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Life at the End of American Empire (lithub.com)
83 points by vo2maxer 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

It’s funny that the author on one hand acknowledges that the government sucks at everything it does, whether it’s education, infrastructure, or health insurance. He also acknowledges that the federal government has a tendency to constantly engage in costly foreign wars regardless of who happens to be in office. Yet his proposed solution is to give the government even more money and even more power.

Thus, ironically, the problem for both the right and the left is the same one- that governments today are too weak. The right needs an at least temporarily strong government to effect the dismantling of the state, whereas the left needs a strong government not merely to respond to the grinding conditions of the economic “recovery”, but to overturn previous policies, put in new protections and find some alternative to the current political and economic order. Dark enlightenment types and progressives are confronting the same frustration while having diametrically opposed goals. It is not so much that Washington is too powerful as it is that the power it has is embedded in a system, which, as Mark Leibovich portrays brilliantly, is feckless and corrupt.


The idea of using "temporary" power to effect the dismantling of structures of power was appealing to Sulla, too. Fortunately for him, he died before seeing Julius Caesar follow his precedent to establish Rome as an empire, and Caesar himself as emperor for life.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.

This honestly reads as "working as intended" to me. No side can become the tyrant and get everything it wants and screw the other ~50%.

I don’t think the intention was to never solve anything though.

This is really just my opinion, but I think the intention is to solve problems when there is consensus.

seems to me like subcultural-ideology (frankly puerile and overly simplistic) intended to set-up a more robust (still) unrepresented ideology summed up as "just do what the algoritm/computer system tells you to do". i.e. the super-king they want will speak to them through their phones.

Yeah, this article's attempt to explain the Dark Enlightenment subculture is interesting on its own, and deserves its own post. But I also find the author's description of the current problems of the age (and thus gives rise to these radical movements) compelling. It's the same world that the OP is describing.

Good luck with that. The system does have the one power to do something- to self-perpetuate in its feckless and corrupt upholding of the status quo. Neither party wants constitutional change that could actually change the system at a fundamental level.

The government doesn’t suck at everything it does, the problem is that people still believe that the government works for them. The wars objective is not to “win” but to create the need for the military infrastructure, same as the healthcare system primary objective is not healing people but to create the need for itself.

I think a good way to balance or engage better performance out of whoever is in office is to completely rid the federal tax. All people will pay their state tax, and the local/state government will be responsible to provide the federal government money out of the state pool. I think it will drastically change 1) how much the federal government can spend 2) What it gets spent on because the states would much rather keep that money pool to spend internally.

Endless wars would change. Infrastructure would be a larger discussion, etc...

An added benefit of getting rid of federal taxes in favor of state or local taxes is that taxes get less coercive the more decentralized your get.

It's very easy to move from one town to another if you don't like how the local government is running things. It's a hassle, but very possible to move from one state to another. However, moving from the U.S. to another country is incredibly difficult for most people.

it would definitely shift the power balance back to the states. As it is, a large portion of the power the federal government exhibits over the states is threatening to withhold money.

I recommend studying the current European Union then. This is pretty much the status quo over here. And yes, it ensures that the states have way more power. But make your own conclusions.

"Any single defeat can be attributed to particular and ad hoc circumstances, but America is unique among the world’s dominant powers of the past 500 years in its repeated failure to achieve military objectives over decades. Those failures are even more extraordinary because they occurred in the absence of a rising military rival and as America’s ability and willingness to produce and pay for the weapons needed for military supremacy remained undiminished."

Yes. That's extremely important. Vietnam was the US's first total loss, and the US hasn't had a successful outcome since then. The US blew the endgame in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and, most importantly, in Russia after the Cold War.

What went wrong?

After WWII, the US had confidence in its own system of government, and imposed it on Germany and Japan with a sizable occupation force. It worked.

The US underfunded the post-war period of round one in Afghanistan, after kicking the Soviets out. In Iraq, the occupation was botched. Paul Bremer is generally blamed for this.[1]

Blowing the aftermath of a war leads to big trouble. See: WWI.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bremer#Criticism_and_cont...

"...as America’s ability and willingness to produce and pay for the weapons needed for military supremacy remained undiminished."

I don't think the real objective is to win any war. Instead, it has been to ever-expand the defense budget. Given this, it has been a success.

This analysis is only partially correct, but it echoes what is the (mostly) prevailing wisdom of the last couple years about "what went wrong".

To start, we actually did have a success: Gulf War I. It was an overwhelming victory, with extensive enemy casualties and minimal allied losses. It's strategic significance was not what it did to the US position in the Middle East however, but rather what it did to the General Officer Corps after the fact. All of the Cold War battle drills had worked exactly as planned (giant tank battles in open terrain, with CAS on station to mop up any stragglers). If you think for a moment about the kind of conformation bias that proliferated after that, then not having much of a post-game in the following wars makes a little more sense.

Also, we didn't really impose "our" system of government on Germany and Japan, but rather grafted aspects of it onto their existing infrastructure, occupied them for a long time to ensure that those aspects were set in stone over a generation, and then essentially kicked them out of the nest when they were ready to fly in orbit around a US-led Bipolar world.

Thus, the difference with Iraq II and Afghanistan after the invasions is not that we "botched" it, but more so that the coordination mechanisms in place in societies like 1940s Germany and Japan didn't exist in Iraq and Afghanistan (I'll caveat this by saying this is much more true for Afghanistan than it is for Iraq. Iraq had a mostly modern economy, with functional hierarchies of government and civil service, but was very cultrually distant from the US in ways that set it apart from Germany and Japan). Meaning, it was just straight up easier to do these kinds of things in Germany and Japan, overwhelming victory aside. I don't think I need to go into a detailed history of Afghanistan to illustrate why.

The real "problem" is that we don't have a clear understanding of what the hell we should be using this military for anymore, after the Cold War ended.

No clear understanding and no willingness to accept the outcome created by ones actions. And thus invest the time, resources and political will to stay in those countries for multiple generations to ensure they have a chance at building up a modern democratic society.

It’s not immediately clear to me that a) that expenditure is worth it for the outcome and b) that a “modern democratic society” is indeed ideal for that part of the world.

The US has had plenty of moral lapses in its military adventures, but one suspects that the powers of the past 500 years would have been far more willing to obliterate entire nations without concern for civilians.

> The US has had plenty of moral lapses in its military adventures, but one suspects that the powers of the past 500 years would have been far more willing to obliterate entire nations without concern for civilians.

Simply not true. There was a reason why european wars were fought in the fields and not in cities/population centers in the past. Also, past powers tended to conquer nations/cities in order to subjugate the population for exploitation. After all, humans were valuable resources back then. It is very rare that a military/government/nation would simply choose to exterminate the inhabitants of a continent ( 100 or so native nations that were wiped out ) or set entire cities full of civilians ablaze ( dresden, tokyo ) and nuke two civilian cities ( hiroshima, nagasaki ).

Pretty much the US and our side kick britain are the only ones to be guilty of the first two. We are still the only ones guilty of the 3rd.

But precedents being set, your assertion is likely to be truer in the future. I suspect that in the next 500 years, powers would be more willing to obliterate entire nations without concern for civilians, especially if technology and automation make humans a less valuable commodity.

I appreciate your comment (and didn't downvote you). What I wrote does not enjoy the benefit of citations, which I don't have handy.

My point wasn't that these things don't happen, just that we maybe, just _maybe_ have slightly more compunction about killing tens of millions of people at the push of a button (which we can now do) than someone from 1665 would. Would Oliver Cromwell have just nuked Ireland? I imagine his hand would have been stayed only by the thought of all the ruined grazing land.

But, of course, I could be wrong. I don't think humans are inherently better now than 500 years ago. And the 20th century has a grab bag of atrocities to choose from.

