America’s future as the world’s leading nation is being called into question—and many believe a tipping point has been reached.
“A year into Donald Trump’s presidency,” CNN reported on Jan. 18, 2018, “global confidence in US leadership has fallen to a new low, according to an opinion survey conducted across 134 countries. The Gallup poll puts global approval of US leadership at just 30%, slightly behind China [at] 31% and only three points ahead of Russia. Germany is now the top-rated global power in the world, with an approval rating of 41% . . .”
Of course, this is a matter of international perception. But perception can reflect or affect reality.
Many analysts see this as part of a bigger story. A Los Angeles Times article was titled “Trump Claims He’s Boosting U.S. Influence, but Many Foreign Leaders See America in Retreat” (Dec. 26). Ryan Cooper, national correspondent at The Week, followed up with “The American Empire Is Crumbling” (Dec. 29). Former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler wrote a piece for Observer with this title: “The Year American Hegemony Ended” (Dec. 31).
In an article in The Atlantic titled “America and the Great Abdication,” Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, contends that while the United States is facing a rise of other world powers to contest its leadership, the greater problem is one of relinquishing power and responsibility by choice. He notes that President Trump is not isolationist, having engaged in military operations, sought international sanctions on others and mediated several Mideast disputes, but he argues that “the United States is no longer taking the lead in maintaining alliances, or in building regional and global institutions that set the rules for how international relations are conducted” (Dec. 28).
Is that what’s happening? There definitely are indications of U.S. decline on the world scene. What is actually going on? And what does this mean for the world’s future? Does the Bible tell us anything in this regard?
Opinions of U.S. retreat in perspective
It’s important to realize that the world at large represented in the Gallup poll results is of quite a different mind from that of the average American citizen—and certainly far out of step from most of you reading this publication. The same holds for most foreign affairs analysts, who are bogged down with liberal progressive and traditional statist mentality.
Much of the media and world animus toward Donald Trump is over his “America first” approach to foreign policy—meaning the U.S. government looking to the interests of its own citizens first. (Of course, Trump has also said that other nations are expected to promote and safeguard their own citizens’ interests ahead of those of other countries. And he’s also stated, “America first does not mean America alone.”)
Putting U.S. national interest first has involved pulling back from some prior global agreements, such as Trump’s announcement in June to take the United States out of the Paris climate accord. Most of those claiming that America has abandoned its world leadership role point to this as exhibit A.
The entire rest of the world can’t be wrong, can they? Well, yes they can. And it can well be a sign of true global leadership to stand alone in such a matter, rejecting a deal on the grounds that it’s bad for America and the world. Consider also that American compliance with international agreements has been a way for other nations to restrain U.S. power and influence.
President Trump has also been opposed by most of the world, including America’s allies, in his decision to comply with U.S. law (passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress 23 years ago) in recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocating the U.S. embassy there. Is it relinquishing world leadership to take a stand so unpopular abroad? That being said, it’s definitely more of a challenge to lead the world in such a circumstance.
Many are wary of Trump’s temperament as they see it—strident, irascible, reactionary and belligerent. We should recall that George W. Bush was similarly disliked by the world community for his positions and direct manner, saying America would go it alone if no one came along. He repeatedly called out the “axis of evil” of North Korea, Iran and Iraq—with subsequent events showing his warnings to be spot on. And of course, his low global approval numbers nearly matched Trump’s.
On the other hand, the world and the global and media elites adored Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, even as they did major damage to America’s position in the world. As liked as Obama was, he increasingly diminished America’s global standing as he went about apology tours, “leading from behind,” bowing to foreign monarchs, retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan, and pursuing destructive economic policies.
As Schindler stated in his Observer piece: “It should be noted that President Trump inherited a hegemon in decline. His predecessors did plenty of damage before the current Oval Office occupant decided to inflict more.” Yet what more has Trump actually inflicted in this regard?
A Jan. 17, 2018 New York Post article titled “The Myth of Trump’s ‘Global Retreat’” by John Glaser of the Cato Institute flies in the face of much of the contention thus far raised. He points out that “Trump’s foreign policy . . . hasn’t backed away from any theater in which the US military was committed or engaged at the time of his inauguration. In some respects, Trump is more interventionist than his predecessors . . . NATO has expanded . . . In the Middle East, Trump has increased the number of boots on the ground. . . In Asia, Trump hasn’t reduced America’s postwar role . . .
