by Abraham Ben-Zvi
While rumors of the impending doom of the American era are premature, signs of the erosion of the country's superpower status will continue to be apparent in the coming year. The long-term Chinese threat to America's military, economic and scientific hegemony won't become an imminent one in 2013, but there is an obvious contrast in the strategic conduct of the two main axes of the international system and this will continue to shape the actions of both countries in the next year.
While China continues to demonstrate assertiveness and belligerence in its part of the world, the U.S. is reducing its overseas commitments. It seems that after nearly a decade of exhausting military action in Iraq, the American pendulum has swung toward a focus on domestic affairs. At the same time, American eyes are looking at the approaching deadline for the U.S. military to end its presence in Afghanistan, as well as at other areas of violent crisis. The U.S. is expected to maintain a "low-profile" policy, characterized by extreme caution and an avoidance, as much as possible, of initiating military operations.
Beyond economic constraints and U.S. President Barack Obama's desire to break the legacy of George W. Bush regarding the use of force, the issue of the problematic management of America's power will be prominent in 2013. This issue may overshadow American ability to flex its muscles in a world rich with complex and intertwined relationships and give greater leeway to other powers, including China and Russia. Essentially, the weakness of American leadership can be attributed to Obama's surroundings and it reflects a political and social situation rife with division. How can we expect the White House to manage defense and foreign affairs issues in an authoritative and effective manner at a time when the president is being forced to conduct marathon discussions with a recalcitrant House of Representatives as the danger of a grave economic crisis prompted by the fiscal cliff looms?
Just like during the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011, Obama is once again displaying complacency and indifference, as well as sluggish response skills. With Obama's ongoing inability to enlist a majority of the House of Representatives to pass basic legislative measures that are necessary to maintain the recovery process from the recent economic crisis, it will be difficult for the U.S. government to play a leading role in dealing with the other strategic challenges that await it.
Obama is about to start his second term bruised and scarred from an exhausting battle (whatever the result may be) with his domestic rivals. Obama will find it very difficult to lead the global ship to safe shores, as it is being buffeted by violent storms (i.e., Syria), strategic threats (i.e., Iran) and severe economic crises (i.e., Europe).
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