> What I wrote does not enjoy the benefit of citations, which I don't have handy.

It's something that's uncitable so I don't think anyone holds that against you. It's really a discussion on human nature. I can't cite anything to defend my position either.

> Would Oliver Cromwell have just nuked Ireland?

Though he was a religious zealot who did bad things in ireland, I doubt he'd nuke the entire irish peoples - certainly not the protestants. Also, technically, ireland was part of his domain/kingdom back then. Cromwell would probably have nuked the kings and leaders, but not the people. Just like jefferson davis would have nuked lincoln and the union leaders, but not the american/northern people.

> But, of course, I could be wrong. I don't think humans are inherently better now than 500 years ago.

I agree, but I think societal norms and beliefs guide how we behave and think - not just in civilian life but in military and political life. I think human beings are just as evil and selfish as in the 1800s, but most of us wouldn't support racial slavery. I don't think we are innately better than we were 150 years ago as human beings. Deep down we are the same, but the societal mores has changed. Particularly the scientific white supremacy which allowed for total genocide ( men, women and children ) in much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

I don't think cromwell would have seen a school with 1000 kindegarten irish kids and nuked it. But the US and Britain certainly would have if it were 1000 native kids and nazi germany would nuked 1000 jewish kids.

I suspect in the future, once a real war begins, nobody will think twice about civilian casualties as the precedent has been set and the stakes would be so high. Most importantly, nobody responsible for nuking hiroshima or nagasaki was prosecuted. Nobody responsible for dresden or tokyo was prosecuted. The lesson is that no matter what, you have to be on the winning side. But only time will tell.

You may also add Germany to the first two ...

I'm sure you'd find a strong dissent to your argument from the numerous peoples who were the first inhabitants of North America.

> After WWII, the US had confidence in its own system of government, and imposed it on Germany and Japan with a sizable occupation force.

Neither Germany or Japan's governments are modeled after the US system of government.


We helped impose a system of government in both nations after ww2, but neither is our system of government. They have a lot of similar parts, but it isn't our system of government.

> It worked.

The marshall plan worked in germany. As for japan, they didn't receive any marshall plan. It wasn't until the korean war that "it worked" for japan. But both germany and japan were major modern powers before ww2 so they would have reverted back to it if left to their devises. The US didn't create the success in germany or japan, the germans and japanese did that themselves.

> The US underfunded the post-war period of round one in Afghanistan, after kicking the Soviets out. In Iraq, the occupation was botched. Paul Bremer is generally blamed for this.[1]

No amount of funding was going to save afghanistan. The same goes for iraq. You need a nationalistic centralized power to stabilize and grow a nation - especially a war torn one. Something Germany and Japan had and aghanistan and iraq don't.

> Blowing the aftermath of a war leads to big trouble. See: WWI.

Aghanistan and Iraq wars are nothing like WW1. Nearly 40 million people died in WW1 and it involved all the great powers at the time. WW1 and WW2 are fairly unique went it comes to wars. Maybe vietnam or algeria are better comparisons, but even then, aghanistan and iraq are not even vietnam or algeria.

For the US, the iraq and afghan wars were more skirmishes than wars. The military casualties are 4,497 and 2,216 respectively.


To put this into perspective, quite a few cities in the US experienced more gun related homicides than the US military did in iraq or afghanistan. So nothing like ww1.

I'd say the US's first total loss was the Civil War. The North didn't really win. 100 years of Klan terror should be enough proof, not to mention the continuing rule of the South by landowning oligarchs who keep the place a festering corrupt shithole.

This wasn't even remotely what the Civil war was fought over. It was a struggle against the Federal government system from DC imposing themselves over states rights in the South. Also, you might get more reception for your ideas if you don't paint half the country as a "festering shithole". The majority of Americans don't live in the ivory towers of NYC and San Francisco.

The South's own declarations of secession make pretty clear just what impositions from DC were bothering them. A bunch of English-aristocrat-wannabes afraid they'd have to give up their aspirations on account of the whole owning-people-thing.

