There are numerous contests in numerous fields spanning from military contests to economic contests to diplomatic posturing to impose one’s influence. These disparate struggles have escalated and in all appearances will continue to escalate for the time being. Often people talking about this phenomenon want to compare the situation in the world today to the fall of the Roman Empire and equate their presumed imminent collapse of the United States for whatever reason they assign from financial to ecological or whatever their heart’s desire with the loss of the influence of Rome as the preeminent power of their age. There are so many reasons that such a comparison is ridiculous not the least of which is the United States is nowhere near collapse of any foreseeable kind. Has the United States appeared to take a break from their role of world’s police force and become preoccupied with their own internal problems and various difficulties? The obvious answer is yes, only a fool would not have picked up on this occurrence. So, what exactly are these disparate struggles over, who is contesting and is capable of achieving the leadership in their theater and what does it all mean for the future?
The most obvious arena of contests is the Arab and Muslim worlds. Some of these struggles are internal such as the current unrest in Egypt. Then there is the Palestinian Israeli conflict which is sometimes misperceived and called a peace process, it is a war in which only one side is permitted to attack and the other is denounced and demands for it to cease any military action they take even if it is in an effort of self-preservation. The main struggle in this theater is currently focused in Syria and currently is rapidly spreading into Lebanon. In one particular manner this struggle also is taking place in Egypt. There are three sides to the contest with the most active being the Iranian Shiite axis which in addition to Iran includes Hezballah, Iraq, the Syrian military and President Bashir Assad, and the terrorist forces which are controlled by the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). Another front is the Sunni forces which favor militant Islam and has two dominant faces, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood is still behind much of the fighting in Egypt where they have recently been removed from ruling over Egypt by the Egyptian military which is attempting to place a more secular type of governance that will require excluding the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in any future government. In Syria the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda are allied and working together despite the numerous experts’ opinions that claim these two are contesting against each other for control. This would not be the first time that the experts’ opinions did not exactly match the real world, especially in the Middle East. The final front is another Sunni Islamist force headed by Saudi Arabia which is the lead in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. This group has a longer ranged view for their taking power in the world where they rely on their oil wealth to slowly purchase influence and through positions such as chairs at prestigious universities and forming political groups and institutes through which they exert their influence. The basic analysis of the contest in the Arab and Muslim worlds breaks down primarily along a Sunni-Shiite divide with a secondary struggle between the most powerful of the Sunni nations jostling to take and retain the lead.
In Europe the struggles are along financial and economic roles where Germany holds the most prevalent and strongest financial health. At the other end of the spectrum are Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and to a lesser extent a number of other countries who are facing economic, budget or banking difficulties. France and England both are financially sound with the English having the advantage of not having completely converted to using only the Euro which is partly responsible for their economic health. The unknowns in this group are the numerous nations that were formerly behind the Iron curtain and who are experiencing potentials for great growth once they establish updated infrastructure. The positioning in Europe will come down to Germany, France, Britain and Poland with Russia also attempting to gain some leverage though they are often seen as being outside of the European theater. This is also one of the theaters where the United States has a finger in the pie though it is often not welcomed by the Europeans.
Africa and South America are both future powers. South America appears to be blossoming more quickly than is Africa but both are more likely to be distant future powers. Of these nations Brazil and Argentina would be seen as the leaders. In Asia the preeminent powers are obvious, China and India. These have been the leading powers of Asia throughout most of history with some sharing at times with Thailand and Siam for examples. There are other nations that are worthy of note which include but are not limited to Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea. Still, the obvious item of most importance is where the United States is headed and what that means for the future and will the United States be reasserting themselves.
Well, what has come over the United States is something that the world has witnessed before and it is not anything like the fall of Rome. The United States has entered one of its take care of the home front introvert modes where the United States is concerned with internal problems and politics while leaving foreign policy on ignore wherever and whenever possible. The United State has entered such periods before and they always take care of themselves. The first one came after the United States faces some problems with a declining Spanish colonial empire where, after routing the Spanish Navy, the United States gained some colonial properties and protectorates. After this brief worldly encounter the United States returned to her sleep mode allowing the world to take care of itself. This worked out splendidly and resulted in World War I. Eventually the United States entered World War I and though they had minimal effect they like to claim their entry into the war facilitated its conclusion. The United States returned to their cocoon after World War I so fast that they barely had any influence over the Treaty of Versailles. The United States signed the treaty, signed some additional treaties and papers and sat on the sidelines while the League of Nations was formed and the United States never took the bother of joining the League of Nations.
With the United States back on auto-pilot and taking care of internal matters while ignoring the rest of the world things got dicey largely due to unfinished business and strict and overly punishing terms from World War I landed Europe and eventually Asia in World War II. The United States gave sitting out this war a good try or at least the citizens did until they were shaken by the attack on Pearl Harbor. World War II resulted in a new alignment of world power with Europe no longer in the lead. The new leadership fell initially to the United States and the Soviet Union and later China. This initiated the Cold War where the United States and the Soviet Union engaged through secondary players and contested in a series of proxy wars such as Korea and Viet Nam to name the two best known. But it was another front where there was a proxy contest that played out between the Soviets and the Americans and that was the Middle East. It is that final arena which will become a major issue going forward.
The real question is will the United States retake her position as a world super power or is she entering a long term hibernation of introspection. That will remain a question until after the next Presidential elections in 2016. The result of that election will determine the future of more than just the United States but also whether or not another World War looms in the near future. Should the American people decide to continue with their preoccupation with internal affairs and simply pretend the world will take care of itself then the future could be very dark. The United States will very likely rebound from their current financial difficulties but to do so will take some extreme measures which may demand the full attention of the American political field then the world will act rudderless with the separate influences battling for the lead positions. There is a good chance that we might witness another expansion of Islam if one of the interests currently manages to extend their influence sufficiently that they unite much of the Muslim world behind them in a new caliphate then such an expanse would be inevitable. For this reason the two arenas which bear watching are the Middle East and the United States domestic scene. The inspection of the United States should concentrate on the importance placed by the news media on world events against domestic issues. The Middle East will be easier to understand as the fight over Syria will be one major contest with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran as the powers whose influence will indicate the direction. The wild card in the Middle East is Israel which only needs to survive to stand as an obstacle to any grander dreams the Islamic powers might desire to achieve as in order to solidify a preeminent position and be crowned the leader of the new caliphate will necessarily need to defeat Israel, no small task. Strange as it may seem but, the continued peace and ability to avoid yet another World War one only need watch two nations, the United States and Israel. If Israel continues to exist as the Jewish state then the chances of another World War are greatly minimalized. Without Israel the world will need to hope that the United States wakes up to her rightful place in the world and take her position seriously and takes the responsibilities of a super power to heart. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that the United States will remain in her introvert mode and the world will end up dependent upon a small nation that so many nations in the world love to hate, Israel.
Beyond the Cusp