Stephen M Walt penned an objective, thoughtful, but concise piece, posted in The National Interest, on the current status of American power and influence, and the direction in which it might be heading, an excerpt:
Of course, the twin debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan only served to accelerate the waning of American dominance and underscore the limits of U.S. power. The Iraq War alone will carry a price tag of more than $3 trillion once all the costs are counted, and the end result is likely to be an unstable quasi democracy that is openly hostile to Israel and at least partly aligned with Iran. Indeed, Tehran has been the main beneficiary of this ill-conceived adventure, which is surely not what the Bush administration had in mind when it dragged the country to war.
The long Afghan campaign is even more likely to end badly, even if U.S. leaders eventually try to spin it as some sort of victory. The Obama administration finally got Osama bin Laden, but the long and costly attempt to eliminate the Taliban and build a Western-style state in Afghanistan has failed. At this point, the only interesting question is whether the United States will get out quickly or get out slowly. In either scenario, Kabul’s fate will ultimately be determined by the Afghans once the United States and its dwindling set of allies leave. And if failure in Afghanistan weren’t enough, U.S. involvement in Central Asia has undermined relations with nuclear-armed Pakistan and reinforced virulent anti-Americanism in that troubled country. If victory is defined as achieving your main objectives and ending a war with your security and prosperity enhanced, then both of these conflicts must be counted as expensive defeats.
But the Iraq and Afghan wars were not simply costly self-inflicted wounds; they were also eloquent demonstrations of the limits of military power. There was never much doubt that the United States could topple relatively weak and/or unpopular governments—as it has in Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya—but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that unmatched power-projection capabilities were of little use in constructing effective political orders once the offending leadership was removed. In places where local identities remain strong and foreign interference is not welcome for long, even a global superpower like the United States has trouble obtaining desirable political results.
I could have written the article myself, it so closely reflected my views. It’s about seven pages, but well worth the effort. Stephen M Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.