The Soviets were kicked out by the Taliban. How could a democracy be started with them? How can you make the Iraqi fractions live together if there is oil money to be distributed? How do you conquer Russia if they have nuclear weapons and still plenty of tanks?

> The Soviets were kicked out by the Taliban

No, they weren't. The Taliban didn't exist until much later, the group that the Soviets were forced out by became the government and then later fragmented into a number of different factions. The Taliban was one of them, but so were many of the factions fighting against the Taliban.

> The Soviets were kicked out by the Taliban

The Taliban got their weapons and training from the US, all funded by the Saudis, orchestrated by a congressman [1] and oil heiress from Texas. The history is well known at this point.

> How could a democracy be started with them?

Democracy was probably never a goal in the effort, certainly not for the Saudis, and not for the Taliban or the US either. Weakening the USSR through bloodshed and drain of resources.

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson_(Texas_politi...

So Afghanistan was a victory and not a loss.

The Afghan war waged by the mujahideen (whose Pashto faction became the Taliban) against the USSR, funded by the Saudis, with arms supplied by the US was definitely a victory: The USSR retreated and Afghanistan became a theocratic state.

If you mean a victory for democracy or human rights, then definitely no, but that was never the goal.

Short term yes, but long term?

The Marshall Plan cost $202 billion, inflation adjusted, going to 16 different countries.

The US spent $133 billion on nation building, just in Afghanistan alone. $3,800 for every man, woman and child.

Whatever went wrong in Afghanistan, it wasn't from lack of money.

American pride won't save this country from long-term trends. Before any meaningful change can be made, the "we're the best" attitude has to go. Sometime in the next 2 decades China is gonna put a man on Mars before the US, I can't wait to see the shocked faces

Would you be disappointed if there are no shocked faces? Anti-intellectualism is a disturbing modern trend.

the Soviet Union got to space first and then what good did that do?

I’ll be shocked when the American president sends her daughter to study in China, or when the British monarchy starts exiling to China.

America got great by sending the children of the elite to Holland for college.

I share frustration with many of the issues that the author discusses. But I disagree completely with his thesis. I am profoundly optimistic about our future.

The individual liberties provided by the Constitution empower each of us to speak our minds, share ideas, and start/join movements. We have the power to elect our representatives, and have an independent judiciary to push back against corruption. The average quality of life here is higher than in almost any other place on Earth, and no other country can compare to ours in terms of diversity of thought, culture, and ethnicity.

Look, I understand that there are real, serious problems with our institutions and our economy. The beautiful thing about the United States though is that our political system allows for solutions to be discussed, proposed, and adopted. The biggest threats I see to the United States are not unique to us: climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and global unrest/poverty.

> no other country can compare to ours in terms of diversity of thought

So long as your thought is within culturally accepted norms. Otherwise, American companies will happily chase you completely off the internet, sometimes with the force of American law (it’s frankly scarier when they do it without being forced by law).

I hear talk of the end of the American empire often, but I see issues like healthcare and education as superfluous in the face of a few underlying trends that provide the basis for another American century.

Healthcare reform is something we already have the levers to execute through government policy, and I believe it will happen during the next financial crisis along with entitlement reform.

On the other hand, there are certain trends that there are no obvious ways to reverse, namely demographic decline, geographic dominance, and technological innovation.

When you consider the decline of America in the face of China, for example, consider that China faces a far more serious demographic issue, and as Russia teaches us, it is almost impossible to grow economically during such a period. America's birth rate, however, is 1.8 births per woman with immigration putting the country into a healthy range.

Geographically, American is set up between the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic. If global warming does hit the arctic hard, we will have access to the arctic ocean via Alaska, whereas China and other regional super powers will not. In terms of energy, raw resources, and land America is also looking at self sufficiency for the next century to come.

