Sunday, October 20, 2013

Standing on Shaky Ground: The Government Shutdown and USA's waning Exceptionalism...
Is the U.S.A headed towards the ruin that befell past empires?
(pic from isawnyu on flickr)
The writing has been on the wall for a while now. From peaked anti-American sentiments to the downgrading of the country's credit rating for the first time 2 years ago, astonishing unemployment figures and educational output figures that increasingly trail those of fellow developed countries among many other things, it is clear that the US's global hegemonic status is under siege.

There are, typically, three pathways by which superpowers lose their global standing. The most primordial and inevitable one is based on the reality that many other crave the top spot. Several countries and other entities are always working to claim the top spot either by deposing the other or just by excelling beyond them. The second pathway is best described as 'self destruction'; careless and/or overreaching policies and behaviors that cause the country to implode. The final way is the uncontrollable eventual toll of time and fate, due to a combination of the first two and other factors (natural disasters, etc.). Usually, the ruin stems from a junction of the three paths, each one albeit contributing a different weight to the total burden.

It is at such a junction that the USA finds itself. Recent events, in addition to the state of the union as expressed briefly in the article's introduction, compound the theory of the nation's pending demise. Let's talk examples.

On June 6th, The Guardian newspaper published an article about former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden and the arsenal of their information he had leaked. From millions of telephone calls to hacking into foreign company's e-mail, the revelations read like something out of a 20th century futuristic spy novel. The American public was evenly split between those who felt this was an unjustified violation of their civil liberties and those who opined that it was reasonable as long as it protected the nation from attacks in the long run. Yet, even those who deemed it justifiable still had an air of disenchantment towards the government's continued- and seemingly growing- lack of transparency; even under different administrations. 

Domestic opinion may have been ambiguous, but the international community was decidedly furious. Most vocal in her criticism was Brazilian president Dilma Roussef; first calling off her high profile state visit to the United States scheduled for October over reports that the NSA had spied on Brazil,then further lambasting them at the UN general assembly for violating human rights and international law

While that was happening, there arose the issue of U.S's proposed military action against the Syrian regime. From the onset, the battle-weary American public was overwhelmingly against it, and most beloved ally, the United Kingdom, voted to sit this one out as well. 

However, the masterstroke in the whole affair came from none other than Russia.

Over the past near century of America's hegemony, several pretenders to the title have risen; none more so than Russia. Having jointly held the world at large ransom during the Cold War, order has since been restored with the U.S.A returning to the forefront of global affairs and the East European giant retreating (without never fully vanishing) to a more peripheral role, with the obligatory head-clashing at the UN security council. Russia's recent mitigation on the U.S's potential military action, however, did more than just prevent another war; it was a victory on several fronts. It gave the common American respite from war, and showed the rest of the world that there are alternative, less destructive ways in which international powers can intervene in conflicts. 

To add insult to injury, Vladmir Putin's carefully crafted (released on 9/11, invokes America's christian values, published through the New York times etc.) chastising of the U.S.A's proneness to military action around the world resonated with several Americans and the world at large. Now, add that to already-heightened recent tensions between the two after Russia granted Edward Snowden asylum while the U.S pursued him.

With all this as the backdrop, the just-ended government shutdown would have done very little to placate skeptics of the U.S's continued exceptionalism, both internal and external. How do the leaders of the world's alleged foremost democracy hold the country at ransom for two entire weeks? The shutdown's  negative impact is astronomical; from the millions of veterans who were unable to receive disability compensation and the families of American soldiers in Afghanistan who were denied death and burial benefits for the two weeks the government was not working to the absurdity with which the international community would have perceived the hold-up, the entire situation reeked of the same out-of-touch mentality of leaders of the very same countries the West speaks ill of: the very same callous behavior synonymous with empires in decline.

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