America is going the way of ancient Rome. The past decade will be remembered as the pivotal tipping point where the United States ceased to be a superpower. Like the Roman Empire in its later stages, America’s imperial grandeur masked moral rot and economic decay.
The beginning of the 21st century promised continued U.S. global dominance. Our economic might seemed unrivaled; the dot-com boom had not yet gone bust. Washington was still basking in the warm glow of its victory in the Cold War. America bestrode the world like a military and economic colossus.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed everything. Like Rome and Imperial Britain, the United States embarked upon costly, prolonged wars in far-away countries. The result is that America remains mired in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two wars have cost more than 5,200 dead and $1 trillion with no victory or end in sight.
The fundamental mistake was made by President Bush. Contrary to popular myth, Mr. Bush was not a unilateralist conservative traditionalist; rather, he was a Great Society Republican who championed nation-building abroad and Big Government corporatism at home. Our goal should have been to smash the forces of global jihad through a strategy of total victory through total war - just as in World War II, when every domestic priority was subordinated to defeating the Axis Powers.
Instead, Mr. Bush tried to plant democracy in the sands of Mesopotamia and the stony soil of Afghanistan. He followed a foolish - and ultimately, destructive - policy of seeking to implement social engineering, nation-building projects. The result was imperial overstretch.
Moreover, he also stressed that America could have both guns and butter.
There was no need to choose. Tax cuts, federalizing education, a massive Medicare prescription drug plan, runaway government spending, soaring deficits, huge bank bailouts and expensive stimulus programs - Mr. Bush’s brand of corporatist Keynesianism paved the way for socialism and reckless spending.
President Obama is making the same mistake. He is not the antithesis of Mr. Bush, but his culmination. Mr. Obama represents Bushism on steroids. He is seeking to erect a European-style social democracy characterized by a bloated public sector, a burdensome welfare state, economic sclerosis and foreign policy impotence.
Mr. Obama is slowly pushing America toward financial ruin. His $787 billion stimulus failed to regenerate the economy. His health care reform bill will cost taxpayers nearly $2.5 trillion. He has effectively nationalized the automakers, the financial sector and the banking system. His environmental regulations will stifle industry and manufacturing. Unemployment is high. The housing market continues to sag. Inflation is increasing. The dollar is plummeting. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling.
The budget deficit for 2009 was over $1.4 trillion. It is scheduled to be $1.5 trillion in 2010. Under his administration, the national debt is projected to explode by more than $10 trillion in 10 years. He is burying America under a mountain of debt. We are becoming the United States of Argentina.
Mr. Obama’s decision to surge 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan is a dangerous - and reckless - escalation of the war. It will only deepen our military quagmire, draining America of further blood and treasure. Repeating the tragic mistakes of Vietnam, Mr. Obama is sending U.S. troops to die without a clear strategy for victory.
Yet, as Americans are being bled white in the caves and mountains of Afghanistan, terrorists are penetrating our homeland defenses.
The United States is increasingly vulnerable to Islamist attacks: Hezbollah is crossing our porous southern border, the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted suicide bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253. Similar to Rome in its final days, America is no longer feared or respected. Instead, we are being invaded - and slowly conquered - by barbarians.
Rome collapsed due to moral decline, pervasive corruption and a loss of will. The Roman Empire became plagued by crushing taxation, a ubiquitous bureaucracy, economic stagnation, political factionalism, military adventurism and a lack of civic virtue. Its culture had become so decadent - with its glorification of homosexuality, infanticide, sexual permissiveness and constant entertainment (such as circuses and games in the Coliseum) - that Rome was not only scorned but reviled.
America is repeating the same tragic mistakes. Our sexualized, celebrity-obsessed, libertine culture is despised around the world. Power trumps patriotism. Washington no longer embodies democratic virtue.
If America does not veer course quickly, we, too, like the Romans, will squander our glorious heritage.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank.