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Keep Calm - Taking world events in stride.

Good Reads: Is the US actually in decline, or just taking a breather?

A roundup of some of the week's most insightful articles from around the Internet. 

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / April 2, 2012

BRICS leaders,left to right, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and South African President Jacob Zuma, raise their arms together during the group picture at the BRICS 2012 Summit in New Delhi, India.

Saurabh Das/AP

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● Its economy has taken a beating, its politicians are calling for cost-cutting and a reassessing of priorities, and polls show the American people are tired of all its wars. Call it what you will – decline or maybe just a breather – but American attitudes toward the world are increasingly tinged with exhaustion. So, time now to write the Great Zeitgeist Book that explains why Americans are so exhausted and what it will mean for, you know, all of humankind. Fortunately, there are plenty of academics who have just finished writing such books, and even better, London’s The Economist magazine has read and compared all these books and judged which ones are essential reading and which ones are pass-up-able.

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The Economist, of course, views everything through a political perspective that is pro-democracy and pro-free markets, and so it clearly sees any talk of American decline as something to be mourned, not celebrated. And while it genuinely sees the United States retreating on a number of fronts – from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and more recently from Afghanistan – it sees this retreat as creating a kind of vacuum that nature will fill. The big question of the next decade will be what fills that vacuum: China or India alone? The BRICS, as a group? Or, even worse, nothing?

As the Economist’s reviewer puts it, “America is irrepressible. Even authors fixated on its decline are optimists in disguise. Times may be hard and the world order is changing, but America has what it takes to bounce back, according to five new books on foreign policy. Indeed, it has to bounce back, because no successor stands ready to shoulder these responsibilities.”

Up-and-comer nations diverge

● No successor? There are a few up-and-coming nations that would dispute that, most notably the group of nations composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that now calls itself BRICS. The BRICS group met on March 29 in New Delhi to see where their common national interests lie, and to coordinate those interests into a coherent common policy that counterbalances the dominance of the US and Europe.

To date, the BRICS don’t have much to show for their relationship. But unlike the Non-Aligned Movement, which some of these nations were members of during the cold war, the BRICS have the potential to be defined positively, for what they stand for, rather than for what they stand against. BRICS are among the fastest-growing developing countries in the world, with potential to continue growing even if the rest of the global economy stalls. Each has substantial hunger for raw materials, strong manufacturing capabilities, cheap labor, and the challenge of raising its standard of living. But getting these nations to coordinate common interests into a coherent policy is, as the saying goes, like herding cats.

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