America remains the most powerful and stable democratic country on the planet, home to many important and influential institutions all interested in maintaining America’s position as world leader. For the past century or so, America has sought to lead the world using all the different ways it is able to project its strength. The country has excelled in managing and administering its domestic agenda, its education system, its economic and political development, its security apparatus and more. This rapid and wide-reaching development has made America into a hegemonic world power, one that other countries either must follow and emulate or take pains to avoid. Only a select few have dared mount active resistance to American and Western dominance. Of these few, many are either paying a heavy price or have relented and begun seeking U.S. protection.
At the forefront of this process have been powerful government agencies and private institutions, such as Congress, the Pentagon, the CIA and National Security Agency, massive multinational corporations, government and civil research centers and world-renowned universities. In addition to all these, of course, is the White House and its National Security Council. This last institution, in particular, has undergone significant shake-ups since 2016. The NSC is responsible for distilling and presenting a wide array of policy alternatives for the president.
Under the Donald Trump administration, the council’s policy agenda has seen numerous shifts in direction, with the position of national security advisor now having changed hands four times, the latest transition being the ouster of John Bolton. Acting National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien has published a collection of essays entitled “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis,” about the need to restore and maintain American global leadership. His time on the council alone will likely merit its own volume of articles, given its central role in setting the foreign, security and defense policy of the nation. As longtime observers of the Middle East will note, a national security advisor can have an enormous impact (as in the cases of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski).
It is also true that American Stinger and Falcon missiles (many in fact supplied by Egypt to the CIA) were instrumental in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. So instrumental, in fact, that had the Palestinian resistance obtained these same missiles early on, there might have been a similar solution to the Palestinian question.
And it’s true that the Islamic world, via the Afghan jihad, contributed significantly to preserving America’s singular status as the world’s top superpower. By helping to bring about the breakdown of the Soviet Union, it also freed the nations of Western Asia and Eurasia as well as those of the Baltic, the Caucasus and Central and Eastern Europe, allowing these states to turn toward a capitalist order (at least, so it was claimed). From there also came the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact.
All of these facts remain true, as well as many others that a single article cannot possibly give enough attention to. That being said, we can pursue another line of inquiry that, instead of highlighting America’s world leadership status, points to a contradictory reality: the death of America. That is to say, in spite of everything we’ve laid out, there are compelling reasons to see that America is in decline and is withdrawing from its position as world leader. This kind of dynamic was described in the Holy Quran (“We alternate among the people so that God may make evident who truly believes in Him…”) and shown in the tension between America’s challenges and its strained capacity to face them. The country’s immense capabilities may not be enough, as the overwhelming responsibilities that come with being the world's leading superpower may one day produce the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The challenges facing America, or at least the ones I am referring to here, may end up preventing it from staying at the top now or in the future, as we Arabs often say, “as long as it takes.” Among the most important challenges, five stand out.
First, the trajectory of the Russian-American rivalry has led to a strengthened global role for Russia under Vladimir Putin, especially in the Arab and Islamic worlds, given the presence of Iran, Turkey and factions resistant to the United States, and its long, ongoing immersion into the region’s many issues (including Syria and Palestine).
Second, The Chinese-American trade war, a crisis that’s total impact has gradually become known, with myriad economic threats that America must work to circumvent a thousand different ways. The potential for the damage to increase should frighten Washington.
Third, there is the relationship with North Korea and negotiations regarding its nuclear arsenal. In spite of the historic bilateral meetings, the U.S.-Korean dispute is not over. In fact, I believe that given how stubborn each party is with respect to its interests, the talks may have, in fact, increased tensions.
Fourth, there is the strained relationship with Tehran following America’s foolish withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, or the JCPOA, and the imposition of sanctions on Iran, especially on its oil and on various individuals and organizations who are barred not only from entering the U.S. but even from meetings of the U.N. General Assembly. It is a shame that the world accepts this hegemonic abuse of power and abandonment of a country’s word.
Fifth, there is the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan despite America’s long and protracted attempts at an exit. President Trump has promised, since he began his run for president, that under his administration, America would finally withdraw from Afghanistan. But the Taliban have made life a living hell, in a manner that is reminiscent of Vietnam. Sometimes, what goes around does indeed come around. Trump has suspended talks with the Taliban despite his professed commitment to exit that swamp of a situation.
