Like all empires before it, the U.S. will slip from the top of the heap. Let's start getting ready.
By David Rieff
September 9, 2007
In Washington these days, people talk a lot about the collapse of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that existed during the Cold War. But however bitter today's disputes are about Iraq or the prosecution of the so-called global war on terrorism, there is one bedrock assumption about foreign policy that remains truly bipartisan: The United States will remain the sole superpower, and the guarantor of international security and global trade, for the foreseeable future. In other words, whatever else may change in the decades to come, the 21st century will be every bit as much of an American century as the 20th.
This assumption rests, in turn, on two interrelated beliefs.
The first is that because no country or alliance of states has shown any great desire to challenge U.S. preeminence -- or demonstrated the means of doing so -- no country is going to. China's interests are regional at most, the argument goes, and the European Union is too divided, too unwilling or too weak to rebuild its once-formidable military machine. As for Russia, believers in the durability of a world order anchored in Washington insist that its declining population and excessive reliance on its energy wealth will in the long run preclude it from playing a central role in global affairs.
The second is that the world needs the U.S. and appreciates the role it plays. (In some versions of this argument, the world needs the U.S. far more than the U.S. needs the world.) If there have been no serious challenges to American hegemony to date, it is asserted, it is because the U.S. provides what are referred to by foreign policy analysts as "global goods": It maintains political and economic stability around the world, it guarantees a democratic capitalist world order and, by virtue of its unparalleled military strength, it acts as a world policeman of last resort.
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