Eiffel Cower

The United States, Todd contends, is no longer a global economic dynamo. Under the faade of what we have been led to believe as a healthy, high productivity, low-tax, low- inflation economy lies a rotten core. Real industrial production has been replaced by a dependence on vague Enron-like “services.” Our trade deficit, which seems to break historical records each quarter, makes our world-famous rates of consumption unsustainable. Further, it makes us dependent on the whims of international financiers who could pull the rug out from under our economy at any moment. We are in, he says, for a massive worsening in our economic fortunes which will drastically lower our standard of living. Our oversized military thus is a lagging indicator, a sign of our weakness, not strength, and our current aggressive foreign policy stems from our need to hide our vulnerability and to maintain our reputation as, in Secretary Albright’s words, “the indispensable power.”

In the future, Todd asserts, the real power will rest with Europe. The continent will evolve into an united force and its steadfastly protected industrial base will allow it to rapidly reestablish its military might. Further, borrowing from former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Todd asserts that Europe benefits from its position at the epicenter of the economic and political world: Eurasia. Over time, Europe’s and Russia’s cultural affinities will converge. By contrast, the Cold War-era ties which bind the Atlantic world together will be severed because of the vast divide separating “European and American civilizations.” Todd’s rhetoric reaches a feverish pitch when he refers to the inevitable end of U.S.-European interdependence as “the emancipation of Europe.”

With a wide-ranging and self-confident book like After the Empire, it is a bit of a challenge to figure out where a critique should begin. Three areas stand out.

First, while it is not outlandish to claim that the foundation of the U.S. economy is not as solid as it once was, Todd’s henny-penny economic analysis is a stretch. A $500 billion annual trade deficit is worrying and has contributed to the dollar’s recent decline in value. But the United States is not Argentina. Unlike developing countries, we carry our debt in our own currency. A monetary devaluation may slow the U.S. economy, but it does not pose a fatal threat to our economic health. The long-term prospects of the economy are just not as dire as Todd would have us believe.

Second, our unilateralist foreign policy, which Todd argues is inevitably formed by our economic and cultural condition, is more likely (and I am just guessing here) the result of the loss of a couple of hundred votes in Florida. If multilateralists such as Al Gore and Richard Holbrooke were defining U.S. foreign policy, rather than George Bush and Dick Cheney, Todd’s claims wouldn’t be controversial, they would be laughable.

Third, though Todd’s forecast of the rise of an independent Eurasian juggernaut is not implausible–one ought to be prepared to wait for a long time before it comes to pass. Despite the size of the E.U. economy and its impressive industrial base, Western European nations are not likely to stomach a massive redistribution of funds away from social welfare toward military development. Todd predicates his analysis on the hard won camaraderie between Germany and France. But as the recently collapsed efforts to create a European constitution have demonstrated, the reality of a unified, and muscular, European foreign and military policy is still, at best, a number of years away.

Like the neocons’ worldview, Todd’s theory combines a wishful vision of the future and nationalistic triumphalism in a way that sidesteps the facts. All of the following are true: The United States depends on foreign capital to sustain its consumption and the rest of the world relies on that consumption to drive its economic growth; the United States is unmatched in its ability to express its military power and is understandably reticent of attacking countries with nuclear capabilities; Europe has invested less in its military and we could still use European troops in Iraq. We and our allies are, in a word, interdependent. That may sound dull and “interdependence” won’t sell many books. But unlike the theories of Todd and the neocons, it happens to be true.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation