How Covid-19 is crushing human life is playing out on the global stage right before our eyes.
How it will change human history is the second act that is yet to be played out — an act whose theme could be that the mighty always fall and the meek henceforth inherit the earth — a time when the term “leader of the free world” will be up for grabs.
This plot outline should be of interest to people around the world, particularly to people in our corner of it, who had, much in the manner of Tennessee Williams’ character Blanche Dubois, had “depended on the kindness of strangers” in Washington, over the last seven decades, to solve their problems in Palestine and elsewhere in the region.
Indeed, were New York a sovereign state, it would have the 12th largest gross domestic product on the globe. Now New York, traditionally the epicentre of American elan, but now the epicentre of the pandemic, is shuttered
What is probable, if not altogether certain, is that, once the virus is tamed, America will emerge harried and beaten, no longer capable of maintaining its role as a superpower underpinning the global order, as it had been doing since the beginning of the second half of the 20th century.
Agonising week ahead
Last Monday, after the United States hit a grim milestone with 10,000 deaths, triple the toll of the terrorist attacks that traumatised the nation on September 11, 2001, the surgeon general warned people to steel themselves for another agonising week ahead.
“This is going to be the saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” he said. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, only it’s not going to be localised, but happening all over the country.”
Meanwhile, as 226 million Americans follow lockdown rules, America’s economy is in meltdown. Commerce is brought to a halt and workers are furloughed sans pay, with a mind-boggling 10 million of them applying for unemployment benefits.
And economists predict the unemployed would top — hold on to your hat — 40 million by mid-April, with dreadful consequences for families struggling to meet their rend and mortgage payments.
Imagine, all this is happening in the United States of America, a nation that, since its ascendancy as a world leader in recent history, never confronted a challenge (real or imagined) that it was unable to marshal the needed resources (human or material) to meet head-on.
View America’s wealth and power, as it had grown to know them, from this frame of reference, showing us how the extent of the nation’s ability to create them has been beyond one’s rational grasp.
In 2001, for example, the US began the first year of the new century with an increase — mere increase — in the net worth of households that was equal approximately to the total income of 2.5 billion people in China, India, Russia and Brazil.
Trodden on a thistle
And that nation’s military power? Well consider how the US was able, in our times, as we looked on, to maintain 900 military bases in more than 70 countries and to conduct two different wars in two different locales simultaneously — and yet amble nonchalantly as if it had merely trodden on a thistle.
However, the homeground of this colossus is now shuttered by the onslaught of a virus going for the jugular.
Nothing depicts the scale, reach and velocity of this virus than the fate that has befallen New York City, the most populous and the most densely populated metropolis in the country, whose influence in media, book publishing, theatre, arts, politics and finance is unequalled in the world.
Indeed, were New York a sovereign state, it would have the 12th largest gross domestic product on the globe. Now New York, traditionally the epicentre of American elan, but now the epicentre of the pandemic, is shuttered.
The city that never sleeps is finally getting a shut-eye, after its museums, theatres, cinemas, art galleries and concert halls, along with its 26,000 restaurants and 10,000 watering holes, had closed. And if New York is shut down, the American heartland will follow suit.
The question here is this: Will the US discover, post-pandemic, that it is strategically exhausted and that the sum total of its global interests exceeds the ability of its now depleted wealth and power to defend them, thus losing its status as world leader?
The retrenchment of America as a hegemon is a field that was well-ploughed by declinist historians long before the current crisis.
These folks, such as Paul Kennedy, in his landmark book, Rise and Fall of Great Powers (which rocketed to the best-seller lists in 1988), had warned us all about the coming recession of American supremacy in the global dialogue of cultures, given America’s overreach and hubris.
That recession was accelerated by the current administration’s America First policy and is now being made concrete by a relentless virus.
We are still too close to the fact to predict what kind of a world we will be left with should the US experience superpower meltdown, thus closing the book on the American Century, comparable in many ways to the period from 1815-1914 that brought to a close Britain’s Imperial Century.
It could be the US, whose hegemonic exercise of power made it what it was and only the exercise of hegemonic power enabled to hold its position, may be living its twilight years and nearing the end of its shelf life as arbiter of world affairs, including our corner of it in the Middle East.
Let’s face it, only divine agency, not a real-estate developer, can make America great again.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.