America’s last few elections have shown it is obviously divided on its direction, values and future. Never before has it seen its national leaders so denigrated, mocked and attacked—a constant, unrelenting assault from the mass media and many foreign countries.
Yet paradoxically the United States is still clearly the most powerful nation in the world. Its economy, even in spite of the enormously expensive war on terror, remains the powerhouse of the world. The U.S. gross domestic product—its total output of goods and services—accounts for almost a third of the output of the entire world. Its economy is 2 1 / 2 times larger than Japan’s, 8 1 / 2 times that of China and 30 times that of Russia.
America’s military budget is greater than that of Russia, China and the European Union combined. And with the United States accounting for almost 80 percent of the world’s military research and development expenditures, it clearly possesses the world’s most advanced weaponry—as demonstrated in its lightning-quick victories in toppling hostile regimes in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003.
And yet why does a superpower nation like the United States seem unable to quell the ongoing turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why has history’s most powerful nation appeared so impotent in enforcing its will on Iran and North Korea in their pursuit of nuclear weapons? And most important of all, what do these critical dilemmas portend for the future of America and the rest of the world?
Troubled recent military history
One can open the pages of a popular American newsweekly from the year 1964 and find some of today’s sentiments about Iraq expressed about Vietnam. The Aug. 7 issue of Time magazine that year described the Southeast Asian conflict as a “dirty, ruthless, wandering war, which has neither visible front lines nor visible end . . . Now there is no more talk of being out by 1965—or any other year in the foreseeable future.”
Conditions in Vietnam were to get much worse with the conflict dragging on another decade until the mid-1970s. Today’s president has to live with the fact that the patience of the American Congress and citizenry has grown much thinner than in earlier conflicts.
For example, while America has suffered nearly 3,000 battle deaths in Iraq, that 3 ½ -year total, while tragic, is barely larger than the number of U.S. servicemen killed in one day during the D-Day invasion. It’s dwarfed by the 426,000 U.S. combat deaths in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, which took place when America’s total population was much smaller than today. Yet seldom do we see such numbers put in perspective. As happened with Vietnam, it appears that most of America no longer has the stomach for a protracted, bloody conflict.
Many Americans’ perspective on America’s place in the world has also changed—in many ways quite dramatically.
When World War II ended in 1945, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union dominated the world, having defeated the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. Yet within a decade the British Empire, long a stabilizing force throughout the world, had been virtually dismantled (with few exceptions like Gibraltar and Hong Kong, the latter returned to China only recently in 1997). Drained by the cost of a long war, Britain could simply no longer afford to maintain its empire.
The Soviet Union and the United States soon entered the long Cold War that didn’t end until the epochal fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 along with the attendant collapse of the iron curtain.
David Rothkopf, a former national security adviser to the U.S. government, comments on U.S. constraints: “During the Cold War, the power of the United States to act internationally was constrained by the countervailing interests and strengths of the Soviet Union. We could act, but we always had to anticipate and compensate for a reaction from our large adversary” ( Running the World, 2004, p. xiii).
Out of this atmosphere grew the concept of limited war, that the stakes were too high for America to risk all-out war again. The Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, the U2 spy plane embarrassment involving an American pilot shot down over Soviet territory in 1960 and held for two years, and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 were three highly dangerous incidents that brought America into potential nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union.
Change of fortunes in Korea and Vietnam
In the early 1950s North Korea tested America’s will to keep peace in the world and to thwart a communist threat in Southeast Asia.
To end the Korean War (1950 to 1953), the United States settled for a stalemate— one that, considering North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, proved how shortsighted anything but the clear-cut victory that U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted would produce. Considerable American military forces remain stationed in South Korea to this day to maintain an uneasy peace.
The Korean stalemate was followed by the debacle in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. Again, American will to police the world was at stake. Supporters of the war cited the domino theory, that Southeast Asia could follow North Vietnam’s lead into communism without firm U.S. intervention.
During that conflict U.S. President Lyndon Johnson observed, “Our will is being tried.” The most telling images of the end of that draining conflict were U.S. helicopters evacuating South Vietnamese military and governmental personnel and their families from the roof of the American embassy as Saigon fell to the onrushing forces of Ho Chi Minh from the North. Soon after, neighboring Cambodia and Laos likewise fell to the communists.
