The US is a major player in world politics - nothing goes without Washington. But is the superpower still fully capable of acting? In view of the global financial crisis, German experts have their doubts.
If the United States were a patient lying in a hospital, worried doctors would knit their brows: the frailty of the inner organs could become chronic and permanently confine the patient to bed.
The US administration in Washington faces a similar scenario, according to Josef Braml of the think tank German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). The ongoing financial, economic and energy crises are making life difficult for the superpower, he said.
The US has become a land of limited possibilities, as the country continues to suffer from a huge mountain of debt, a weak dollar and a growing social divide. "The more the tanker USA leans to its side, the more limited the government's ability to manoeuver, domestically and internationally," political scientist Braml wrote in his most recent book, "The American Patient". His conclusion: "The political powers are blocked because there's nothing left to distribute." The nation's economic weakness aggravates the ideological trenches between Democrats and Republicans, he said.
Turbulences with a global impact
A "threatened collapse of the US" Braml describes is anything but good news for the rest of the world. A nation fighting for its economic survival will not necessarily be considerate of others, the author said, predicting fierce protectionism, for example in trade policies. Braml said the US would "make the dollar cheap" in order to garner a competitive edge. "Not much longer, and the dollar will no longer be a key currency," he said.
Karsten Voigt, a German Social Democratic politician well acquainted with US affairs, is not as pessimistic. He doesn't see a collapse coming, but rather a crisis that bears the seeds of new beginnings. The Americans' strong point is their ability to roll up their sleeves in times of crisis and build on the immense dynamics of their economy, said Voigt, a long-time coordinator of German-American cooperation.
Sharing the burden with the allies
The experts agreed, however, that the US role as a global regulatory power is bound to change. The US has more military clout than any other country in the world, but the government is being forced to cut costs in that sector, too. Karsten Voigt is convinced that the US will remain the most important world power in the near future. Americans will no longer shape developments as much, he said: They will have to know their limits.
The Libya mission made it clear that the US is placing a larger share of the burden on its allies.
"We Europeans will have to make sure that we can maintain security in our own neighborhood," Josef Braml said. "America won't support us as much anymore. From an American point of view, we've been freeloading far too long."
Author: Nina Werkhäuser / db
Editor: Gregg Benzow