Last week, a colleague and I were having a broad-ranging conversation over lunch, highlighted by some armchair analysis of the recent Russian aggression and subterfuge in the Ukraine sprinkled with our shared concern over the trade-off between entitlement and defense spending, particularly over the next decade. A key issue raised in that discussion was trying to assess the point where perception becomes reality with regard to the diminishing influence the Unites States has on world affairs. At that point, my friend said flatly, “we are losing the peace.”
I had to stop and think a moment, because my first reaction was that he was overstating the case. The United States is still a force to be reckoned with in world affairs economically and militarily. And yet, as the week wore on, I began thinking about the “signals” that have sent to our allies, the public announcements of dates-of-withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, our “leading from behind” resulting in failed states across North Africa (Libya, primarily), our canceling of missile defense deals in Europe, and our dithering in the face of Chinese and Russian adventurism. And now the Chinese and Russians are upping their game in Latin America? Haven’t we been here before? Suddenly, I find myself quite open to the idea that we are at risk of losing the peace.
But then, that presupposes there is/was a peace to lose. Since the so-called end of the Cold War, there is plenty of evidence that peace is but a mirage. From the 1991 Gulf War, to Somalia, Yugoslavia, the USS Cole, 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and more, this has been a tumultuous period in its own right. What peace is there to lose when there has been no peace, per se?
I think it is more likely that this sense of “losing the peace” has more to do with the perception that American hegemony is in decline. Maybe it is inevitable, as the cost of maintaining our role as the world’s preeminent superpower is astronomical, made worse by the mountain of debt and domestic entitlement and regulation the progressives are heaping on our shoulders. If American hegemony is indeed in decline, others will fill the gap, and that certainly appears to be happening.
So, are we “losing the peace”? Or is that formulation jumping the shark?