As historian Niall Ferguson points out, “The doctrine of limited war led to a draw in Korea and a defeat in Vietnam” ( Colossus, 2004, p. 287). Millions died in Southeast Asia as a result.
New leadership challenges
Coming into office after the defeat in Vietnam, U.S. President Ronald Reagan embarked on a massive military spending program to reestablish American supremacy. The Soviet Union, trying to keep pace, soon bankrupted itself, leading to the collapse of the iron curtain and freedom for the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe. America soon found itself the sole global superpower.
Rothkopf sums up the situation that would now challenge American leadership: “Indeed, in a new global environment, not only was the power of the U.S. leadership unprecedented, it was also unanticipated . . . American leaders were effectively making decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of tens and hundreds of millions, of billions, who did not choose them, did not understand what they were doing or how they were doing it . . . We were the defacto leaders of the global community, crowned by history and circumstances . . . ” ( Running the World, p. xiii).
No nation should let adverse circumstances and setbacks in the United States lead it to underestimate the awesome power America still holds—even if the nation sometimes lacks both the political will and biblical wisdom in using that power.
President John F. Kennedy once promised in a speech to “fight any foe” in the interest of liberty and justice in the world. He belatedly recognized that there were limitations to American power and that he could not intervene in every conflict in the world. Even those with awesome power have to hold their fire and wisely select when and where to intervene in the perceived national interest.
Returning to the present, the most disturbing new challenge to U.S. leadership occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, with the suicide airplane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. with a tragic loss of some 3,000 lives. Only then did the United States wake up to the fact that the Islamic terror machine had been warring with America for 20 years (remember Beirut in 1982, the attack at the Twin Towers in 1993, embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole —just to name a few).
What we fail to appreciate
Historian Andrew Roberts articulates a much-needed counter perspective of events in the war on terror. “Those who accuse Bush and Blair of exacerbating Islamicist terrorism through their invasions of Afghanistan and especially Iraq fail to appreciate that murderous and pitiless war-making was already underway long before 2003.
“If anything, the War against Terror was a belated response . . . Only after 9/11 were the English-speaking peoples finally prepared to fight the struggle properly and employ every element of national power to form a coherent and strong response” ( A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, 2006, p. 601).
Truly 9/11 stunned the world. Many cheered in third world countries. Initially much of the rest of the world rallied around America. Now, just a few years later, the United States can count its friends in the world virtually on one hand. Even friendly governments are paying a price for their loyalty to America and have to bravely withstand the outcries of opposing partisan groups within their own citizenry.
America’s reliable allies consist of only a few mostly English-speaking nations: Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel. In reality these friends aren’t just friends, but are truly blood brothers. (To understand the vital historical connection between these nations, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy . Without this essential biblical and historical knowledge, you really cannot truly understand current affairs affecting the English-speaking world.)
Facing a stacked deck
The nature of America’s foreign ventures in Southeast Asia and the Middle East has worked against it. As a feature article in the October 2006 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique explains: “If the 20th century is any guide, no low-intensity guerrilla war or insurrection has ever been won on foreign soil. The US, like the Soviets in Afghanistan, the French in Algeria and its own forces in Vietnam, might possess far more advanced and destructive firepower, but it is far less committed than its opponents and is far more fragile and prone to losing momentum.
“In a conflict perceived as being between a selfish crusade and selfless jihad, highly trained, paid and equipped US, Israeli and British soldiers strive to stay alive as they fight wars of choice against low-tech volunteer militants who are ready to sacrifice themselves and die as martyrs in a confrontation of necessity. The U.S. mourns its dead; resistance groups celebrate theirs” (Marwan Bishara, “US: World Empire of Chaos”).
U.S. historians Steven Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley point out the nobility of American aims as professed by the nation’s leaders: “From 1961 onward, American presidents never tired of proclaiming that the United States was making sacrifices in Southeast Asia only for the good of the people of that region. The United States had no territorial objectives, nor did it wish to replace the French as the colonial masters of the Vietnamese” ( Rise to Globalism, 1997, p. 241).
