Is America over? Not by a long shot.
American decline is the conventional wisdom, as the United States suffers from high unemployment, crushing debt, and political gridlock. Here's the bigger picture: a competitive and innovative economy, reliable allies, a superior military, and foreign autocrats on the run.
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•It benefits because most of its adversaries are largely constrained and less threatening than they used to be. North Korea is a pariah. Syria is on the ropes. Hugo Chávez is not well liked and is ailing. Fidel Castro is a has-been. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are dead. The Soviet Union is gone. Those are tectonic shifts in world politics that we rarely appreciate in full.•It possesses a military that is far ahead of its rivals, allowing the US to operate at great distances in unique ways. Difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan are not a commentary on its military capability, but on strategy and the challenges of nation-building.Skip to next paragraph
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•It lacks a comprehensive energy policy, but it has more energy resources than any major country, except Russia. The US is also less dependent on oil than most great powers. That's important in a world where energy is becoming increasingly central.
•It has spearheaded the global move toward democracy, which has been on the march in the past 100 years – not communism, fascism, Nazism, autocracy, radical Islamism, or any other forms of governance. According to sophisticated rankings, America ranks third in soft power – the ability to attract others due to culture and policies, marginally behind France and Britain (China clocked in at No. 17).
•It trails badly in K-12 education – a huge problem – but its universities, especially at the graduate level, dominate the global rankings.
Views of American decline are not new. For example, Americans thought the US was in decline after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which sent it into recession. They felt similarly in the face of Japan's economic rise in the 1980s – when many thought quite prematurely that Japan would supplant America as the global leader.
Are Americans wrong again? Probably.
While a methodical study is needed to compare the US with its chal-lengers over time, and while America faces truly severe challenges at home and abroad, which it will have to surmount to prevent decline, it remains far stronger than our national pessimism suggests.
We should appreciate that fact, even while also developing serious, bipartisan, and longer-term solutions to America's energy, educational, budgetary and economic challenges – and seeing how we can prevent rivalries from worsening with rising powers like China.
Steve Yetiv is a professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is the author of "The Petroleum Triangle" and "The Absence of Grand Strategy" and is working on a book on US decline.