Stephen M. Walt

The eclipse of American (electrical) power

I’ve made this point before — here and here — and I suspect I’ll have to make it again. But whatever you think of the outcome of yesterday’s Super Bowl, the unexpected second half power outage was a small blow against U.S. power and influence. Why? Because one of the reasons states are willing to ...

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I’ve made this point before — here and here — and I suspect I’ll have to make it again. But whatever you think of the outcome of yesterday’s Super Bowl, the unexpected second half power outage was a small blow against U.S. power and influence.

Why? Because one of the reasons states are willing to follow the U.S. lead is their belief that we are competent: that we know what we are doing, have good judgment, and aren’t going to screw up. When the power goes out in such a visible and embarrassing fashion, and in a country that still regards itself as technologically sophisticated, the rest of the world is entitled to nod and say: "Hmmm … maybe those Americans aren’t so skillful after all."

Or maybe we’ve just spent too much money building airbases in far-flung corners of the world, and not enough on infrastructure — like power grids — here at home.

P.S. The other lesson of the Super Bowl is that strategy matters. As in: the abysmal play-calling by the 49ers when they had first-and-goal inside the ten yard line, trailing by less than a touchdown. Four dumb plays, and the Ravens were champs. Sigh.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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