Technologically, America draws on the best universities in the world, with cities that have external economies of scale so large that they will be hard to displace (ie SV, NYC, Boston). Not to mention we have an engrained culture that affirms those who experiment and forgives those who fail. In the technological sense I think America will succeed also.

Instead of looking at this as the end of America, I think people need to recognize that we face extraordinary problems, which we can overcome. In my own opinion, I think the highest order offence against the American people is American business co-opting the government, and as soon as we work this out, we will have a better ability to overcome issues of healthcare, education, etc.

Yet another cold, miserable, accurate report on the state of affairs. They're always 90% about the problems, 10% on what we could do, only if.

We need leadership committed to picking something that needs doing and then doing it. Stat. Two teams pulling in opposite directions aren't moving the ball. Without a third? It's over.

> ...the prevalence of poor health [in America] is on par with the former Soviet-bloc states of Central and Eastern Europe

This claim seems tough to believe, but I suppose part of it does depend on what you classify as 'poor health'. If anyone knows sources that back up this claim, I'd be interested to read them.

Why do you think it's tough to believe?

Because America has some of the best healthcare outcomes in the world


Being in the top 10-15 is great. But that ranking comes with a price tag roughly double the other highest ranking nations. Not to mention the financial ruin and bankruptcies experienced by some survivors, and the financial pressure experienced by virtually everyone that has to engage heavily with our healthcare system.

And there are other metrics to consider. The US is 35th in life expectancy and falling farther behind. And we have notoriously bad rates of maternal and infant mortality compared to other wealthy nations.

I've heard before that it's a split distribution. The quality of healthcare & outcomes in the US is some of the worst in the world, if you are poor. It's some of the best in the world, if you are rich. Or so I've been told.

For example I was taught that a big part of why our maternal mortality is high, is because new mothers who are poor do not or cannot follow up with their doctor in the days after release from the hospital if something isn't right, e.g. when bleeding fresh blood instead of clotting. Visits to the doctor are expensive, and various barriers (such as language) may have prevented them from being educated on when to come back for help.

Absolutely. If you slice up the demographics in the right way you could find very large populations in the US that have among the best health outcomes anywhere in the world, such as the entirety of New England.

Im not saying it's good compared to other wealthy nations, the initial comparison was to the soviet union

Cancer and cardiovascular disease outcomes are a strange way to measure how much of the population is in poor health, especially when US life expectancy has fallen for three years straight, more than half the country is obese or overweight, and it has the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world. None of that even remotely implies good health.

Im not saying it is a great healthcare system, just that it isn't so bad as to be comparable to the soviet union. At any rate, life expectancy also seems like a strange way to measure the health care system. To measure the health of the general population sure, but we're talking about the healthcare system, and I don't think that those who actively destroy their bodies via drugs or junk food are giving us an accurate picture of the real efficacy of the system. That being said if you want to look at those deaths and say the healthcare system isn't doing enough for them - then fair enough. I would just look at something like decreasing life expectancy caused by suicides and opioids and say maybe this has something to do with wealth inequality rather than the efficacy of our healthcare.

As other commenters have pointed out, life expectancy is only one variable in measuring the quality of a healthcare system.

As an example, due to Europe's propensity for biking and walking relative to the US, that certainly has a positive effect on life expectancy.

Another example would be the high caloric diets of many Americans. This exists for historical reasons (see: the history of fried chicken and its relationship to the South) and for economic reasons (those in poverty disproportionately consume cheap and high-calorie diets).

Neither of these are related to the quality or availability of health coverage, but instead, are infrastructure / sociological issues.

Large amounts of obesity.

This is a well written article, covering a lot of the issues currently facing the country. It's something I think about occasionally, and the opinion I think I've eventually come to is that while it's nice to think of ourselves as the top in the world in many aspects, it's okay to contract a bit and let the empire shrink back. He often compares to Europe and China, who are in different stages of what might be the naturally progression of global powers. Europe had its world supreme phase, with several nations being eligible for best in the world at different points. Post-WWII, they (for one reason or another) scaled back and now have the high quality of living we see today. China is where the US was 50 years ago, with rapid, grandiose projects and economic success. But eventually those structures will crumble as they are in the US and they will be where we are now.

