Divided States of America: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation

By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 4: The Mother of all Austerity Measures

Photo Gallery: America Loses Its Edge Photos
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In the 2012 campaign, many Americans have realized for the first time that the US's role as a global power is no longer uncontested, something the Republicans blame on their enemy Obama, arguing that he hasn't been aggressive enough in places like Libya, Syria and Iran. "We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission," he said before coming into office, a statement that Republicans interpret as a sign of weakness, a conviction they feel is only reinforced by the military withdrawals during Obama's term.

Obama wanted to withdraw US troops from Iraq and, by 2014, from Afghanistan, but he also had no choice. Both cost considerations and the dramatic failure of both operations spoke in favor of withdrawals. Contrary to what many a global strategist at the Pentagon may have envisioned, Iraq has not turned into a nucleus for new democracies in the Arab world. Instead, the country continues to stagnate today as a new dictatorship in disguise, and it remains plagued by terrible bombing attacks. After 10 years of war, and despite the collaboration between NATO and the United Nations, Afghanistan, a major global project, remains a failure for the United States, which has already lost 2,144 soldiers and has brought home tens of thousands of troops with physical and emotional injuries, without being able to celebrate a tangible success.

The upheavals in the Arab world took America's diplomats by surprise, and they ended Obama's offensive in the Islamic world. But they also showed how poorly connected and, ultimately, uninfluential the United States is in the region today. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood is now Egypt's president, Iran apparently remains undeterred in advancing its nuclear program and the situation in Israel is more precarious that ever. These are all signs that America has far less influence than many Americans still want to believe.

This is not solely attributable to an American decline, but also has to do with various shifts in the global power structure. The unique role the country enjoyed for a short period after the collapse of the Soviet Union is gone. There was a moment, at the time, in which the apologists for American greatness had already declared the end of history, because they felt that there was now proof that there could only be one model of governmental organization: the Western, economically liberal democracy based on freedom. But that moment is over.

The Beginning of the Post-American World

Romney's campaign speeches sounded especially empty when he proclaimed the 21st century as an "American century," once again. In fact, there is much more to be said for the notion that, as Time columnist Zakaria believes, the "age of the post-American world" is beginning. In his new book "In No One's World," Washington political scientist Charles Kupchan writes that there are apparently "multiple paths to modernity," even if this isn't what the old West wants to hear. The world, says Kupchan, is not getting more homogeneous and more American, but rather more diverse and less American.

China is a case in point. For the time being the country, with its authoritarian government, has apparently managed to enable a sufficiently large middle class to take part in its economic success, so that a majority of Chinese citizens are not as likely to challenge Communist Party control. Some 80 percent of respondents to a survey in China said that they were satisfied with the country's direction, compared to less than 30 percent of respondents to a similar survey in the United States. Many developing countries are now looking to China instead of the US as a role model on how to structure a country. They are no longer seeking the light of the American beacon on the horizon. And unless a miracle occurs after the election, specifically by Dec. 31, 2012, that light could go out soon, or at least be reduced to a flicker.

That's when an ultimatum expires that is known as the "fiscal cliff," which Democrats and Republicans set for themselves, after the dramatic failure of their budget negotiations in the summer of 2011, so as not to drive the world's largest government budget against a wall. If both sides can't agree to a joint solution, budget cuts and tax increases will automatically take effect on Dec. 31 that will massively reduce the deficit by $900 billion.

So far, both sides have shown little willingness to compromise. The Democrats insist on tax increases for the rich, which the Republicans reject, arguing that the budget should be consolidated through spending cuts alone. President Obama, who will remain in office until at least Jan. 20, 2013, regardless of the election outcome, has announced that he will veto any proposal that doesn't include higher taxes for the rich.

The automatic emergency savings package would reduce the budget deficit by $607 billion. This would translate into cuts for doctors and hospitals, schools and day care, theaters and museums, train stations, airports and universities. Purchasing power would be reduced and investments would not be made, all because, in today's America, political compromises and the reasonable balancing of interests no longer seem possible.

An austerity program of this magnitude would cost the economy about 5.1 percent of the gross domestic product. Not even the crisis-ridden countries of the euro zone have instituted such drastic austerity programs.

According to official government sources, the country could face a "significant recession" unless it finds a solution to its budget problem. The economy, which is predicted to grow by at least 2.5 percent next year, could shrink instead, leading to an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent. It's a nightmare scenario that even the International Monetary Fund, normally a proponent of drastic austerity programs, warns against. Behind the fiscal cliff is a gaping abyss into which all hopes for America's future could disappear.

