The United States finds itself in a unique place in history. As the world's leading superpower, its military can enforce foreign policy virtually anywhere around the globe. The average U.S. citizen enjoys a standard of living most people in developing countries can only imagine. The fingerprints of American culture, from soft drinks to television programs, can be seen in even the most remote regions.
This unprecedented global influence presents some daunting challenges to a nation that is both the world's economic engine and reluctant police force. Many believed that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War would bring a new era of global peace and prosperity under Pax Americana. But even at the dizzying heights of global power, destabilizing trends confront the United States in the coming year.
Challenges from Europe
Charles Kupchan, a Georgetown University professor and former member of President Clinton's National Security Council, shocked many pundits with his book The End of the American Era. Kupchan claims that the greatest threat to future U.S. global influence isn't from Islamic terrorists, but from a united and powerful Europe.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to marginalize France and Germany by labeling them "Old Europe" and playing down the economic and political unity quietly coalescing in central Europe. While member nations of the European Union maintain independent sovereignty, they have created a common parliament, established many shared policies and adopted the euro as the official EU currency.
Europe's old rivalries are being replaced by nations without borders. Professor Kupchan writes: "The European project has been an unqualified success. Not only has war among Europe's nations become unimaginable, but the borders among them are undefended and already being crossed without passport or customs control ...
"Opinion surveys reveal a clear preference among European publics for quickening the speed of integration. Almost half of those polled strongly identified as European, not just as citizens of a national state. And more than 70 percent support a common defense and security policy for the EU" (The End of the American Era, 2002, p. 136).
The combined population and economic output of the European Union is greater than the United States, and almost 75 percent of European trade is among member states. This means that the EU can sustain a measure of self-sufficiency that has been the sole privilege of the United States.
The uproar over U.S. steel tariffs in the closing months of 2003 is just the opening salvo in what some European news sources are calling a trade war. The new year promises a further flexing of European economic muscle in direct competition with U.S. interests.
This coming May the European Union plans to expand from its current number of 15 nations to 25. EU members are hammering out a European Constitution in order to transform economic clout into political and even military power. Though talks over it broke down in December, they are to resume sometime next year. If something like the current draft is eventually accepted by the EU member states, it would effectively double the size of the European Parliament and give the European Court widespread judicial powers.
The goal is clear. The Telegraph (London), in an article titled "Blueprint for Superpower Europe," reports European Commission President Romano Prodi's reaction to the current constitutional draft: "[He] does not like the text but he too agrees it is a 'gigantic step'. He predicts that it will catapult the EU into the global arena as a full superpower by endowing it with 'legal personality', giving Brussels [site of EU headquarters] sole authority to negotiate most treaties."
France and Germany have been strengthening their ties to maintain preeminence in the expanding EU. Rifts between these two Central European countries and the United States over the Iraq War, concern over EU member debates regarding the adoption of the European Constitution and the desire for a European defense force separate from NATO, have motivated the French government to an unprecedented relationship with their historical enemy.
One French EU commissioner, Pascal Lamy, is reported in The Telegraph as going so far as supporting the unification of the French and German diplomatic corps, formation of a joint parliament and German sharing of France's seat on the United Nations Security Council. Such an unprecedented level of cooperation would put a Franco-German alliance in the driver's seat of all EU operations.
Even with the stalled constitution talks, France, Germany and some other core EU countries now speak of pressing ahead with their own fast track to integration, leaving uncommitted EU nations behind in a looser affiliation. It's only a matter of time until the United States finds itself no longer the world's leading superpower, but competing on the world stage with a European Union no longer in need of NATO protection and an economic giant willing to challenge American global influence.
Continued unrest in the Middle East
The November bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Istanbul, Turkey, served as a warning to any Muslim nation cooperating with the West that Islamic extremist groups are alive and well and willing to kill fellow Muslims to attain their goals.
Time magazine reported on Nov. 24: "Rather than being defeated by the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Islamic terrorists seem to be methodically widening their holy war against the United States and its allies. Turkey made an obvious target. Even under the current Islamic-party government, democratic Turkey has remained staunchly secular and pro-Western. It was the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel, and cultivates extensive ties with the Jewish state. Long a faithful U.S. ally and member of NATO, Turkey aspires to join the European Union."
Last February a tape from Osama bin Laden fingered Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen and Pakistan as countries in need of being liberated from what he called American enslavement. Tens of thousands of trainees who graduated from al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan are now scattered throughout the Muslim world encouraging local terrorist groups and forming new ones. The new tactic of Islamic terrorists willing to kill fellow Muslims threatens to destabilize Arab governments and aggravate strife between Muslim sects.
Meanwhile, the United States finds itself in a quandary: Should it commit more troops and resources to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq, or pull out and doom both countries to bloody civil war and ruin? The price of brokering Middle East peace and rebuilding the two countries is also a huge burden on the U.S. economy, and daily reports of servicemen and women killed by car bombs and ambushes has cut into the resolve of the average citizen in supporting military involvement. The apprehension of Saddam Hussein has, of course, been a great morale booster. But even that may fade if violence persists.
Rebuilding a nation after a military defeat is difficult, to say the least. The difficulty is compounded by an all-too-common Muslim worldview that sees the United States in emotionally charged, contradictory terms.
On one hand, many Muslims readily accept American goods and oil money—while at the same time distrusting the United States because it is the prime supporter of Israel. It's common for Islamic clerics to paint the United States as "the Great Satan" and invoke fears of a modern-day American-led Christian crusade.
