The other day a good friend asked me: "Is our country in bad shape today?" I reflected on this serious question and responded: "The country isn't the same self-confident place as it was between 1945 and 2000." Most people my age remember the Great Depression of the 1930's when banks across the country closed, 25 million jobs were lost, and there was no Social Security to tide people over. It wasn't until the rearmament of Europe in 1939 when war was imminent that hiring began to recover in the United States.
At the end of World War II which the US won at a frightful cost, President Harry Truman and his advisors came to realize that they had to change the isolationist policy and prepare America to take its proper leadership role in the world. As a result, the world had 65 years of relative peace, with the exception of the Korean and Viet Nam wars.
In the spring of 1999 when Bill Clinton gathered all the NATO nations for the 50th anniversary of the signing of NATO, our country was at the zenith of its power and prestige in the world. There was no other nation on the horizon that could challenge the United States.
In 2001, newly elected President George W. Bush was hit with an economic and political blockbuster following the attacks on September 11. As a result, Bush launched a concerted effort to crush Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The following year he decided to intervene in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. In both cases, Bush pursued wildly expensive nation building programs to include American occupation in Afghanistan which President Biden ended in 2021 after 20 years.
Barak Obama, elected for two terms in 2008, pulled back from America's expanding world intervention and the American allies wondered if America was retreating into isolationism. In 2016, Donald Trump was elected President and declared that America was first and he really didn't care what happened to the rest of the world. However, he did continue to support collective security but heavily criticized NATO members for not spending sufficiently for their own defense. Fortunately, Trump was soundly defeated in the national election of 2020 by Joe Biden. Since taking office, Biden has been rebuilding relationships with allies around the world.
The saving factor for the United States in the 2020 election was the constitutional requirement that limits the President's tenure to four years unless the sitting President is re-elected to a second and final four-year term. Many die-hard nationalists refuse to accept that Donald Trump did not win a second term, but the election outcome made it clear that Biden won the Presidency in the 2020 election.
So where does this leave a divided country in its capability to handle crises such as Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, the growing aggressiveness of China in East Asia and the Pacific, and the inflation in this country? All this is exacerbated by the downturn in the amount of oil flowing to the west as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and NATO's sanctions of Russian imports. The terrible internal problems that engulf the US currently including high inflation, rising gas prices, ongoing mass shootings, and extraordinary weather events, are detracting America's attention from crises abroad. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement has amplified ongoing racial issues that continue to plague this country.
The reason I have deep concerns about the future of the country is that we are so divided politically that it's going to be very difficult to solve both domestic and international problems. What does this suggest?: that America is in the process of a gradual retreat from global involvements and the world will be a more dangerous place as a result. I hope I am wrong but the trend lines during this summer of 2022 are not looking good for a favorable outcome.
The 2022 Congressional elections will be very interesting to watch.
This will be my final column as I am now a 97 year old political scientist. I want to wish all my faithful readers a continued interest in foreign affairs and the role the US has in contributing to world order.
File last modified on Sunday, 22-JUN-2022 11:59 AM EST