American Power after Bin Laden

OXFORD – When one state is preponderant in power resources, observers often refer to the situation as hegemonic. Today, many pundits argue that other countries’ rising power and the loss of American influence in a revolutionary Middle East point to the decline of “American hegemony.” But the term is confusing. For one thing, possession of power resources does not always imply that one can get the outcomes one prefers. Even the recent death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of United States special forces does not indicate anything about American power one way or the other.

To see why, consider the situation after World War II. The US accounted for more than one-third of global product and had an overwhelming preponderance in nuclear weapons. Many considered it a global hegemon. Nonetheless, the US was unable to prevent the “loss” of China, “roll back” communism in Eastern Europe, prevent stalemate in the Korean War, defeat Vietnam’s National Liberation Front, or dislodge the Castro regime in Cuba.