On July 17, 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the U.S. Congress. Near the end of his speech he had these words to say to, and about, America and the war on terrorism.
"I know it's hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to, but always wanted to go... I know out there there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business saying to you, the political leaders of this country, 'Why me? And why us? And why America?'
"And the only answer is, 'Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do.'"
The pinnacle of power
America stands at the pinnacle of power in today's world. No other nation comes close to matching the economic, political or cultural power of the United States. It literally strides the earth like a Goliath, doing its will in a manner that produces a lot of benefit and good for the world. In the process, it also garners a great deal of animosity and envy from other countries that resent its role and what it chooses to do.
Within the past five years America has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing about regime change. America is the only nation with the ability to airlift an army anywhere in the world and engage forces on land, sea and air. Its ability to project power is unmatched in history.
Economically, America's consumer society is the engine that fuels the world economy. A steady stream of cargo planes fly daily out of Asia filled with products for the shelves of Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. Cargo ships tie up in Long Beach, California, and disgorge Japanese and South Korean cars. America supplies enough demand to keep these economies growing at strong rates.
By importing far more goods than it exports, America has incurred a huge trade deficit resulting in a high debt. China holds a good share of America's $800 billion trade deficit.
Asian countries have held on to a huge stash of dollars in the last decade. This has propped up the dollar on international markets, allowing Americans to continue spending on consumer goods. The dollar is the world's reserve currency, something that helps keep its standard of living high.
There is another form of power, sometimes called "soft power." It does not take the form of ships, missiles and guns. It is the vast cultural influence that America wields across the globe. American music, movies, brands and lifestyles have a wide market and influence among the world's youth.
Last fall in Israel I observed a group of Arab youth in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. In a restaurant one night I sat next to a table of young people out for a night of entertainment. I looked closer at what they were wearing and eating and smiled. They had on Nike tennis shoes and shirts and Levi jeans. They were drinking Coke and eating hamburgers and fries. It could have been a scene in any restaurant in America.
A recent article cited examples and surveys from the Muslim world that indicate not only the impact of this soft power but also the Muslim perception of moral decay in America and other Western nations.
Citing numerous examples of American cultural influence, including the reaction earlier this year of Muslims in Indonesia to the launch of a local version of Playboy magazine (done without nude photos), the article gave a well-known classical explanation for this power.
"Long before celluloid and pixels were invented, Plato understood that 'those who tell the stories also rule.' Philosophers tell us that images rule dreams, and dreams rule actions. And if music sets the mood for the multitudes, the warblings of Sinatra and Madonna are surely the muzak of the world order" (Nathan Gardels and Mike Medavoy, "The Fast-Fading Luster of the American Story," International Herald Tribune, June 14, 2006).
This soft power is seeing mounting resistance from the Asian and Muslim world, notwithstanding the present Japanese prime minister's fascination with the music of Elvis Presley.
The article goes on to cite a German newsweekly: "There is also resistance to the mere fact of America's overwhelming cultural dominance. Josef Joffe, the publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit, has put it directly: 'Between Vietnam and Iraq, America's cultural presence has expanded into ubiquity, and so has resentment of America. Soft power does not necessarily increase the world's love for America. It is still power, and it still makes enemies'" (ibid.).
The article quotes a recent Gallup Poll of 8,000 women in Muslim countries who cite "attachment to spiritual and moral values" as the best aspect of their own societies, while the most common answer to the question about what they admired least in the West was "moral decay, promiscuity and pornography" that pollsters called "the Hollywood image."
The authors cynically comment that many American parents feel the same way about Hollywood values, including the ones who go to the large megachurches on Sunday morning and then return home that night to watch the latest installment of Desperate Housewives. Social observers have documented the double standard of many in this segment of American society.
This is the same moral decay that the prophet Isaiah saw in Israel of old. It has returned to inhabit the modern descendants of this same people.
Notice his words: "Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel . . . The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment" (Isaiah 1:4-6).
The United States, like Great Britain before it, had the opportunity to be a "holy" people based on the covenant principles God made with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God set Israel in a land of abundance and plenty, a land full of material opportunity. He gave them a set of moral, ethical and spiritual laws that would make them the leading nation of their day.
Look at what God said to them as He laid out a covenant based on His Ten Commandments. Leviticus 26 is a prophecy of blessing, punishment and restoration, all in one chapter. It opens with the twin pillars upon which the nation would swing, idolatry and Sabbath observance. Verses 1 and 2 warn them to stay away from the idols and gods of the nations and keep "My Sabbaths." This summary of the first four commandments defines the basis of a relationship with God.
Israel was encouraged to obey and keep the commandments and statutes. The result would be "rain in its season" and agricultural abundance (verses 3-5). Other blessings included peace in the land, safety from foreign invasion (verse 6) and command of the field in military engagements (verses 7-8).
Israel would be emissaries of God's Kingdom on earth and the favor of other nations would be given as they looked upon a people held high and blessed by the Eternal (verses 9-13).
For a brief period during the reign of Solomon, Israel did become a significant nation, a beacon of God's way within a world of spiritual darkness. But because they did not remain faithful to the covenant with God, and particularly obey the commands against idolatry and Sabbath breaking, they lost their sovereignty and went into captivity. All the tribes, save Judah, lost their identity and sense of national origin.
America and Britain's opportunity
With the restoration of Joseph's birthright to the modern nations of Great Britain and the United States, the same opportunity and obligations once more came into play. (To understand the biblical and historical connections, see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
And while both nations had a sense of biblical destiny, their religious values were not quite in tune with God's laws. Nevertheless, God bestowed the national blessings according to the terms of His promise made long ago to Abraham.
The result is that for the past 300 years, the modern world has been dominated by the twin powers of America and Britain. And despite their failings, many nations of the world have been blessed by their association with the power of these two countries.
Despite the anticolonial and anti-American attitude of recent years, America and Great Britain have been like a "fruitful bough," a source of blessing, wherever their power has gone. This is as the prophecy of Jacob foretold (Genesis 49:22).
But the past 40 years have seen changes in the spiritual and moral center of both nations. Where Britain once carried the King James Bible around the world, now many consider it a post-Christian nation. Churches are shuttered and today more Muslims attend a mosque on Friday than Christians attend a church on Sunday. A majority of Britons show little interest in the teachings of the Bible.
America is perceived as a churchgoing, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist nation. A majority professes to attend church, but the attendance figures don't always match. In spite of the religious veneer, many aspects of American society reflect a coarse and filthy culture that glorifies violence, immorality and greed.
Abortions are routinely performed upon the unborn children. One's stance on the matter becomes the litmus test for the appointment of judges to the highest court.
America professes to be Christian but fundamentally strays from the most basic elements of Christ's teaching. For these great national sins, God's Word calls it to account. We may be strong, we may be powerful in many ways, but inwardly we are corrupt from head to foot with sin that reaches to God in heaven. Those sins, which swell us with false pride, will be the reason for our downfall, just as God said ancient Israel would fall.
Pride of power
Leviticus goes on to show what happens to the special nation that does not obey the terms of God's agreement. "But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart.
"And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies.
"Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you. 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; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze" (Leviticus 26:14-19).
Verse 19 says God will "break the pride of your power." What does this mean today when we look at American power? Could we see a time when this vast power, in all its forms, will be broken, no longer able to influence events? If that happens, what kind of world will we have? We'll explore those questions in part two next month. WNP