“So why do people have it so wrong? . . . [Trump’s] occasional rhetoric suggesting a reduced global role for the United States is contradicted by his actions . . . Trump hasn’t forfeited America’s global leadership . . . America is still playing the futile role of global cop, still reigns as the only superpower with a globe-straddling military presence and is still picking fights in distant regions remote to US national-security interests.”
In fact, the president is actually taking some steps for the security of the world, such as telling Iranian revolutionaries that America will support them if they rise up to depose the mullahs, which would save the globe from nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamic extremists. This is unlike his predecessor, who chose to agree to a horrible nuclear deal with Iranian leaders and enabled this dire threat to emerge.
Dealing with a weakened position and rivals
It should also be recognized that U.S. military capability has been seriously diminished since the Obama administration. There is a major need for restructuring and modernization lest, says a new study by the Rand Corp., “U.S. forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight”—with China and Russia identified as major threats.
This is made worse by the economic burden of national debt that doubled during the eight years of the Obama administration. Sadly, the debt is being allowed to continue to grow, which will eventually lead to a reckoning.
Analysts are concerned over China and Russia filling the power vacuum left by the decline in U.S. power in recent years. Germany and the rest of the European Union draw less attention, but a more powerful European power bloc could emerge. President Trump has stated that NATO countries must start doing more for their own security instead of relying on America to protect them. This, as part of the increasing wedge between America and its European partners, is sparking more calls for a politically integrated United States of Europe in control of a European army.
American withdrawal from global leadership is pushing Germany to consider stepping up its role. This, writes Christiane Hoffman in Der Spiegel, “will also mean a departure from the good Germany. When principles collide with pragmatism . . . Berlin will be forced to make difficult decisions. But how far should we go?” (“The American Void: It’s Time for Germany to Learn to Lead,” Jan. 5, 2018). At some point American military arms and equipment stockpiled in Europe could be left in the hands of Europeans and, shocking for the world, we could see an armed unified Europe in conflict with America.
Identity and geopolitical role found in the Bible
This is all to be expected from what the Bible tells us will happen to Israel and other nations in the end time. Yet we must understand that Israel in this context refers to more than the small Jewish state in the Middle East.
The ancient nation of Israel sprang from the patriarch Abraham’s grandson Jacob, to whom God gave the name Israel. The descendants of Jacob were eventually established in the land of Canaan as a kingdom. But this kingdom was split into two kingdoms—the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The Jewish people are the descendants of the people of the southern kingdom.
The people of the northern kingdom were eventually conquered and carried away captive to Assyria—a precursor of a captivity that is yet to come. But that was not the end of their story. God had promised to sift them through the nations yet preserve them intact (Amos 9:9). After the fall of ancient Assyria, the northern Israelite tribes migrated far to the northwest, their descendants eventually forming the peoples of northwestern Europe.
While many today would reject this out of hand, it is the most reasonable conclusion based on the available facts. God had said that Israel would eventually become a multitude of nations, with the specific prophecy of “a nation and a company of nations” (Genesis 35:9-11).
The foremost promises of national greatness were specifically bestowed on the two sons of Jacob’s son Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, with Ephraim to become a plurality of nations and Manasseh to become the great single nation (Genesis 48:17-19). They would become great colonizing people—the strongest and richest nations on earth in the last days (Genesis 49:1, 22-26). This is evident through many prophecies.
Putting prophecy together with history, we can see that Ephraim became the largest empire in history, the British Empire, and the nations that sprang from it, including Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Manasseh became the greatest single nation in history—the United States of America. There is not space to cover this here in detail, but you can read the remarkable story in our free study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.
Micah 5 describes the military might that these peoples attained in these terms: “And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles [or nations], in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, who, if he passes through, both treads down and tears in pieces, and none can deliver. Your hand shall be lifted against your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off” (verses 8-9).
But remaining at this height of world power would require the Israelite peoples in the last days to be humble and obedient before God. And if they instead persisted in flagrant disobedience of God’s laws, they would come under terrible national curses, as described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.
Decline leading to destruction
For decades Britain has experienced national decline. Following World War II, it fell rapidly from being a major empire to what some have labeled a fourth-rate world power. America is set to follow the same path of diminishing dominance and influence.
