BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
An End to Sentiment
America’s political elite believes that the United States–specifically, President Donald Trump–is destroying the liberal capitalist, democratic world order that they’ve spent the last 70 years assiduously building. While our purported “betters” in America’s foreign policy community are right to note the decline of the American-led “Liberal International Order,” they are, as always, a day-late-and-several-dollars-short. The decline of this “order” wasn’t President Donald Trump’s fault. In fact, it was the fault of the last four American presidents–and the overall democratic globalist elite running the country–who allowed for the severe conditions we are living through today to come about. Back in the post-Cold War period, Americans deluded themselves into believing that history had ended and the world was made anew in the warm glow of the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, that was not to be. At the very same time that the United States had its “unipolar moment,” its leadership (and we, the American people ostensibly) went soft on the concept of investing in the technologies and capabilities that would have allowed the United States to transmute that “unipolar moment” into a unipolar era.
Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and legendary tech investor, loves to say that we in the West got very good at building up the world of bits, but ignored the world of atoms–to our own peril (if I might add). Similarly, David P. Goldman (a.k.a. “Spengler”) has chastised Americans for having diverted its focus on developing–and maintaining–the industries and capabilities that catapulted the United States to victory over the Soviet Union (capabilities that started coming to fruition around 1978). It was during the Clinton Administration that the United States had started to allow its considerable lead over the rest of the world to not only wane, but actually started helping soon-to-be fierce competitors, such as China, in their bid to become major players in the post-Cold War globalized system (by adhering to forced technology transfers, extreme outsourcing, and ignoring the history and nature of the regimes we were doing business with).
Today, after years of wanton neglect, America’s capabilities are atrophying; the unipolar moment was squandered in the sands of the Middle East; and jobs (as well as wealth) are dissipating away from the country and toward other states, such as China. This was not a fait accompli and it was entirely avoidable. To compound matters, we stopped investing in the world of atoms–where real things are made that catapult societies to greatness–and instead focused on the stunningly small world of bits, in which only a handful of industries and people benefited (at the expense of the majority of Americans).
What’s more, the damage can be mitigated (which is one of there reasons why I believe that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency was so important for the future of the country). One thing is certain, however, the world of 30 years ago is gone and we are now living a mostly multipolar world system, in which there are several rising and competing centers of power. The United States has existed in such a period before. In fact, most of its existence as a country was in a multipolar international system dominated by foreign powers (namely, the European empires). It was only after World War II–75 years ago–that the United States became the dominant power it is today.
With that in mind, it’s time to revisit some of the international relations theories that existed back then. Before the world wars, the world was dominated by a realpolitik balance-of-power system that saw a handful of great powers working in tandem with each other to do trade and maintain peace whilst also ensuring that no one in the system grew more powerful than the others. This created a balance between the various players in that old system, which helped to avert war (after all, as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once quipped, “weakness is provocative, strength deters”). The balance of power paradigm was installed after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, and lasted nearly a century in Europe until the breakdown of that system (thanks to the rise of Germany) in 1914. From that point onward, the world sought to restore a semblance of balance–passing through a “zero-g” world of sorts during the interwar years; to the bipolar will-they/won’t-they dance of the Cold War; to the unipolar moment of the 1990s and early 2000s.
But, order and balance were never really restored. Instead, the system slowly transitioned toward a multipolar era. For the United States to survive, then, it needed to do one of two things: in the near-term, it needed to reorient its entire strategic posture away from full-scale global dominance and toward a more realistic approach. A grand strategy based on restraint and balance-of-power is vital.
In the long-term, however, the United States needed to engage in a full-scale strategy for catapulting our economy into the next century, as we did from 1978 until the 1990s. You see, until 1978 most people in the West firmly believed that the Soviet Union would defeat the United States in the Cold War. The Soviets themselves were convinced that they could best the West in a war–even one that involved a nuclear exchange. Yet, by 1978–and definitely by the time that the Reagan Administration enacted its historic deregulation and tax cut policies–the American economy was unleashed as never before, and the dividends were not just paid to the private sector, but they were widely experienced in the military sector as well.
For the United States to regain a truly dominant footing globally, then, it needs to shore up its economic position, and create the opportunities necessary to push the economy forward–not just in the world of bits, but in the world of atoms. Computer science is an important aspect of our society–as is the financial sector. But, these are not the only areas of importance (nor are they the things that will allow for the United States to leapfrog a fierce competitor like China). It is true that the sciences are the key, but things like biology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, geology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering–the classic subjects that are the foundations of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.
One thing should be certain, though: the unipolar world is over (for now) and the United States is falling behind its competitors (particularly China). It must therefore quit being pulled into unnecessary conflicts; stabilize the world system as best it can; and focus on investing and developing the tools needed to leapfrog the world as the United States did during the Reagan years.