US’s global dominance ‘Reduced’: It’s nearly official!

Thomas Fingar, the U.S. government’s highest ranking intelligence analyst, recently told a semi-public audience that he envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, according to this intriguing report in today’s Wapo.
Joby Warrick and the venerable Walter Pincus wrote the WaPo piece. They add that the still unpublished report that Fingar was previewing in his recent speech,

    also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”

This argument that raw military power– the one area in which the US still quite clearly outpaces all other world powers– has rapidly declined in significance (or, one might say, in utility) in recent years is a very important one. It is certainly, an argument that the country’s legislative as well as executive branches should take into good consideration as they ponder the priorities for the already deeply in-the-red US federal budget over the years ahead.

It is also an argument that I have made, very explicitly, here on JWN and in Chapter 6 of my book Re-engage! America and the World After Bush.
Coincidentally, today’s WaPo also has a report, citing congressional budget analysts, that notes that, when the federal budget year ends on September 30, the one-year federal budget deficit will have risen to $407 billion— “and the next president is likely to face a shortfall [annually, on the current account] in January of well over $500 billion.”
All these repeated months and years of deficits add up to the horrendous mountain of accumulated debt that is one of Pres. Bush’s primary legacies to the nation– debt that our children and grandchildren will be laboring under for generations to come. That WaPo article also has a handy graphic charting how the current-account budgets have plummeted from a $236.2 billion surplus in FY 2000 to the expected $407 billion deficit this year.
Back to Fingar. He is a significant voice for calm reason and reality-based analysis within the US government. Back in 2002, when he was the head of analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, his was one of the government’s few intelligence outfits that stuck to its skepticism regarding the claims that Saddam had ongoing WMD programs. But the INR view (which was shared by many of the professional career analysts in the CIA– though they were notably unsupported by Mr. ‘Slam Dunk’ George Tennet) got crowded out on that occasion by the vociferous rantings and fabricated charges raised up by the pro-war ideologues in various other government intel shops, primarily those within Rumsfeld’s and Cheney’s offices.
As the head of the newly created (and over-arching) National Intelligence Office, Fingar is now the person responsible for the periodic ‘National Intelligence Estimates’ that aim to provide the very best data, analysis, and conclusions to the President and– as appropriate– the public. In doing this job he has worked hard to instill, throughout the whole of the country’s unwieldy alphabet soup of official intel agencies, the same standards of rigorous analysis, professional integrity, and accountability that he previously upheld at INR.
I heard him speak at the New America Foundation a few weeks ago. He seemed very straightforward and smart. He also seemed very aware that rebuilding the external credibility of the US intelligence agencies, after the travesty of their performance over the WMDs-in-Iraq charges was revealed for all to see, will be every bit as hard (and is every bit as important in a democracy) as rebuilding the internal professional standards and sense of professional pride and morale within all the agencies themselves.
Well, the report that Fingar was previewing in his recent speech, a National Intelligence Council report titled “Global Trends 2025”, will apparently be published pretty soon. We should all watch out for it.
Warrick and Pincus explain that the presentation in which Fiongar laid out these argument was given to a gathering of intelligence professionals in Orlando, Florida last Thursday. (I imagine Fingar himself, who is a savvy public-affairs operative, made sure that copies of the transcript fell into Warrick and Pincus’s hands.)
They write,

    “The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished,” Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding “at an accelerating pace” in “political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas.”
    … In the years ahead, Washington will no longer be in a position to dictate what new global structures will look like. Nor will any other country, Fingar said. “There is no nobody in a position . . . to take the lead and institute the changes that almost certainly must be made in the international system,” he said.
    The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.
    For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest. He said U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming, including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming decades.

They write that energy security issues will become more complex and intense (duh!) Also, this:

    Nearly absent from Fingar’s survey was the topic of terrorism. Since the last such report, the intelligence community has projected a declining role for al-Qaeda, which was deemed likely to become “increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of groups, cells, and individuals.” Inspired by al-Qaeda, “regionally based groups, and individuals labeled simply as jihadists — united by a common hatred of moderate regimes and the West — are likely to conduct terrorist attacks,” the 2004 document said.
    The new assessment saw a continued threat from Iran, however. Fingar predicted steady progress in the Islamic republic’s attempts to create enriched uranium, the essential fuel used in nuclear weapons and commercial power reactors. For now, however, there is no evidence that Iran has resumed work on building a weapon, Fingar said, echoing last year’s landmark National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which concluded that warhead-design work had halted in 2003.
    He said Iran’s ultimate decision on whether to build nuclear weapons depended on how its leaders viewed their “security requirement” — whether they thought their government sufficiently safe in a region surrounded by traditional enemies.
    Iranians are “more scared of their neighbors than many think they ought to be,” Fingar said. But he noted that the United States had eliminated two of Iran’s biggest enemies: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
    “The United States took care of Iran’s principal security threats,” he said, “except for us, which the Iranians consider a mortal threat.”

I agree with just about everything Fingar said in the presentation– though by 2025, I find it highly unlikely that the US will still be the “pre-eminent” power in world affairs. The size of the continuing budget deficits and the continuing lack of a resolution to many chronic US crises– internally and externally– more or less precludes that.
But that’s a matter of emphasis. In general, his report will be well worth watching for.
Regarding budget, though, I do wonder how much the whole exercise of producing this report has cost US taxpayers? Just imagine, Thomas Fingar could simply have bought a copy of my book– cover price $14.95– and covered almost exactly the same range of issues, and reached very similar conclusions….

One thought on “US’s global dominance ‘Reduced’: It’s nearly official!”

  1. Though most of Europe publicly supports NATO, there is some fraying in the relationship. Italy has notably refused to back Cheney’s position on Georgia.,dwp_uuid=7c485a38-2f7a-11da-8b51-00000e2511c8,print=yes.html
    Though I think Europe will continue to welcome US support, anything that gets between Europe and its sources of energy will be most unwelcome. US attempts to meddle in policy towards energy producers and distribution corridors will become increasingly contentious. Since this is the pre-emminent foreign policy issue these days, Washington’s influence is set to wane, despite its desperate attempts to be indispensable and even relevant.
    So far Europe has supported Washington’s belligerence toward Iran, even though it prevents Europe from developing a major alternative to Russian gas. I look for European countries to start taking the lead on Iran and welcome US involvement only insofar as it is constructive. Any moves to destabilize Iran or jeopardize its ability or willingness to supply energy will not be viewed positively. Though a US military attack on Iran might be publicly welcomed by European governments, ultimately I believe they will be outraged at US behavior that is damaging to their vital strategic interests. Such an attack could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and the beginning of a precipitous decline in US influence around the world.

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