Our next President will need to summon all of his or her rhetorical flourishes and diplomatic sensibilities to pull the United States back from the brink of disaster. He or she will have to rally allies to our causes, and assure our enemies that the next global conflict is not in the making. Take this account of the United States' recent actions:
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"In the years after declaring victory in Afghanistan against the Taliban, America made and broke alliances with casual disdain for the international consequences. Well-connected American contractors engaged themselves in foolish, greedy and / or opportunistic military contracting which often flouted Federal and International laws as well as American Military policy regarding contracts and found that their government was more than willing to turn a blind eye to their abuses. After all, they were administration loyalists, and why shouldn’t American companies be given exclusive rights to the contracts to rebuild Iraq? The other allies, whether traditional (Britain and Spain) or the smaller countries that were part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ became increasingly unhappy with American hegemony and anti-American sentiments increased greatly. With an ever-declining store of diplomatic credibility, the Americans were increasingly put in the position of trying to maintain their authority through raw demonstrations of military might, similar to the ‘Shock and Awe’ displays used at the outset of the Iraq War of 2003. "
The preceding quote, reflects a range of the recent opinions and accounts that one might find in any periodical detailing the United States' recent foreign policy misadventures. What may shock you is that the above quote is not at all about the United States but is a quote about ancient Sparta that I personally doctored. The quote was excerpted from page four of an article written by, Josiah Ober, titled:
Sparta: The Fall of the Empire
Sparta, the greatest military power in ancient Greece, was in the end its own worst enemy. (published Summer 1998 edition of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History)
The original quote:
"In the decades after the victory of 404 [b.c.], Sparta made and broke alliances with casual disdain for the international consequences; well-connected Spartans who engaged in foolish, greedy, or opportunistic military operations, often in blatant contravention of treaty obligations and traditional Greek mores, found that their home government was more than willing to turn a blind eye on their peccadillos. After all, they were members of the insider club, and they had harmed only "outsiders." The other Greeks, whether traditional allies or enemies of Sparta, became increasingly unhappy with Spartan hegemony, and a new anti-Spartan coalition was soon organized. With an ever-declining store of diplomatic credibility, the Spartans were increasingly put in the position of trying to maintain their authority by raw demonstrations of military might..."
So how is it that, despite 2500+ years of additional, collective, global knowledge, we have managed to wedge ourselves in between the exact same rock and hard place as the once-great city-state?
It’s almost as if we saw the movie ‘300’ and thought...
" Principles? (Check)"
"Scary, evil Persians bent on world domination. (Check)"
"Hey, that’s us!"
...without bothering the read the rest of the historical account of Sparta. Yes, their military prowess still influences military thinkers today. Yes, the discipline and honor with which Spartans fought for their country is legendary and has aspects to be admired. And, yes, their Michigan-based, college basketball team has won a couple of National Championships. The problem is that we've excerpted only the aspects of the Spartan story that fit our desired narrative and ignored the other, and possibly, more prescient aspects of the historical account. The parts where Sparta’s increasingly rigid class structure, its incredible lack of upward social mobility, its lack of investment in science and the arts, its incompetent governance, its devotion to the dominance of military culture and its almost total contempt for the opinions and interests of its allies all contributed to its downfall and current irrelevance on the world stage.
Now the United States is not at that point yet. It’s not even close. But the parallels between the Spartan path to irrelevance and our current path are eerily similar. The next President of the United States will have their work cut out for him or her in making sure that the rest of the world doesn’t regard our actions with suspicion and decide that our role as superpower and ally is no longer desired. As history would suggest, from there, it's not a large step down from superpower to Sparta version 2008.