Fading superpower, rising rivals

At the Beijing Olympics, China trounced the United States in the contest for gold medals. In the Caucasus, Russia inflicted a humiliating military defeat on Georgia, America’s closest ally in the region. At home, the US economy is in deep trouble. The misery index, a combination of the rates of inflation and unemployment, stands at its highest in 16 years (11.3 percent in July) and there are forecasts of worse to come.

The Olympics marked China’s status as a world power and the first time since 1996 that Americans did not win most gold medals. In the Caucasus, Russia showed that it can do as it sees fit in its own backyard, no matter how loudly Washington protests. That includes recognising as independent states the two breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that Georgia claims as its own.

In the Great Power game in the region, the score so far is Russia 1, US nil. Does all this mean that the oft-predicted end of America’s role as the world’s only superpower is near? Depends on the definition of “near”. Political power grows from the barrel of a gun, as China’s Mao Tse Tung observed, and the United States spends more on its armed forces than the rest of the world combined. There are more than 700 US military bases in some 130 countries.

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