Key point: In recent history, the Pentagon hasn't been used to facing off against other superpowers and that is a problem.
Back in Sept. 2015, Air Force General Frank Gorenc argued that the airpower advantage the United States has enjoyed over Russia and China is shrinking. This warning comes as part of a deluge of commentary on the waning international position of the United States. The U.S. military, it would seem, is at risk of no longer being able to go where it wants, and do what it wants to whomever it wants. Diplomatically, the United States has struggled, as of late, to assemble “coalitions of the willing” interested in following Washington into the maw of every waiting crisis.
Does this mean that U.S. global power in on the wane? If so, should we blame this decline on specific policy decisions made by this administration, or the previous administration? As Dan Drezner has argued with respect to who is “winning” the Ukraine crisis, the answer depends crucially on the starting point.
In the early 1990s, the United States established a degree of military and political supremacy rarely, if ever, glimpsed in the history of the modern state system. This supremacy was built on a degree of long-term economic stability and growth that rarely endures in advanced economies. An extremely advantageous geographic situation abetted this advantage, along with the near collapse of America’s premier strategic competitor. The rest of the world’s major players decided to go along in order to get along.
The successful U.S. embrace of standoff precision-guided munitions (PGM), combined with effective and well-financed investments in training and force protection, made the U.S. military effectively unbeatable in conventional conflict. This did not always mean that the United States military could achieve its political objectives through the use of force, but it generally meant that the U.S. could put in other military in check.