... are, according to Walter Russell Mead, greatly exaggerated.
The world balance of power is changing. Countries like China, India, Turkey and Brazil are heard from more frequently and on a wider range of subjects. The European Union's most ambitious global project—creating a universal treaty to reduce carbon emissions—has collapsed, and EU expansion has slowed to a crawl as Europe turns inward to deal with its debt crisis. Japan has ceded its place as the largest economy in Asia to China and appears increasingly on the defensive in the region as China's hard and soft power grow.I think he has it about right. Other nations have their challenges - and in a nation as large as ours, as Adam Smith said; there is a lot of ruin in a nation.
The international chattering class has a label for these changes: American decline. The dots look so connectable: The financial crisis, say the pundits, comprehensively demonstrated the failure of "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sapped American strength and, allegedly, destroyed America's ability to act in the Middle East. China-style "state capitalism" is all the rage. Throw in the assertive new powers and there you have it—the portrait of America in decline.
Actually, what's been happening is just as fateful but much more complex.
The debt-fest and foreign policy bumbling of the last few years could go on for another ~5 years; but this nation has so many inherent advantages that we will continue to be a player. It isn't so much that we are declining, but that other nations are rising.
That is, on balance, a good thing. None of the nations represent any expansion of totalitarian "isms" that we saw in the last century. On balance, they do not threaten our way of life. The only real threat to our way of life, after Islamic Terrorism, is our selves.
Be thankful for our challenges - most of the solutions lie in ourselves. Many nations don't have that luxury.
Despite all the talk of American decline, the countries that face the most painful changes are the old trilateral partners. Japan must live with a disturbing rival presence, China, in a region that, with American support, it once regarded as its backyard. In Europe, countries that were once global imperial powers must accept another step in their long retreat from empire.If you believe in freedom and individual liberty, then you have to have faith in our future. It won't end up our way by itself though - it will take hard work, dedication, and a watchful eye.
For American foreign policy, the key now is to enter deep strategic conversations with our new partners—without forgetting or neglecting the old. The U.S. needs to build a similar network of relationships and institutional linkages that we built in postwar Europe and Japan and deepened in the trilateral years. Think tanks, scholars, students, artists, bankers, diplomats and military officers need to engage their counterparts in each of these countries as we work out a vision for shared prosperity in the new century.
The American world vision isn't powerful because it is American; it is powerful because it is, for all its limits and faults, the best way forward. This is why the original trilateral partners joined the U.S. in promoting it a generation ago, and why the world's rising powers will rally to the cause today.
Papa Salamander always used to tell me, "No one owes you a living." For nations; no one owes you the future.
It is ours to lose.