Saturday, July 05, 2014

we have hit peak america...,

foreignpolicy |  American leadership in the world is imperiled. And at a fundamental level, the American people sense it. A number of recent polls show that more Americans than ever before -- nearly 60 percent, in some cases -- believe U.S. power is waning.

In other words, a greater number of Americans are worried about diminishing U.S. influence today than in the face of feared Soviet technological superiority in the late 1950s, the Vietnam quagmire of the late 1960s, the 1973 oil embargo, the apparent resurgence of Soviet power around the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, and the economic concerns that plagued the late 1980s -- the five waves of so-called declinist anxiety that political scientist Samuel Huntington famously identified. 

Many analysts have attributed Americans' current anxiety to the aftershock of waging two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the polls actually reflect something deeper and more potent -- a legitimate, increasingly tactile uncertainty in the minds of the American people created by changes in the world and in America's competitive position, which they feel far more immediately than do the participants in Washington policy debates. Average Americans do not experience the world through the lens of great-power rivalry or U.S. leadership abroad, but rather through that of an increasingly competitive globalized labor market, stagnating income growth among the middle class, and deep and unresolved worries about their children's future. A recent CNN poll, for instance, found that Americans think by a 2-to-1 margin that their children's lives will be worse than their own. They are questioning the promise of growth and expanding opportunity -- the very substance of the American dream. 

This anxiety is real and justified, and it lies behind much of the public's support for withdrawing from the world, for retrenchment. Yet American leadership and engagement remain essential. The United States cannot hide from the world. Rather, it must compete. And if it competes well, it can restore not only its economic health, but also its strength for the long haul. That resilience will preserve Americans' ability to determine their fate and the nation's ability to lead in the way its interests require. 

Unfortunately, absent from current discussions about U.S. foreign policy has been a hardheaded assessment of what it will actually take to rejuvenate and compete. Policymakers and experts have not yet taken a clear-eyed look at the data and objectively analyzed the fundamental shifts under way globally and what they mean for America's competitive position. Nor have they debated the steps necessary to sustain U.S. power over the long term. 

Many foreign-policy experts seem to believe that retaining American primacy is largely a matter of will -- of how America chooses to exert its power abroad. Even President Obama, more often accused of being a prophet of decline than a booster of America's future, recently asserted that the United States "has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world." The question, he continued, is "not whether America will lead, but how we will lead."