A popular column in The Economist stated that "America still towers over rivals in scientific virtuosity, military power, the vitality of democracy and much else. Polls show that Americans are still among the most patriotic people in the world" ("Where Has All the Greatness Gone?" July 17, 2010). But this brief assessment of America's stature also acknowledges the nation's serious difficulties—it being "battered by recession, deep in debt, mired in war."
America faces multiple international problems on many fronts. North Korea is but one. Recently both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were present at the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) where troops from both the North and the South constantly face each other across no-man's land. South Korea has 600,000 soldiers, and the United States still stations a force of 28,000 there to protect the South. On the other side, North Korea's army numbers about a million soldiers.
The show of solidarity included the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in Pusan. As a July 27, 2010, Associated Press article observed, "If you want to let someone know you are thinking about them, send a massive aircraft carrier." This demonstration of force was "designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop," said Gen. Walter Sharp, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea (Associated Press, July 28, 2010).
China denounced the entire exercise and was particularly annoyed that these military exercises occurred in the Yellow Sea near the Chinese coast. In Singapore, Sino-American tensions have also flared up again over Taiwan. "The wary relationship between the militaries of the U.S. and China flared openly—though courteously—at a conference here this weekend, a brief flash of the long-standing tension that's centered on Taiwan but extends to their broader alliances and differing worldviews" (Evan Ramstad, "U.S., China Display Military Wariness," The Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2010).
Then the Chinese decided not to invite Secretary Gates (as had been previously expected) to the People's Republic for a visit. Also during the Singapore conference "China...refused to criticize North Korea but sharply criticized Israel" (ibid.).
The long-standing American alliance with Japan also may be facing a period of worrying fragility. Washington's diplomatic relationship with Japan has long been "a cornerstone of peace and security" in the region (Tobias Harris, "Japan-U.S. Relations Could Get Bumpy," Newsweek, July 16, 2010). Japan's political instability at home gets the blame for the present disruption. Economic growth has been somewhat unsteady for 10 years and more.
Yet "Japan will likely grow even more dependent on the U.S. for its security, with the difference being that the relationship will be more fragile. For Japan, every U.S. initiative toward China will be scrutinized for signs that the U.S. is abandoning Japan in the region"—certainly a catch-22 conundrum for America (ibid.).
While these international relationships in East Asia remain seriously threatening, they pale when compared to Afghanistan. President Barack Obama, who inherited the Afghan and Iraq wars from the previous administration, has decided to step up efforts in Afghanistan while drawing down in Iraq.
A Spectator writer summed up his take on the U.S. dilemma, and he is by no means alone in this view: "Obama has in effect bet the house on America's ability to determine the fate of a quasi-nation possessing marginal significance to the West...The Most Powerful Man in the World finds himself a prisoner of events he cannot control" (Andrew Bacevich, "Obama Is in Hock to the Hawks," July 3, 2010). Recall that Lyndon Johnson was forced to grapple with a similar situation involving the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
On the other hand, Joe Klein's column in Time magazine advises the U.S. to forget Afghanistan: "Afghanistan is really a sideshow here. Pakistan is the primary U.S. national-security concern in the region... It has a nuclear stockpile, and lives under the threat of an Islamist coup by some of the very elements in its military who created and support the Taliban" ("Beyond the Leaks: Our Pakistan Problem," Aug. 9, 2010). In fact, both countries constitute enormous problems for America.
The United States will have to confront even greater challenges in the future. Yet the fate of the nation remains firmly in God's hands. If our Creator decides that the gospel of the Kingdom should go out with much greater power and influence, He may hold off calamitous national and world events to accommodate His overall purpose.
The whole story of how and why America became a great nation and why its leadership will be severely tested again and again is thoroughly explained in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy. Request or download your free copy! (Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Spectator [London], The Economist, Time, Newsweek, Associated Press.)