U.S. Power and Strategy After Iraq

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP

The world is off balance. If anyone doubted the overwhelming nature of U.S. military power, Iraq settled the issue. With the United States representing nearly half of the world's military expenditures, no countervailing coalition can create a traditional military balance of power. Not since Rome has one nation loomed so large above the others. Indeed, the word "empire" has come out of the closet. Respected analysts on both the left and the right are beginning to refer to "American empire" approvingly as the dominant narrative of the twenty-first century. And the military victory in Iraq seems only to have confirmed this new world order.

Americans, however, often misunderstand the nature of their power and tend to extrapolate the present into the future. A little more than a decade ago, the conventional wisdom held that the United States was in decline. In 1992, a presidential candidate won votes by proclaiming that the Cold War was over and Japan had won. Now Americans are told that their unipolar moment will last and that they can do as they will because others have no choice but to follow. But focusing on the imbalance of military power among states is misleading. Beneath that surface structure, the world changed in profound ways during the last decades of the twentieth century. September 11, 2001, was like a flash of lightning on a summer evening that displayed an altered landscape, leaving U.S. policymakers and analysts still groping in the dark, still wondering how to understand and respond.

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