Note one key way the decline would come. God told Israel, “And after all this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power . . .” (Leviticus 26:18-19, emphasis added throughout). God foretold an actual erosion of power, to be sure. Yet there also would be an increasing unwillingness to use the power at hand.
An article by Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post was headlined “The Decline of U.S. Influence Is the Great Global Story of Our Age” (Dec. 28, 2017). In words that strikingly reflect this ancient prophecy, he observed that “the largest trend today is the decline of American influence. Not the decline of American power—the country remains economically and militarily in a league of its own—but a decline of its desire and capacity to use that power to shape the world.”
For a long while, the United States has been referred to as a “paper tiger” with no real bite. And when the nation has used its power, it has often severely hampered itself under an absurd level of restrictions.
None of the wars America has fought since World War II has been a decisive victory. U.S. forces were withdrawn before the job was truly done. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were long slogs that became increasingly despised by the American public. Worse still has been the national self-loathing among some for America’s having taking strong stands in the world and the previously mentioned apologizing for past interventions.
Along with weakening military resolve and power would come the loss of economic strength. God warned of the growth of foreign economic power at Israel’s expense: “[He] shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail” (Deuteronomy 28:43-44). In recent decades America has reversed its role from being the world’s greatest lender to becoming the most indebted nation in world history.
Continuing disobedience, God warned, would eventually lead to total calamity. In Micah 5, right after foretelling Israel’s powerful position among the nations (Micah 5:8-9), the very next verses show it plummeting into destruction.
Note what God says as worded in the Living Bible translation: “I will destroy all the weapons you depend on, tear down your walls, and demolish the defenses of your cities. I will put an end to all witchcraft [occult practices]—there will be no more fortune-tellers to consult—and destroy all your idols. Never again will you worship what you have made, for I will abolish the heathen shrines from among you, and destroy the cities where your idol temples stand. I will pour out my vengeance on the nations who refuse to obey me” (Micah 5:10-15).
As many prophecies reveal, the end-time nations of Israel will collapse through war, famine, plague, destruction of cities, and peoples again deported into captivity and slavery, as befell Israel in ancient times. The Bible calls this “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) and the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14). This unparalleled disaster is what lies ahead for America, Britain and the other nations of British descent without heartfelt repentance on a national scale.
This terrible fall will not come at the hands of a resurgent China or Russia, as many might expect—though these ultimately will play important roles on the world stage. Rather, the principal agent of destruction against the English-speaking nations will be a European-centered superpower, a prophesied final revival of the Roman Empire.
And thus we see the divide in the Western world between America and the nations of Europe pursuing a more integrated power bloc, with calls for Germany to assume world leadership. Europe will eventually gain ascendancy, and the world’s lone superpower of today will be no more.
We must recognize and overcome our own worst enemy
Of course, Europe or any other foreign power could not accomplish this of itself. This destruction is really coming by our people’s own hand—through refusal to repent of rejecting and disobeying God. The real and foremost enemy is we ourselves if we will not turn to God in repentance.
Abraham Lincoln was quite right when he said well before America’s Civil War that the nation would fall largely by its own doing: “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! . . .
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide” (Lyceum Address, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” Jan. 27, 1839).
Sadly, the country will not turn from its path to national suicide. Ultimately it will face “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” with horrific devastation, suffering and enslavement of those who don’t perish swiftly.
Thankfully, as we announce repeatedly in this magazine, there will come a better world beyond today—the time of the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God, when all human powers will be vanquished and the Israelite peoples, at last humbled, repentant and obedient to God, will be restored to their leading role among the nations. But dark days, the worst ever, will come before that time.
It may be premature to know whether America will continue its retreat from global leadership under President Trump. That was certainly happening under the previous administration in various ways. And it may be happening in different ways now. Regardless, though, it seems clear that U.S. power and influence is waning, and that other powers are extending their reach.
Look around—and within. The world is changing. Britain’s vast empire is long gone. America is dangerously teetering, its direction unsure and unclear. New empires are emerging.
Even though the surrounding culture hurtles toward oblivion, you can and must personally take a stand—against the corrupt nature you share with everyone else. “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). God will see you through to the end—if you choose Him and His way rather than following the crowd in its plunge over the edge. Surrender to Him and you will stand secure when the world around you falls!