Nonetheless, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, a U.S. general based in China before and during World War II, is chiefly remembered for advising his American compatriots not to get involved in land wars in Asia. He knew the “terrain”—the difficulty of fighting a determined foe on his own ground halfway around the world.
American interventions—a mixed record
In 1939 America had a relatively small army with few if any real military alliances and virtually no troops stationed in any foreign countries. Except for a venture or two in Mexico and Cuba and of course World War I, wars with foreigners had been rare in American history, especially compared to Europe. The dominant national mood veered towards isolationism.
However, with enormous American involvement in World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, all that changed rather rapidly. Since then the United States has had a fairly large standing army, navy and air force with huge military budgets to support their activities. Technologically, its weaponry is even more impressive.
Major interventions in Korea, Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf have been punctuated by minor ones at various locations in the Americas like Grenada and Panama. America has forged military alliances with many nations and has sent huge amounts of armaments to those perceived as friendly governments.
Yet American national security has been constantly in jeopardy, perhaps never more so than now with the ongoing war on terror. In spite of heavy U.S. military intervention in the first Gulf War in 1991, in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003, the problems haven’t gone away. America showed its powerful military could win the war, but couldn’t win the peace.
Overall, U.S. foreign interventions have not had successful outcomes since World War II. Indeed, that’s an understatement. Current conditions at home and abroad might cause us to ask a crucial question: Has America won its last war?
Taking our quest for understanding all these events to a higher level, could there be an all-important, highly significant dimension we have not considered in taking America’s temperature as a nation?
The national motto of the United States, as found on its currency, is “In God we trust.” Yet have not far too many left God out of the picture? Is there a moral dimension that is having a far greater effect on America’s national fortunes than we now realize?
We need to diligently consult a valuable and reliable source that most Americans have somewhere in their homes. It is, of course, the Bible, which U.S. President Andrew Jackson called “the rock on which our Republic rests.” Consider a passage from Deuteronomy 32:7-9 Deuteronomy 32:7-9 7 Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.
8 When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
9 For the LORD’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
American King James Version×: “Remember the days of old . . . When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations . . . He set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the children of Israel . For the Lord ‘s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance.”
God had His eyes on ancient Israel, and that has not changed when we understand who Jacob’s descendants are today. And yet He is concerned for all nations and all peoples.
“Righteousness exalts a nation”
King Solomon, ruler of Israel at the zenith of its power, recorded a great principle of national life: “Righteousness exalts a nation . . .” (Proverbs 14:34 Proverbs 14:34Righteousness exalts a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.
American King James Version×). This is true of any nation!
God has blessed America with freedoms and material prosperity perhaps beyond any country in all of history. (Why else do so many people in economically deprived countries want to uproot and move to the United States?)
There has been a measure of biblical understanding in American history. Indeed, some U.S. presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were truly men of great integrity and respect for the Bible. Lincoln even called his countrymen to a national fast and established a national day of thanksgiving. A French author and traveler once remarked that “America is great because America is good.” Perhaps he knew that “righteousness exalts a nation.”
However, there is another side to that same proverb. It continues, “… But sin is a reproach to any people.” Somehow we Americans have let righteous conduct slip through our fingers, particularly in the recent decades since the end of World War II.
Our pioneer ancestors in America wouldn’t understand our current behavior as a nation. Most of them would be appalled by our lack of morals. They would say that we have turned our backs on God. And they would be right.
Indeed, we are denying our Creator and removing Him from public life. Prayer and the Bible have been banned from public schools. Some have tried to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. There is a concerted and growing effort to remove the Ten Commandments from the public sphere.
As a nation we have allowed and tolerated rampant sexual immorality, financial impropriety, theft, pornography—the list seems endless. We have already legalized homosexual behavior and in some places have even legalized same-sex marriage. We have aborted our unborn children by the millions, usually for our own convenience.
Blessings and curses
Believe it or not, what is happening to our English-speaking peoples was forecast in the pages of the Bible a long time ago. You should read carefully the blessings and curses listed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God had greatly blessed ancient Israel just as He has also blessed their descendants residing principally in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, parts of South Africa and Northwest Europe.