Of course, no one gets everything he wants, not even Trump! As it stands, at least half of Afghanistan remains under Taliban control, and the government of Ashraf Ghani has not even been able to bring stability to Kabul (let alone the whole country) since Ghani’s government took power following President Hamid Karzai’s exit in 2014. In its nearly 19 years of fighting the Taliban, America has failed to subdue Afghanistan’s tribes or overcome their mountains and hardened resolve. Of the 20,000 NATO soldiers and officers on the ground in Afghanistan, 14,000 are American. Trump wants to bring them home. In exchange, all America wants from the Taliban is a guarantee that it will not provide safe haven for al-Qaida and the Islamic State so they can launch attacks on America and its national interests. With these goals in mind, the Americans have asked the Taliban to engage in talks with the Afghan government. Unfortunately, the Taliban have made clear their position that Afghanistan’s internal affairs are its own business, demanding not only the withdrawal of every NATO soldier, but demanding that they take back the Afghan government they brought with them.
The original intended meaning of the phrase “the Death of the West” has nothing to do with the various political considerations and challenges I’ve mentioned above. Instead, it refers to a group of theories developed by a number of philosophers from the West itself, describing the decline of moral values and the family unit in their society and culture. This line of thinking stands in contrast to that advanced by another group of Western theorists, most notably Francis Fukuyama. In his famous work “The End of History,” Fukuyama proclaimed the triumph of Western civilization and its having achieved the highest form of societal organization. With respect to this view, there is little remaining room for additional research or need to further perfect this theory. All that’s left is for the envious to catch up. However, Fukuyama has since apologized and scaled back the claims of his research. There’s still room to grow and there’s no end in sight.
In popular culture, there have been a number of books and films discussing the “Death of the West” thesis, or perhaps more specifically, the death of America. These include “Death of a Nation” by Dinesh D’Souza, “Another Day in the Death of America” by writer Gary Younge and Patrick Buchanan’s “The Death of the West.” Some of these works deal with this “death” as a biological phenomenon; others deal with it as a moral and sociological issue.
To sum up the primary reasons pointed out by these various writers and artists, America and/or the West in general is dying because of violent crime, racial hatred, the myth of white supremacy, drugs and alcohol, the abuse of positions of power throughout society and falling birthrates. With more households now missing a father or mother, the ongoing demographic decline is often attributed to the prevalence of abortion, extramarital sex, abnormal relationships and the spread and acceptance of homosexuality, even within many churches. Lastly, we can cite the neglect of religious values, religious intolerance and blind ethnocentrism.
With regard to the role played by the decline of religion in public and private life, it suffices to recall the remarkable Harvard study of 2017. The researchers pointed out the total neglect of religious values as evidenced by the number of Americans who do not even attend religious services once a week. In turn, this religious vacuum has led to an overall increase in crime in society, with increased rates of violence and immoral behavior. All this, from the school of public health at one of the most famous universities in the world! It has made clear the close connection between religious upbringing and the sound health of mind and body, as well as happiness itself. Related effects have occurred in the ability to recover from drug addiction, smoking and depression. These findings build on the research of other scholars in the field at other famous universities in the U.S. and Britain.
When I refer to the death of America, I’m not talking about external threats such as global warming or the population explosion in non-Western countries. I’m not talking about natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes, or even doomsday itself. I simply wish to focus on the phenomena that have drawn the attention of some western philosophers and thinkers, chief among them Pat Buchanan.
The question remains as to who, I wonder, will inherit the mantle of Western civilization upon its death. Is the Islamic world capable of undertaking that immense task? If not today, when will it be ready? As members of the Islamic and Arab worlds, we are confronted with conflicts, wars, underdevelopment and terror. How can we become the successors of this civilization and build upon the progress it has made, but save the human values this civilization has lost sight of in the process? Perhaps the many questions I pose here will prompt you to think more about this future, when we achieve our long-awaited exit from conflict and undertake the great role assigned to the Muslim community (“You are the greatest nation produced as an example for humanity. You join in what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.”) I hope we can succeed in educating our fellow man and lead him on the correct path toward building the future (“And speak goodness to the people”).
May God grant us success.