Why the Decline of America Can Be a Good Thing for America
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And they meant it. They were ready to walk the walk -- or so they thought. This was the remarkably brief period when the idea of “empire” or “empire lite” was proudly embraced and friendly pundits started comparing the United States to the Roman or British empires. It’s hard to believe how recently that was and how relatively silent the present crew in Washington has fallen when it comes to the glories of American power.
Now, they just hope to get by, in itself a sign of decline. That’s why we’ve entered a period when, except for inanely repetitious, overblown references to the threat of al-Qaeda, no one in Washington cares to offer Americans an explanation -- any explanation -- of why we’re fighting globally. They prefer to manage the pain, while holding the line. They prefer to leak the news, for example, that in Afghanistan no policy changes are in the offing any time soon. As the Washington Post reported recently, “The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year…”
It’s not that they don’t see decline at all, but that they prefer to think of it as a mild, decades-long process, the sort of thing that might lead to a diminution of American power by 2025. At the edges, however, you can feel other assessments creeping up -- in, for instance, former Condoleezza Rice National Security Council deputy Robert Blackwill’s recent call for the U.S. to pull back its troops to northern Afghanistan, ceding the Pashtun south to the Taliban.
Sooner or later -- and I doubt it will take as long as many imagine -- you’ll hear far more voices, ever closer to the heartlands of American power, rising in anxiety or even fear. Don’t think nine or ten years either. This won’t be a matter of choice. Our leadership may be delusional, but there will be nothing more to double down with, and so “America’s global military presence” will begin to crumble. And whether they want it or not, whether there’s even an antiwar movement or not, those troops will start coming home, not to a happy nation or to an upbeat situation, but home in any case.
It may sound terrible, and in Afghanistan and elsewhere, terrible things will indeed happen in the interim, while at home the economy will, at best, limp along, the infrastructure will continue to deteriorate, more jobs will march south, and American finances will worsen. If we’re not quite heading for what Arianna Huffington, in her provocative new book, calls “Third World America,” we’re not heading for further fame and fortune either.
But cheer up. The news isn’t all bad. Truly. We’ve just gotten way too used to the idea that the United States must be the planet’s preeminent nation, the global hegemon, the sole superpower, numero uno. We’ve convinced ourselves that neither we nor the world can exist without our special management.
So here’s the good news: it’s actually going to feel better to be just another nation, one more country, even if a large and powerful one, on this overcrowded planet, rather than the nation. It’s going to feel better to only arm ourselves to defend our actual borders, rather than constantly fighting distant wars or skirmishes and endlessly preparing for more of the same. It’s going to feel better not to be engaged in an arms race of one or playing the role of the globe’s major arms dealer. It’s going to feel better to focus on American problems, maybe experiment a little at home, and offer the world some real models for a difficult future, instead of talking incessantly about what a model we are while we bomb and torture and assassinate abroad with impunity.