Perhaps it is already merely a question of controlling the problem and making preparations for the post-American age.

That would require changes to the National Mall in Washington, DC. Memorials for the soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be needed, memorials that are still missing in the open-air museum of imperial American greatness. One day, a statue would also have to be erected for the first black president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. The plaque could very well read that he had the misfortune of coming into office when the American empire was just turning into a beautiful memory.

By ULLRICH FICHTNER, HANS HOYNG, MARC HUJER AND GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ

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1. E pluribus chaos
Eleos 11/05/2012
America was founded by European Christians with a strong sense of fairness and a generosity of spirit, qualities which eventually laid the foundation for failure. At first they did not extend their rights to the slave population because it was evident to them, even to Jefferson and Lincoln, that such were the cultural differences between blacks and whites that they could not live together harmoniously. Over time they have allowed these qualities of generosity and fairness to be exploited, subduing misgivings and hoping for the best, until the swell of Third World immigration after the 1965 Immigration Act and the swarms of illegals crossing the Mexican border have overwhelmed the Republic. The USA now has an uneasy assortment of minorities, who simply do not have the wherewithal to contribute in the manner of the original settlers. Look at how Japan dealt with last year’s earthquake and tsunami, something thousands of times more destructive than Katrina or Sandy. People who feel affinity with their neighbours do not loot and cheat and mug. I am pretty astonished at how one-sided the article is, with a blanket espousal of the Democratic position and a disingenuous interpretation of the Republican one.
2. It started in the 1970tieth in the USA
SHBasse 11/05/2012
What is generally not accepted is that the decline started with the opening up of the western economies and the export of firms and jobs to the Far East. The first vissible result was the stagnation of the middleclass. For many years the accelerating decline was made invisible because of lax monetary policy. See "The fundamental causes of the crisis" http://unifiedscience2.blogspot.com/2011/02/deeper-causes-of-downturn.html
3.
tatianafromitaly 11/05/2012
Phenomenal article. I wish some America's media had valuable writers and factual JOURNALISTS to report on the US state of mind (or lack thereof). Ones has to resort to read international and reliable blogs - like Der Spiegel here - to fully acknowledge the pathetic politics and hyperbole that took over the massive 100% owned conservative media in Amerikkka - or just go online to read independents American blogs........Unfortunately the average american is too stupid or too ill-iterated pursue the reality behind the horrific Myth Rmoney. Mitt Romney is a homophobic bigot of epic proportions,has no concept that people of color even exist, and has lied pathologically throughout the campaign. He is ready to take the US into war immediately with Iran, Syria, and, if necessary, Egypt and Libya. He must be even more dishonest than Richard Nixon, which suggests an underlying psychiatric disorder. His business experience amounts to destroying American jobs and sending them to China. Is this what you mean you say that Republicans can almost "smell it." The rest of us have been smelling it since Romney opened his lying mouth. Women, of course, can look forward to his outlawing of birth control pills, much less abortion.
4.
Ernest Yates 11/06/2012
The Unites States is-- --number one in the degree of political, economic, and social freedom claimed by its citizens --number one in the number of museums and libraries --number one in the number of Nobel prizes won --number one in the number of Olympic medals --number one in GNP --number one in the number of major colleges and universities --number one in the number of books published, musical recordings produced, world-wide cinema attendance; hence --number one in world-wide cultural power --number one in military power --number one in--oh hell, i could go on, but you get the gist. Europeans are not noted for congratulating Americans on their ongoing achievements. (It's also very easy to find Americans who support any particular point of view.) The writer confuses episodes (storms, political uncertainty) with ongoing irreversible trend. Or is this just wishful thinking? If so, how ungenerous! How uncharitable!
5. Lazy journalism or intentionally spreading lies?
mae 11/06/2012
"In the show's brilliant premiere, he is asked at a panel discussion to describe why America is the greatest country in the world..... and number four in exports." Didn't Der Spiegel fact check any of the figures from this supposedly brilliant show? The USA is ranked number 2 in exports, not 4th as erroenously claimed. See link for 2011 below. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_exports I suspect the other figures have been manipulated as well to present the US in the worst possible light as well. Of course presenting lies of this supposedly brilliant show as facts is worthy of an you know what award. Go on and give yourselves a medal for it.
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