I'm not sure what will happen. I think standards will continue to slip while politicians play more into more into the "America #1" card until it finally isn't feasible to do so. I don't think there will be a glorious revolution or anything, more like economic downturn changing the political layout slowly, causing even the giant corporate actors to go bust. Eventually America will scale back until it reaches the equilibrium that Europe is closer to reaching.

I'm not yet at the point of starting a family, but when the time approaches I'm going to seriously consider other, more functional societies as places to do so.

What's keeping you from considering those other societies now? Why wait until you're starting a family?

For most people: economic opportunity. Which is itself a funny thing because it at least seems like the more socially progressive a place is the less opportunity there is to gain financial success quickly, so you end up with this weird situation where people want to have their cake and eat it too by working in the US for 10-15 years and then moving elsewhere.

It's good enough right now as a healthy, single, affluent working adult. Or at least, it's not bad enough to consider leaving behind family and friends. But if I had to think about a child's future, as well as my own increasing healthcare needs later in life, combined with the fact that the societal problems are only getting worse the longer time goes on, the equation may well work out differently.

But if it’s good for you now, wouldn’t it be good for your kids at that same stage in the future?

I think about this too - The grass seems cheaper & healthier on the other side sometimes, but the economic advantages of the US are impressive

Moving to a new country is hard. Moving a family to a new country is exponentially harder. If you were seriously contemplating starting a new life in a new country then the best time to do it is before you get married and start having kids. You should even be thinking of marrying someone local so you have extended family to help with the kids.

Tech flows downstream from Burgerstan.

I think one factor that many people underestimate in the decline in any country or empire is the cost of brownfield projects versus greenfield projects.

For example, building a new town/city and its infrastructure is dirt cheap relative to fixing and replacing existing infrastructure. This is not unlike the cost of maintaining software and refactoring it versus writing it in the first place.

With a new greenfield city land, labor is relatively cheap because the cost of living is relatively cheap. There are also no entrenched interests that will engage in legal battles every step of the way. There are also no citizens whose you have to continue to support while you create the new replacement infrastructure and you have none of the complexities of migration from old infrastructure to new infrastructure.

Besides their authoritarian bent, these are some of the many reasons a country like China is getting stuff done while the US and Europe gets relatively little done.

The author presents a long list of laments (some reasonable, some comically oblivious in that way that only older college professors are capable of) but appears to regret the one thing that will actually improve any of them: the falling of the American Empire.

Why do you think that "the falling of the American Empire" would actually fix any of these issues?

When one power falls another takes it place. You can be objectively critical of the United States, but if you think the Chinese, Russians, or whomever else may be ascendant 20 years from now is going to "improve things", you're being very naive.

Living long doesn't mean living well. Spending more doesn't mean spending well.

Instead of counting the dollars spent, we should begin measuring outcome. May be that will solve the problem.

This kind of diatribe is so easy to spot. The author starts with a premise and carefully selects facts to support his opinion. I lost interest when he lauded the construction of dams during the New Deal. Most of these dams are environmental disasters and will probably be removed.

is the U.S really declining or others are just catching up?

Good read. America today looks like the crumpling world described by Ayn Rand in `Atlass Shrugged`. Ironically the reason of this downfall is the adoption of naive form of capitalism that Ayn Rand popularized.

america doesn’t have Laissez-faire capitalism.

A long list of poor arguments.

"America is unique among the world’s dominant powers of the past 500 years in its repeated failure to achieve military objectives over decades."

Not even close.

"The US war in Korea had an ambiguous result"

50M relatively prosperous South Koreans would beg to differ.

"Vietnam was a clear defeat" Also not.

'Life expectancy' is a very poor measure of the healthcare system etc..

