Rescue the U.S. from Rome’s fate |

Rescue the U.S. from Rome’s fate

Nick Fickling

Sometimes things just aren’t as we expect them to be. Last week, on the Pitkin Lake trail, I hiked up a rise, crossed a stream and then walked downhill on the other side. It was weird; streams are supposed to be in valleys, not running along a ridge.

Then we had Russian troops crossing into Georgia and once again I felt I was seeing something that was not supposed to occur. The Reagan years of high, but worthwhile military spending had resulted in the demise of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the U.S. as the sole world superpower. So how come the Russians under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were able to act in such a cavalier fashion, invading not only a close ally of the U.S., but a country led by a seemingly close personal friend of George Bush? Don’t they know we are the most powerful country in the world? What has happened to our superpower status? The rather pathetic words of reprimand by U.S. leaders ” that threatened nothing of real consequence to the Russians ” reinforced the “end of an empire” feel to the whole thing.

Then there was China putting on the sort of Hollywood show that echoed Berlin in 1936; a cast of thousands, pollution turned off by magic, fantastic state-of-the-art facilities, more gold medals than any other nation, world leaders attending in droves with nary a comment made about the appalling human rights record of the Chinese government. Was China assuming the mantle of global superpower?

The historian in me thinks back to another all-powerful nation that dominated the world to such an extent that few could imagine, let alone predict its fall. Like the Reagan USA, the Roman Empire was economically, militarily, socially, technologically, and administratively all-powerful. Many reasons have been given for its fall, including a decline in morals and values, political corruption, public health issues, inflation, wasteful and ill-chosen projects, unemployment, urban decay, inferior technology, military spending and even the introduction of Christianity.

Now there are those who might like to spend time comparing the fall of Rome to what is happening in the U.S. today. I am more interested in the future and what might come if the U.S. continues to slide as a superpower. The scary thing about the fall of Rome was what came after: The Dark Ages were a time when lawlessness was the norm and civilization began to fall apart.

Like companies that are losing market share and could either continue on their downward spiral or reinvent themselves, the U.S. is in dire need of a makeover to return it to its pre-eminent position in the world.

The impotence of President Bush in the face of the Russian advance into Georgia is a sad reflection of a leader without leverage, reminiscent of Chamberlain in 1939. Leverage is an essential element of diplomatic strength and Bush has frittered his away, losing economic power through excessive spending and borrowing, losing military power by tying our military up in his unnecessary Iraq war, and taking us down from the diplomatic moral high ground we had prior to 2000 through his ignoring the rule of law. I also wonder how the Russians could pull off the Georgia surprise without the president being made aware. The CIA intelligence failures before and after Sept. 11 appear to still be with us.

One can only hope that our next president brings “change” to ensure the U.S. returns to leadership through strength; strength that can only come through restoration of our economic, military, moral and diplomatic clout. Continued weakness on the part of the U.S. risks another Dark Age.

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at or

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