Is America in decline or on the rise?

American foreign policy is in the toilet, with our adversaries not respecting us and our allies not trusting us.  Pundits here and abroad have been proclaiming the end of America’s global dominance.  And yet, if you factor out our government’s ineptitude, the United States has quite a bit going for it globally.  See what two think tankers have to say about this. [Read more...]

Is America in decline?

When it comes to economic measures and economic prospects for the future, the United States is not in decline at all.  So says a report cited by economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson (who, however, is not quite so optimistic).  Then again, despite what some people assume, economics isn’t everything.  Are we in cultural, intellectual, or political decline? [Read more...]

America’s decline and China’s rise?

Robert Kaplan sees President Obama’s refusal to sell the latest F-16s to Taiwan as a sign of America’s decline and China’s rise:

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.

via A power shift in Asia – The Washington Post.

I would say that it is absurd to speak of America’s military decline in relation to China or anyone else.   It isn’t simply that America’s military has a huge technological advantage.  That alone is significant.  But America’s military also has something that is priceless when it comes to an advantage over an enemy:  combat experience.  Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given us that, at least.

Still, decline is not just a matter of military prowess.  Certainly our nation is weakened economically and culturally.  Also politically and in our national mood.  Does anyone think we would defend Taiwan even if we could?  China is resurgent and energetic, with its particular hybrid of communism and capitalism seemingly carrying the day.  Do you think Kaplan is right?  If so, should anything be done, or should Americans just get used to a second-tier status?

The decline and fall of American power?

Richard Cohen says that America just doesn’t have much effect on world events anymore.  He starts with the President’s visit to the oil spill. . .

Everyone knew that Obama was merely showing that he was not George W. Bush. He was not going to ignore a calamity, especially one affecting New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. On the other hand, we all knew that he could not reverse the winds or cork the spill. In fact, he could do precious little except show that he cared.

This was a symbolic moment — the tide, menacing the coast with oil, moving its own way, just as events across the globe seem to be. We are accustomed to American presidents being supremely important if for no other reason than that they command the world’s mightiest military. But we ought to appreciate also that presidential importance, in terms of being able to influence events, is slipping.

In the Middle East, nothing Obama has done has made much of a difference. In Europe, the euro teeters. As critical as this currency is, it is far less important than the concept of European integration upon which it is based. We tend to forget that Europe is the home office of awful wars — twice in the last century we got involved — and if you include Russia as part of Europe, as some Russians insist, then we have to count the Cold War, too. As for Russia, it shrugs off American complaints and moves progressively backward — not a European democracy, just something else.

On the periphery of Europe is Turkey, seeking to reestablish some of the influence the Ottoman Empire once had in the region. It may also be reverting to a more Islamic state, possibly concluding that nearly a century of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secularism is enough. Whatever the case, there isn't much we can do about Turkey, either. It no longer needs the United States as a Cold War ally, and it even blocked military access to Iraq at the start of the war. The waning pull of the American present can no longer match the pull of the Ottoman past. Israel,

China, too, is beyond our reach. In some ways, we need it more than it needs us. We owe Beijing money. We buy China’s goods. We respect its growing might. We rue our diminishing power. We muffle our concern over human rights. We are a superpower. But against what?

American conservatives look at the defeats and disappointments, and they fulminate about Obama. They call him weak and inept — and surely in some areas he has been both. But they are wrong in thinking that another person would make much of a difference. Times have changed. America’s power is diminished — relatively, for sure, but absolutely as well.

via Richard Cohen – A superpower — and a president — with declining clout.

Is this just liberal glee at America’s decline?  Or evidence of an ineffective government?  Or is this a good thing, a recognition that some things are beyond our control that is necessary for a realistic approach to the world?


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