America is Still Number One: Winner Should Move Away From Faddish Negative Spin

I hope whoever wins next week will dismiss all this faddish talk about American decline.

By Robert Kagan
The Washington Post
Thursday, October 30, 2008; Page A23

Is Barack Obama the candidate of American decline? To hear some of his supporters among the foreign policy punditry, you’d think he was. Francis Fukuyama says he supports Obama because he believes Obama would be better at “managing” American decline than John McCain. Fareed Zakaria writes weekly encomiums to Obama’s “realism,” by which he means Obama’s acquiescence to the “post-American world.” Obama, it should be said, has done little to deserve the praise of these declinists. His view of America’s future, at least as expressed in this campaign, has been appropriately optimistic, which is why he is doing well in the polls. If he sounded anything like Zakaria and Fukuyama say he does, he’d be out of business by now.

One hopes that whoever wins next week will quickly dismiss all this faddish declinism. It seems to come along every 10 years or so. In the late 1970s, the foreign policy establishment was seized with what Cyrus Vance called “the limits of our power.” In the late 1980s, the scholar Paul Kennedy predicted the imminent collapse of American power due to “imperial overstretch.” In the late 1990s, Samuel P. Huntington warned of American isolation as the “lonely superpower.” Now we have the “post-American world.”

Yet the evidence of American decline is weak. Yes, as Zakaria notes, the world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore and the largest casino in Macau. But by more serious measures of power, the United States is not in decline, not even relative to other powers. Its share of the global economy last year was about 21 percent, compared with about 23 percent in 1990, 22 percent in 1980 and 24 percent in 1960. Although the United States is suffering through a financial crisis, so is every other major economy. If the past is any guide, the adaptable American economy will be the first to come out of recession and may actually find its position in the global economy enhanced.

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