A comparative analysis of two superpowers, Great Britain and the US, and their willful declines from the heights of imperial glory.
Donald Kagan (Classics/Yale) and his son Frederick Kagan (History/West Point) make a powerful case that the US is presently headed for a precipitous decline in international power and influence, and that this decline will help usher in a less peaceful and less stable international environment. The authors contend that a close examination of history reveals that America’s current situation is similar to that of Great Britain after WWI. In each case, the predominant military and economic power in the world actively brought about its own downfall through a combination of bad decisions and blind optimism. These claims are supported by case studies of the circumstances that both nations found themselves in after the end of costly conflicts (WWI and the Cold War, respectively). However accurate these parallels may be, they fail adequately to address the most pressing obstacle to increased American involvement abroad—namely, Congress. For although the authors acknowledge that there are intrinsic restraints placed upon the formation of foreign policy in a liberal democracy, they have little to say about the constitutional checks that prevent precisely the kind of dynamic action they prescribe. And while there is some truth in their claim that our continued suffering from “Vietnam syndrome” is “self-inflicted and unnecessary,” the authors seem to forget that America entered the Cold War in the first place only as a result of overt aggression in Korea in 1950. Barring a similar incident in the post–Cold War era, any similar return to peacetime military buildup seems unlikely, regardless of its potential utility.
A convincing case for concern over the real costs of a downsizing military, but without tangible recommendations for action.