In a 1941 Life magazine article, Henry Luce, a publishing magnate once described as “the most influential private citizen in America,” coined the phrase, “the American Century” to advance his vision of America becoming a benign global superpower that would use its influence to build a new world order based on political and economic freedom. Historians and political scientists have sometimes adopted the phrase to describe our own times, dating the beginning of the American Century from the end of World War II in 1945.
The American Century has been, as Luce had hoped, on the whole a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. World War III was avoided. Freedom and human rights have become international norms, largely due to the military, economic and political power of the United States.
Like the Roman Empire’s golden age of peace and prosperity called “the Pax Romana,” the American Century has been a “Pax Americana,” without imperialism, advancing freedoms and human dignity everywhere. The American Century, it is no exaggeration to say, has surpassed the Pax Romana as a golden age, not only for the American people, but for friends and allies and for all mankind fortunate enough to be within the circle of America’s benign influence.
Perhaps the apex of the American Century arrived when the United States prevailed over the Soviet Union and the Cold War ended with the collapse of the totalitarian USSR — one of the most unfree societies in history — in 1991. The following year, Francis Fukuyama’s book, “The End of History,” proclaimed that the centuries-long struggle between freedom and tyranny had finally been decided in favor of freedom.
And many in the Free World believed, and all hoped, that this might be true.
But 2015 may well mark the end of the American Century. It has not lasted as long as a real century — only 70 years.
In 2015, American power and influence is in decline and retreat everywhere. Totalitarian and authoritarian actors are on the march against the United States and the entire Free World.
Russia, under de facto dictator Vladimir Putin, has annexed the Crimea and invaded Ukraine, exposing as worthless the security guarantees made by U.S. President Bill Clinton to Kiev under the Budapest Agreement, in exchange for Ukraine giving up the hundreds of nuclear missiles based on its territory. Russia is embarked on a massive buildup of nuclear missiles and conventional forces against a United States and European NATO that are militarily a pale shadow of the alliance that prevailed during the Cold War.
Russia’s return to the Middle East, allied with Syria and Iran, successfully challenging and displacing the United States with military strikes on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels in October, may mark the exact date of death of the American Century. Suddenly, Russia has replaced the U.S. as the dominant power in the Middle East, in a world still dependent on oil.
This latest is perhaps the decisive humiliation, canceling the credibility of U.S. security guarantees that upheld “peace through strength” to contain aggression and sustain the American Century. It was preceded by many other blows:
• China is modernizing and multiplying its nuclear missiles and conventional air and naval forces at an alarming rate, challenging the capability of a weakened U.S. Navy to protect allies in the Pacific.
• North Korea, a failed state in everything except its capability to make nuclear missiles, can now make a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland with its KN-08 intercontinental missile, moving the North American Aerospace Defense Command to spend nearly $1 billion to better protect its underground command post inside Cheyenne Mountain from an electromagnetic pulse attack.
• Iran has prevailed over the United States in nuclear negotiations that will end economic sanctions and enrich the mullahs with $150 billion, even though Iran probably already has the bomb, or can soon acquire one. This even though Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has toppled a U.S. ally in Yemen, and has virtually taken over Iraq.
• Terrorism grows ever stronger. The Islamic State is the first terror state in history, waging genocidal war against Christians and all who oppose it. Muslim migrants are inundating Europe and the Americas, bringing with them the seeds of terrorism and Shariah law, which is incompatible with Western values.
Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism are a greater collective threat to freedom than were the USSR or Nazi Germany.
President Obama has in six years virtually destroyed the credibility of the United States as the security guarantor of the Free World, a legacy that was painstakingly built and maintained over six decades by 11 previous presidents and was the foundation of the American Century.
How far will the forces of tyranny and chaos march during the final two years of our transformational president?
• Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA.