September 3, 2009


The Default Power (JOSEF JOFFE, 8/21/09, NY Times)

Every 10 years, it is decline time in the United States. In the late 1950s, it was the Sputnik shock, followed by the “missile gap” trumpeted by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign. A decade later, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger predicted a world of five, rather than two, global powers. At the end of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech invoked “a crisis of confidence” that struck “at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.” A decade later, academics such as the Yale historian Paul Kennedy predicted the ruin of the United States, driven by overextension abroad and profligacy at home.

Declinism took a break in the 1990s, but by the end of the Bush administration, it had returned with a vengeance. This year, inspired by the global financial crisis, Mr. Kennedy revisited the arguments he had laid out 20 years earlier. “The biggest loser is understood to be Uncle Sam,” he wrote. Chronic fiscal deficits and military overstretch were finally doing in the United States, he argued, and the “global tectonic power shift, toward Asia and away from the West, seems hard to reverse.”

But the history of declinism shows that doom arrives in cycles, and what comes and goes, logically, does not a trend make. Today, as after past prophecies of imminent debility, the United States remains first on any scale of power that matters — economic, military, diplomatic or cultural — despite being embroiled in two wars and beset by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The question, then, is, how well can the current declinism stand up to this enduring reality? consider how insignificant the two wars were and how easily dealt with the economic crisis was. Iraq and Afghanistan have been sideshows that didn't require any kind of national mobilization to wage and all it took was the announcement that we'd back banks despite their misstatements of the risk contained in derivatives to nip a global panic in the bud. These are demonstrations of our global dominance, not arguments against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2009 10:04 AM
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