Aggressive countries feel free to damage American interests because we cower when they swagger. That won’t preserve a super-power.
The United States is no longer a serious country.
Now, by this I do not mean that America is no longer a super-power. By any gross indicator of strength, the United States is as powerful as it’s ever been, perhaps more powerful than at any time in its history. It has a massive, highly productive economy, a military second to none, and an alliance that dwarfs all possible competitors. On paper, it’s still the only super-power on this planet (or on any other that we know of, so far).
But the status of a great nation is built on more than raw power. It includes intangible qualities like respect, admiration, and, yes, fear. We don’t need all three of them; no major power does. But we need at least one of them at any given moment, and right now, we’re bottoming out in each of these measures.
President Obama may insist that America is now “the most respected country on Earth”—a claim even the normally more forgiving folks at PolitiFact rate as only “half-true”—but the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese clearly disagree, and for good reason.
The Chinese hack of the Office of Personnel Management is the most recent, and most obvious, example of how our status is going down the drain. This is a disaster of unimaginable proportions. The intelligence damage, including security-clearance information, will last for decades. (I, of course, am one of the millions of federal workers waiting to find out if my files are now in Beijing.) Almost as shocking as the size of this breach, however, is the fact that no one seems to care very much, including the Chinese, who have shown no concern at all.
An Act of War, Ignored
In any normal world, a super-power would not tolerate this kind of an attack. Perhaps more accurately, a true super-power would never have to endure such an attack in the first place, because other nations would be loath to engage in such a direct act of open hostility. States do lousy things to each other all day long, but the wholesale and brazen theft of personnel records is a different kind of espionage. The scale is so vast that it is a direct challenge to the United States of America.
Countries, as a rule, do not do whatever they can do, they do what they think they can get away with.
In response, the most powerful country in the world has drawn itself up to its full height, clenched its mighty fist in anger, and….contracted out for some identity-theft protection for its employees. The majesty of the enraged eagle is truly remarkable to behold.