The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalists in 1914 revealed how unstable Austria-Hungary’s grip on power had become. Likewise, the current crisis in the Middle East has laid bare something that had long been hidden: namely, a serious military and diplomatic crisis for the United States.

“The American empire’s raison d’être is the safeguarding of international trade.”

The American empire’s raison d'être is the safeguarding of international trade. Rather than holding an empire of conquest, Washington limited its military footprint to a vast array of bases around the globe, and it derived much of its power from controlling various international institutions necessary for economic integration and industrial prosperity. Like Britain before it, America has always been a sea-based and commercial empire, rather than a land-based power like Prussia.

But American power is now being challenged precisely where it should be strongest, and people are doing their best to pretend that it doesn’t really matter. The Red Sea and, by extension, the Suez Canal, are being blockaded by the Ansar Allah movement of Yemen, known as the Houthis, and Washington has thus far been powerless to stop it.