Notice another passage in Deuteronomy: “But Jeshurun [another name for Israel] grew fat and kicked . . . Then he forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15 Deuteronomy 32:15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: you are waxen fat, you are grown thick, you are covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.
American King James Version×).
One of America’s founding fathers, John Adams, said that “riches, grandeur and power will have the same effect upon American as upon European minds.” He meant it as a stark warning. He understood the patterns of history.
The blessings, obligations and warnings—clearly reminiscent of our modern plight today—reside in an earlier chapter of Deuteronomy. There God, through Moses, addressed the Israelites as they stood poised to enter the Promised Land and its abundant natural resources:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of waters, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 Deuteronomy 8:7-9 7 For the LORD your God brings you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
8 A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
9 A land wherein you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass.
American King James Version×).
In principle this passage describes America even more accurately than ancient Israel.
Though geographically they occupied only a very small region of the earth, the Israelites of old were actors on a larger stage. Their audience was the whole human race and their time frame projected itself far into the future.
Not giving credit to God
God’s divine instructions and warnings followed: “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments and His statutes which I command you today. Lest—when you have eaten and are full and have built beautiful houses and dwell in these . . . and all that you have is multiplied, when your heart is lifted up . . . Then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth’ ” (verses 10-17).
Later God said through the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah that “My people have forgotten Me days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32 Jeremiah 2:32Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number.
American King James Version×). The tragic results are everywhere to be seen today. In fact, the book of Leviticus talks about Israel’s power being broken. We still have that power in America for now, but our pride has been shaken to its roots by the events of the last 50 years.
God is the unseen actor on the world stage. He simply stated: “I will break the pride of your power” (Leviticus 26:19 Leviticus 26:19And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:
American King James Version×). Do we think that our Creator doesn’t have the power to do it? Jesus referred to the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25 Matthew 11:25At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes.
American King James Version×). He is all-powerful! The Bible and history are a record of empires and kingdoms that rose and fell at His command!
The Bible also talks about a coming “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7 Jeremiah 30:7Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
American King James Version×) in which our English-speaking nations—the modern descendants of Jacob—will undergo a period of indescribable pain and suffering because of our disobedience to God’s laws. This will happen during the period Scripture calls “the time of the end.” (To learn more, request our free booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End? )
Is there a way of escape?
Is it too late for the United States of America? Or is there a way out? Can we still avert a future national disaster of unbelievable proportions? We have been given plenty of warnings. Do we really think that our Creator God was powerless to prevent 9/11?
Noted author Samuel Huntington says this: “All societies face recurring threats to their existence, to which they eventually succumb. Yet some societies, even when so threatened, are also capable of postponing their demise by halting and reversing the processes of decline and renewing their vitality and identity” ( Who Are We?, 2004, p. xviii).
God is even more encouraging! “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 2 Chronicles 7:14If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
American King James Version×).
America is truly at a momentous—and dangerous—crossroads. The clear message sent by the latest election results, and the increasingly loud demands that the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq, show that American patience and commitment in Iraq are likely nearing an end. Indications point to America trying to find a way to exit without losing too much face.
But ominously, these things also show something else—that should America turn its back on its commitment to Iraq at this point, it’s almost certain that no future U.S. administration, regardless of party, will soon commit American military power overseas for anything short of an attack on U.S. soil that could dwarf the devastating 9/11 attacks.
This almost certainly ensures that the world will soon become an even more dangerous place. Regimes like North Korea and Iran, long supporters of international terrorism, are actively developing nuclear arms and the means to deliver them. At the same time they openly threaten to destroy the United States.
What message will lack of American resolve, real or perceived, in dealing with rogue states and terrorists send to the rest of the world? If the United States won’t stand up to them—and the United Nations’ track record in dealing with such problems is abysmal—who or what will head off an explosion of global instability?
In times like these the utter foolishness of rejecting God and His ways should be evident. On the one hand we seek to remove Him from our public life and shrilly demand that we don’t want Him around, and then we wonder why He doesn’t respond when tragedy strikes.
Nevertheless, He will hear those who sincerely seek Him with all their hearts, and will aid and comfort those who put their trust in Him. “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” He tells us in Isaiah 55:6-7 Isaiah 55:6-7 6 Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
American King James Version×, “call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” GN