09/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Loss of Place, Continuity of Influence

Change always moves slowly; in fits and starts it lumbers down a path different from the anticipated. The slide of American power, prestige and influence is very much following this parade pattern. Just behind the same old debates and rabidly frothing opinion chatter, our headlines are jam-packed with waning sings. You may not see them plain and clear in the all-irrelevant, all-the-time news cycle. But they are there, alongside many counterfactuals, resurgences, and surprises. Let's take a look together at recent headlines.

Our news waves are filled with indignant judgment of "Russian Aggression" toward Georgia. We sent out our UN ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, to denounce Russian action in Georgia. This is the international diplomatic equivalent of sending Charles Mansion out as an anger management consultant. In short, it is not really a grand move. Khalilzad's recent gigs as US Ambassador in Kabul and Iraq might make him less than ideal for a high profile international speech regarding the evils of military aggression and regime change action against foreign sovereign states. Then again, it is clear that the message many received was: you can call America's bluff. It looks increasingly as though Georgian leadership ran with a rather dangerous plan of action based on an exaggerated understanding of US and EU support. Now the world watches our leadership fumble toward greater error as Russian forces execute the actions they deem consistent with Russian interests. This is a loss of influence, plain and simple. It marks a turning point in US and Russian regional influence; at least it sure looks that way today.

Hiding in this, the latest in a long string of misadventures, is the remaining power of America far away from her shores, core interests and commitments. Thus, our ongoing actions, pronouncements, and involvements in the former USSR remain potent and pregnant with opportunities for success and failure. American council, NATO allure, and European allegiances look to be intact. Behind a din of accusation and exaggeration, the loss of place and the remaining power are evident.

As China moves toward top medal status in the Beijing Olympics we are beginning to question the lack of state support and finance we give to our athletes. The US dominated the Olympic medal count in 70% of the 23 games in which we competed. The 2008 summer games leadership looks likely to belong to China. Clearly this is symbolic and of nowhere near the import of our bumbling misadventures along Russia's border. However, this too gestures in the direction of the master narrative. The legacy of success and remaining power of our relatively poorly state-assisted athletes is impressive and the 2008 medal count attests to this. Likewise, the massive concentration, funding, and population at China's disposal are emergent and impressive.

The continual slide of the US macro-economy remains sadly intact. However, economic difficulties have been rapidly globalized and recent fear has come to center on the Eurozone, the UK, and developing countries. Thus, the Dollar has risen and perceptions of America's economy have improved. The serious weakness in our economy is a fact on the ground and will be for some time. The global metastasis from our housing, financial, and credit markets is now becoming a shaping global reality. This too speaks to the diminution of America's place and resilience of our power and influence.

In sum, we occupy a slowly and strangely different place of real import in the world. There have been serious blows to American prestige, and economic and political power. There also remains a great weight and influence to our domestic and international policies, ideas, and actions. In short, neither those who advocate American supremacy as destiny, nor those who celebrate America's missteps, should be so confident in their proclamations.

Edited by C. Ghosh