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What Is The Alternative To American Decline?

By Matthew Yglesias on May 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm

"What Is The Alternative To American Decline?"

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The Weekly Standard’s cover package assailing Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy seems ill-timed. Still, Bill Kristol is raising important issues here:

Thanks for confirming that our current president believes his task is to accommodate American decline. Thanks for reminding us how high a priority he places on appeasing those who revile us. And thanks for explaining that our Leader from Behind sees his role as “shepherding us through this phase” of appeasement and decline.

That’s all very polemical, but Kristol is raising the right issues and revealing that Obama has them right. The United States currently accounts for about five percent of the world’s population. The only way for us to maintain enduring military hegemony over the planet under those circumstances would be for huge swathes of the planet to permanently consign themselves to poverty. Currently, however, the very large nation of China is following the trail of export-led growth already blazed by smaller countries like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan and is growing quite rapidly. India, taking a different approach, is also growing very fast. And natural resource exporters such as Brazil and Nigeria are benefitting from this process and appear to be improving other aspects of their policy regime at the same time.

It might be politically convenient to just pretend this isn’t happening, but it doesn’t make a good deal of sense. Managing America’s relative decline while continuing to improve our absolute living standards is a completely appropriate mission for a 21st century statesman. What’s Kristol’s alternative? Launch wars with Iran, Syria, and North Korea while deepening our involvement in Libya and Afghanistan and watch the Chinese laugh?

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