Saturday, September 6, 2008

American power and the world

A defining feature of the present moment is the relative decline of US political and economic power in the world. Events like Iraq, Georgia, and the rise of China are making this decline increasingly apparent. Fortunately, the leading thinkers of our time are responding in kind.

For example, Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins and an avowed conservative, began a column in Wednesday's Financial Times with the following observation:

One idea that you will never hear expressed by either Barack Obama or John McCain in this presidential race is the notion that a chief task of US foreign policy in the next administration will be to gracefully manage an adversely shifting global power balance and significantly diminished US influence. This is not a hypothetical issue, but one that stares us in the face today.

In the same newspaper, Martin Wolf advances a similar case. He argues that Sen. Obama rather than Sen. McCain is a better choice to be the next president of the United States. He makes this argument in the same terms of shifting global relations that inform Prof. Fukuyama's understanding. Mr. Wolf writes:

This presidential election might well determine the character of the next, possibly final, epoch of Anglo-American global hegemony. The question is whether the American people will choose the instinct for conflict or that for co-operation.

Neither Mr McCain nor Mr Obama will, in practice, embrace just one alternative. Nor will just one approach be the only answer. But the difference in tendency is clear. Is the US girding its loins for another great crusade against evil? Or is it prepared to sit down with the rest of the world and talk. The right approach for today’s complex world is not that of those who see agreement and appeasement as synonyms. The choice seems clear. It will shape our era.

Remember, neither writer is a flaming leftist. They are talking about America's role in the world not as critics, but as realistic analysts. They are calling for America, and Americans, to embrace this realism: to deal with the world as it is, not simply as we wish it to be.

The nation will be better off if we do.

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