Going CriticalIssue: Fall 2003
. . . the interesting subject of the finances of the declining empire.
-Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Book I, CH. XVII
Toppling three tyrannies-that of Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban and now Saddam Hussein-within four years is no mean achievement by the standards of any past global empire. What makes this achievement so remarkable is that it comes little more than a decade after a wave of anxiety about American "overstretch" and decline. In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy warned that the United States was running "the risk . . . of what might roughly be called 'imperial overstretch.'" America, he maintained, was spending too much on its overseas military commitments, to the detriment of the U.S. economy. Under such conditions, "The only answer to the question", as to whether the United States could remain a superpower, was "no."