Of course, the economic recovery is incomplete, and much remains to be done on the debt and growth, but as Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr aptly noted in July 2012, “America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline.” Easier said than done, but still easier to address than the mammoth challenges facing the emerging powers.
As partisan as Washington is today, the United States has overcome episodes of far greater social discord and political turmoil. The recent souring of public opinion on the obstructionists in Congress is a healthy reminder of America’s propensity for political renewal.
In this dawning era of strategic advantage, the United States will confront foreign policy challenges largely associated with weakness and instability abroad. Washington will wrestle with the consequences of a fragile China and its implications for the economics and politics of East Asia. The Middle East will continue its painful and bloody revolutionary period. And Europe appears increasingly unable to move beyond protracted stagnation, eroding its ability to play a constructive role in world affairs.
But being lonely at the top will also engender huge opportunities to build the kind of liberal order that the United States failed to consolidate in the 1990s. Rather than simply reengineering the existing system, this will require U.S. leadership to build international norms, rules and institutions from the ground up. Washington will have new leverage to renegotiate its relationships and engagements with the Middle East; the success of U.S. sanctions on Iran is only the first manifestation of America as an energy powerhouse.
The United States can also lead in knitting together historic trade pacts across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, reenergizing a first-rate global trade agenda long sabotaged by protectionism and low standards. And Washington can use its newfound strength to exercise restraint and develop international rules around emerging security issues such as drone warfare and offensive cyber-capabilities. All of this will contribute to a more prosperous and secure United States.