Israel under siege
The existence of Israel is at the heart of Arab and Muslim conflict with the United States (though Islamic extremists would oppose America even if Israel didn't exist). Solutions are impossible in a sea of propaganda and rewriting of history by Arab extremists who want to minimize a complicated situation by emphasizing the Palestinians as victims of Jewish aggression and discounting the legitimacy of the state of Israel. At the 2000 Camp David summit, Yasser Arafat even denied that the Western Wall in Jerusalem was ever part of a Jewish temple complex, and insisted that no such temple ever existed in the city.
Many Arabs, who feel they have been abused by the Western powers for generations, accept the propaganda. Prejudice and paranoia run so deep that many Muslims believe that the destruction of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks was the work of a Jewish conspiracy to turn Americans against the Arab world.
In this environment it is unclear whether the current "road map" for peace will bring a new era of U.S.-Arab relations or lead down another dark alley to an even more futile dead end.
At times Israel has had to face legitimate criticism for its treatment of Palestinians, but it is amazing how little global outcry there has been over the three years of the current intifada, as scores of Palestinian terrorist attacks have killed and injured hundreds of Israeli citizens.
The increase in anti-Jewish incidents in Western Europe and areas that were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc doesn't bode well for Israel in 2004. And in the coming year the United States can expect to find itself under increasing criticism for its continued support of Israel. (To learn more about the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, be sure to read "The New (Anti-Semitic) World Order," beginning on page 14.)
Internal culture wars
This last year witnessed a renewed energy in the cultural battle over the gay agenda.
A decade ago the gay rights battlegrounds were the military and increased exposure in television and movies; now the battle has expanded to demands that society accept gay marriages as equal with traditional heterosexual marriage and family.
Some political leaders have tried to counter this push with state laws and a possible constitutional amendment that would define marriage as only a union between a man and a woman. But at the same time other lawmakers are lobbying for expansion of gay rights, including the legalization of homosexual marriages. President George W. Bush, reacting to a Massachusetts state supreme court ruling in favor of marriages between homosexuals, publicly declared his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual behavior is sinful.
Meanwhile, according to an Aug. 5 Associated Press article, gay-rights activists are demanding that "homosexual rights be included in international human rights treaties" and are asking the United Nations to provide the same benefits to same-sex couples that these treaties provide to married couples. Barney Frank, a homosexual Democrat congressman from Massachusetts, "said that there is strong support for adopting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as part of the UN doctrine of human rights, which sets the standards worldwide."
Gay rights activists have scored some impressive victories in recent years, both culturally and politically. The U.S. Supreme Court's striking down of a Texas antisodomy law as unconstitutional, Wal-Mart's public statements about protecting the rights of gay employees and public homosexual parties in Disney World are but a few. Many current or recent TV series include homosexual characters and themes, which are constantly portrayed positively.
These victories have come at a price. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll shows some backlash against the gay agenda in the general public. While 48 percent of Americans polled said they supported legalization of same-sex relations between consenting adults, 46 percent said that same-sex unions should be illegal. This is the highest number of people taking an adverse stand against homosexuality since 1996.
The battle over homosexuality is just one front in the internal culture war tearing at the fabric of American society. Other battles in this war are being waged over radical feminism, abortion and the nation's historical Judeo-Christian concepts of morality.
The future of any society depends on the strength of its families. Homosexuality, abortion and radical feminism strike at the very foundation of marriage and family. Astronomical divorce rates, homosexual marriage and the redefining of the traditional family are issues that will intensify in the coming year, threatening the country's foundation of Judeo-Christian culture and morality.
The AIDS epidemic
When President Bush announced his $15 billion package to assist in combating the AIDS epidemic in Africa, he acknowledged a catastrophe affecting an entire continent. The latest UN figures on HIV/AIDS show that in spite of medical and educational efforts, the disease continues to spread.
MSNBC reports that "new global estimates, based on improved data, show about 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, including an estimated 2.5 million children under 15 years old. About five million people were infected in 2003 and more than three million died."
This disease's tentacles reach into every region of the world. An estimated 600 people die every day in South Africa from HIV/ AIDS. Forty percent of adults in Botswana and Swaziland are infected. The MSNBC report continues: "... Fueled by intravenous drug use and unsafe sex, [HIV/AIDS] is spreading in densely populated India and China as well as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and in Eastern Europe where the worst affected areas include the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia."
HIV/AIDS is sapping both life and the future from countries that are already underdeveloped and poverty stricken. The resulting human suffering and collapse of normal society is a breeding ground for anarchy.
Of course, the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States is a continuing and costly health catastrophe.
Is there any good news?
Strange as it may seem, a Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Son of God foretold these overall trends almost 2,000 years ago. Jesus of Nazareth took His disciples to the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem and answered their questions concerning His Second Coming. Matthew 24 records Jesus' prophecy of wars, diseases and natural disasters leading to a time when humanity would be on the brink of self-annihilation.
The bad news is that American ingenuity, military power and economic might can't solve the problems of human nature. The conflicting religious issues between Islam, Judaism and Christianity will continue to spur violent men and women to hatred and brutality. Nations will continue playing a power game to gain economic advantage. Human beings will continue to pursue self-gratification and defend their "right" to lifestyles free of moral restraints.
But the good news is that Jesus is the Christ, and He will fulfill His promise of Matthew 24 to return in power and glory to save humanity from self-destruction.
So what should obediently faithful Christians do now while waiting for that event? Should we simply accept the evil in the world as inevitable and hide away until Christ's return?
Notice what Jesus told His disciples as part of this same prophecy: "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
"But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:45-51).
True Christianity is visionary in its firm hope in the return of Jesus Christ to save humanity and establish God's Kingdom on earth. It is also practical in its application to everyday living. True Christians must strive to exhibit the teachings of Jesus in their lives even though they live in a dark and troubled world.
They must take part in God's work of reaching out to Christians, Muslims and Jews with the message of the only solution to the insurmountable problems threatening humanity. That solution is the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God. GN