Great powers die slowly. It took years before the world realized that Great Britain was an imperial corpse, sapped of its strength by two world wars. The funeral finally occurred on Feb. 21, 1947, a freezing winter day in bomb-torn, bedraggled London, when the British wrote their own epitaph. That was the day that London cabled Washington: “His Majesty’s Government, in view of their own situation, find it impossible to grant further financial assistance to Greece,” amounting to a half billion dollars a year and a garrison of 40,000 troops. The British also announced the same day that they were withdrawing from Turkey. “The British are finished,” remarked a stunned Dean Acheson, who was soon to be Harry Truman’s secretary of State. And so they were. It was the early cold war. With the Soviet Union threatening to extend its influence over Greece and Turkey, there was no time for elegies. Instead, a quick passing of the baton took place: the United States would now fill Britain’s role and become the central, stabilizing power in the West. This was the moment of “creation” of the U.S.-led world order, Acheson later realized.
One has to wonder now whether the American superpower is also experiencing a terminal illness, with its decline marked by the dollar’s downward drift. The one difference being that there is no successor on the horizon (the Chinese have a long, long way to go), and the currency that is replacing the dollar, the euro, is backed not by an emerging superpower but by the feeble cacophony of voices that is the European Union. Yet the signs of imperial decadence are unmistakable. The world is losing confidence in the dollar, in no small part because it has lost confidence in America’s strategic judgment and in its sustainability as a great power in the face of record budget and trade deficits, which are forcing the United States to borrow ever more money from future rivals like China and Russia. [complete article]