It goes on.

You're not presenting rebuttals for any of the arguments. You're just disagreeing. Could you offer explanations of how the war in Vietnam was not a clear defeat, or how a healthcare system could be measured in a better way than citizen life expectancy?

Though it isn't popular to notice, the US left South Vietnam in a decent military and political position analogous to South Korea. Congress later cut them off from aid guaranteeing they would fall, because ... I dunno Watergate or something. I guess you could argue that was a failure, but the military did its job as well as could be expected at the time.

I ain't gonna touch the health care thing.

Why would it behove me to validate a position when the author clearly could not bother himself?

He offered no evidence for many of his claims, certainly nothing to support his line of reasoning that 'life expectancy is short ergo health care is bad'.

Every verse a canard.

These kinds of articles pop up every year or so in the New Yorker, NYT, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy - I have (we have) been reading them since I was a teenager.

But for your convenience:

1) 'life expectancy' is a function of violence (young people dying in violence pulls averages a lot), general health and lifestyle choices, and finally healthcare.

Americans are violent, and they have very poor diets, and are sedentary - this is the 'big differentiator' in health outcomes.

But the lie is worse, because the quality of healthcare in the United States (for those who have it) is actually very high - it's the best in the world. I've received mid-level healthcare services in four modern nations including the US, and it's clear the US is by far 'the best' system in most ways, obviously, except for cost, and coverage.

Whatever problem it is that you have, chances are almost 100% that you're better off in America than anywhere else - with the presumption you can afford it, of course, but most people can, just not all.

2) The author also misrepresented the nature of 'cost' in American healthcare. When healthcare is socialised, costs are limited and regulated, of course the government is going to ultimately 'spend less' per capita. In Canada, it's literally illegal to pay a doctor to provide you almost any service. If it were legal for citizens to buy health services, spending would increase dramatically.

And then of course is the completely dysfunctional insurance system - but it's been that way for quite a long time: 'expensive healthcare' is not a sign of 'American decline'. It's a perrenial sign of 'screwed up capitalism'.

3) This one is basically ridiculous: "America is unique among the world’s dominant powers of the past 500 years in its repeated failure to achieve military objectives over decades."

Literally the opposite is true: the English, French, Spaniards, Hapbsbourgs, Swedish, Russians, Chinese etc. - everyone of them had material military setbacks among their successes.

More specifically: North Korea invaded the South, and from 5000 miles away, the Americans were able to ultimately re-establish - and hold - the integrity of the South. South Korea, along with Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (all Anglo-American protectorates to one degree or another) are shinning examples of prosperity in Asia.

4) Vietnam is very poorly misunderstood no thanks to a lot of bad movies and misleading documentaries. The Americans, with some effort, were able to hold South Vietnam free from Communist overthrow. They pummelled the North into submission at great cost to human life. This was in the early 1970's long after the US withdrew the majority of its forces, and casualties had been reduced to a trickle compared to the 10's of thousands of dead in 1968. The war was essentially over.

Domestic policy, and a 'war wary' US public demanded withdrawal , even after establishing a fairly hard-won peace. After the US fully withdrew from Vietnam, the North regrouped, and then trounced the South. If America were to have left the relatively small number of troops in Vietnam - again with almost all conflict having ceased i.e. very few casualties - S. Vietnam might resemble, at least somewhat, the S. Korea of today.

This was not a 'failure' - it was 'folly'. Though it was probably a bad choice to invade, it was also a bad choice to fully withdraw.

Just as Americans were far too willing to invade Iraq (a mistake), Barack Obama's decision to withdraw when he did was also a mistake, driven at least to some extent by populism. Literally the day after US troops withdrew, Iraqi PM Malaki purged his government of Sunni rivals, causing a 'political civil war' which started to get violent, leaving the Sunni areas more afraid of Iraqi Government Troops (i.e. Shia) - and so the Sunni tribes allowed ... guess who (!?) to move in: ISIS! They literally felt they would be safer under the Iraqi branch of ISIS. Of course, with US troops gone, Iran was free to meddle directly in Iraqi affairs, which leads to 'Sulimani in Iraq'.

