It’s been a banner month for the oracles of American decline. The shutdown of the federal government, the prospect of a default on the country’s debt, and the political dysfunction that made the United States seem rudderless on Syria and forced the cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia seemed to confirm that the end of American preeminence is finally upon us.
Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass argued that Washington was “hastening the emergence of a post-American world.” The Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash wrote that “the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted — while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.” And the financial website MarketWatch declared: “This is what decline of a superpower looks like.”
The idea that such a moment was coming has dominated U.S. foreign policy circles since the late 2000s. The declinists warned that in light of American difficulties at home and abroad, and the rapid rise of new powers such as Brazil, India and China, we should prepare for a global order no longer dominated by the United States. Some argued that the United States should retrench and do less. Others that it should share the burden of leadership with the emerging titans.
But predicting the decline of the United States has always been risky business. In the 1970s and late 1980s, expectations of waning power were followed by periods of geopolitical resurgence.
There’s every reason to believe that cycle is recurring today. Despite gridlock in Washington, America is recovering from the financial crisis and combining enduring strengths with new sources of influence, including energy. Meanwhile, emerging powers are running into troubles of their own. Taken together, these developments are ushering in a new era of American strategic advantage.