The American Interest

An Unsteady Empire

August 29, 2005, the day when hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, may have marked the beginning of the end of the American Empire.  Four years after the horrors in New York and Washington, D.C., showed the nation’s vulnerability to external attack, the Hobbesian free-for-all in New Orleans demonstrated just how fragile it is internally.

In that same week, four less widely reported events contributed to a shift in the global strategic equation: At Rotterdam’s spot market, oil exceeded $70 per barrel for the first time; on China’s Shandong Peninsula, Russia and China conducted a joint military exercise for the first time in history; the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a conciliatory report on Iran’s nuclear program; and in Baghdad, the drafters of Iraq’s new constitution declared “the fixed principles and rules of Islam” to be the basis of all future legislation.

On all four fronts, the American interest mandates the adoption of a new, essentially defensive, strategy.

Some wars or disasters have the capacity to create strong bonds among the American people and to enhance their sense of mutual solidarity.  The devastation along the Gulf Coast will not be remembered as such an event.  Many “lessons of Katrina” will be drawn by pundits and bureaucrats, but the most significant one is that America’s inner cities are easily turned...

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