Were Obama to have left only 15K soldiers, sitting safely 'behind the wire', not doing much, he could have maintained leverage over the Iraqi government and required them to compromise. Instead - it fell apart.

ISIS would have remained a Syrian phenom, and not entered Iraq. Iran would have had a much harder time in Iraq than the free hand they have today.

But this 'debacle in Iraq' is not remotely a sign of 'waning American power'. The opposite! America in 2003 rolled through Iraq in three weeks. It was one of the most astonishing and spectacular victories in world history. Never has a 'world power' been able to walk across the planet, steamroll over a major nation and obliterate a large military force so quickly. That the Americans were not able to quell subsequent local violence and insurgencies isn't a failure, I don't think anyone could have done this.

American actions in Iraq demonstrated folly, not American incapacity.

With drone capabilities, a global presence, it's pretty incredible (for better or worse) what American power can do in 2020.

5) 'Education'. Again, very misrepresentative.

The US is ahead of most of the world in terms of the % of it's population it sends to College. [1] Germany has 'free Uni' but only about 25% get to go. In the US, it's a lot more. The US still has most of the best Universities, that's not changing.

There is ample data to demonstrate that most test scores in the US are generally going up over time, with some bumps here and there [2].

The gap between White and Latino/African American has also been shrinking over time.

6) Inequality. Though inequality is an increasing problem in some ways, it's not an American phenom. Europe generally has the same problem, and it's all offset by the fact that overall, people's lives are improving and certain kinds of toxic inequality - like racial divisions, are narrowing. The gap between White/Black/Latino incomes is also narrowing, as it is in education.


If the author would bother to look at some data, he might be able to characterises the issue of 'American decline' a little better by putting it in context: even as the American economy grows at a reasonable pace, 'the rest of the world' is coming along quickly.

America is not 'losing', rather, the rest of the world is just starting to 'win'.

This is the 'big picture' chart that sets the tone for what is happening [3].

And more generally [4]

There are vast quantities of 'new economic citizens' in this world, and a couple billion coming out of deep poverty.

This, and in particular the rise of China obviously that is really the dynamic that changes America's context vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

America has many problems, but it's not 'in decline', far from it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tertiary_...

[2] https://www.brookings.edu/research/2018-brown-center-report-...

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2016/02/29/u-s-role-...


A couple of unrelated comments:

> Why would it behove me to validate a position when the author clearly could not bother himself?

The author wrote a book. This article is an excerpt. (It's really an ad for the book.) You can't expect it to give the whole case for the author's position; the book does that. This just gives a flavor of where the book is going.

Why should you do different? Maybe because you want us to believe you. (I'm talking about your original post. This post clearly shows that you bothered to validate your position.)

> That the Americans were not able to quell subsequent local [Iraqi] violence and insurgencies isn't a failure, I don't think anyone could have done this.

I think we could have. It just would have taken an occupation on the level of what we did with Germany and Japan - maybe 300,000 to 500,000 troops for 10 to 15 years, rebuilding a functioning government, training politicians in how to function within that government, training the population that they could resolve disputes within the government system, and that they now had something worth keeping. We didn't want to do that; we tried to occupy Iraq "on the cheap", and the result was disastrous.

> America has many problems, but it's not 'in decline', far from it.

I think that the "decline" is in political will. The American people are no longer willing to accept a war of mass casualties. They aren't willing to restrain either politicians or corporations. They don't view the nation as an "us", but rather as an "us" and a "them", at war with each other. That may be a less disastrous decline, and more reversible, but it's still rather concerning.

The income gap may be one thing but the future wealth trends between black and white families are sorely depressing.

Thank you for taking the time to reply in such amazing detail. It is seriously appreciated. I'll have a thorough read and do some link chasing this evening.


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