will do the rest and the Rothschild's are at the end of the day investors. Investors even clever ones often in history don't realize that "this time is different". If I were them (I am a reformed sociopath took me my entire life to fight it) I would build Sim City for the global population and let them do all the work and distribute power more widely, a four dimensional model. More customers but less skim. Same profits. Models are tools no different than a hammer. Tools reflect our minds - where we are in evolution (near the end). Attempting to continue a monarchy, a pyramid is pissing against evolution and will force change unto them as opposed as a choice to flow with it. Hubris tends to blind such. Anyways, this commentary is getting long in the tooth. Perhaps I provided food for thought.

williambanzai7's picture

I said Hegemoron not hegemon!

Ralph Spoilsport's picture

Cardinal Richelieu probably didn't have culinary hegemony in mind when he helped invent the modern dinner knife in 1637.

jeff montanye's picture

War is one of the scourges with which it has pleased God to afflict men.

Cardinal Richelieu

CrashisOptimistic's picture

This is that worthless diplomat blog again that lives in the 20th century world of infinite oil.

TheReplacement's picture

War is but a symptom of the scourge.

Greenskeeper_Carl's picture

I wish we were doing literally NONE of the things this guy is talking about

jeff montanye's picture

or as grant williams notes, "I think the Achilles’ heel of the West is the politicians."

Aussiekiwi's picture

Its a real pity, once upon a time countries used to look up to the US for moral leadership,  that concept now seems hilarious.

Anusocracy's picture

Judging by history, they were foolish in doing so.

james.connolly's picture

When was that pray tell?

Another narrative bullshit mythology.

Prior to WW2 the USA was a plantation colony that had gone industrial, but still 4R's on the level of an African Colony, nobody ever respected the USA, it was once a RICH young country, like Canada, or Austrailia. But the USA was looted a long time of ago.

One only need study HL MENCKEN in the 1930's and understand how EUROPE really saw the US morons that ran the US government, hell even Tocqueville in 1860's laid it all out, and it was never contested, it was always a known-kwown that USA leadership was 100% bullshit.

Keyser's picture

And just how would you rate the leadership of the EU these days? 

GeorgeHayduke's picture

"But if the declining hegemon is careful in its strategic choices..."

I'm not holding out much hope for this possibility from politicians of either party, or any new parties that might arise as the denizens of the US want their Morning in America to continue forever.

jeff montanye's picture

my favorite: "and if other powers take into account its real interests and need for prestige"

well which is it?

holdbuysell's picture

History. Repeat it will. Is the US military stretched too thin or is there a higher power orchestrating how countries behave? Maybe both.

Regardless, sometimes the managed decline of the US seems too contrived.

nmewn's picture

lol...hey Obama!..."The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

Petard meet hoist ;-)

TheReplacement's picture

Are you kidding?  The man is brilliant.  He can say something as asinine as that and win the election.  This is even after the ridiculous "reset" fiasco and all the warning signs like assassinations, Georgia, not to mention some of the statements Putin has made about contesting with the west.  Even to this day Obama has the MSM cornered to the point that he simply isn't called on such an obvious and crucially important f-up.  Instead we find out about his eating habits and robot relationships. 

Brilliant!  People said Hitler had the Germans under his spell but he really didn't screw up for a long time - until he opened the 2nd front.  By that time he'd been in power for about 10 years and had conquered most of Europe.  Obama screws up almost hourly and is still getting away without even a question.  There are no black/brown shirts out in the streets enforcing his will either.  His control is much more subtle than Hitler's.

TuPhat's picture

Obama is not in control of anything.  He is just a tool.  He's not the sharpest tool in the shed either.

nmewn's picture doubt.

Putins boys are firing off real live bullets inside europe and O'Barry & Co. are firing off strongly worded tweets in their general direction...from Japan, its a sort of, smart power-reset button-selfie-imagery thingy we've all come to know and love.

#BigFatMeaniePants...or sumpin ;-)

don in maine's picture

What would you do if your wife and daughters were held hostage?  A bit like Teresa Heinz having a mysterious seizure and Kerry becomes a war hawk.  Tools that are afraid to step out of line.

I Write Code's picture

Obama's stated position has always been that the US should not be a hegemon, that it's evil and colonial to be a hegemon, that we should just be another country in the world, kumbaya.  I don't really have any principled objection to that.  The problem is the US became an accidental hegemon, even after WWII when we were (for a time) the only atomic power and then the greatest, Europe at least tried to contribute to the effort, once they rebuilt immediately after the war.  And Japan was at least a friend of sorts and didn't cause any trouble.  But since about the 1980s Europe has retired from the field, leaving the US all alone.  We don't have the resources to be world hegemon forever, especially when it is always going to be a thankless job, every other country telling us we're too harsh, we're not harsh enough, yada yada.

When U.S. President Barack Obama took office, he found that global power had subtly but irreversibly shifted in a way that reflected the new features of the international system.

Say what?  He didn't "find" anything that wasn't blatently obvious to all, see above.  He purposely pulled the US back from many military efforts.  This may be brilliant, or it may be a colossal mistake, or both.  But the external environment has been roughly the same for over twenty years.  Of course Obama may have closed his mind twenty-one years ago, judging from his sophomoric knowledge about pretty much everything.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

Yeah, Obama also promised change and all we've really seen are W's 3rd and 4th terms when it comes to foreign policy, and most domestic ones for that matter.