The U.S. is in decline -- and has been for three centuries:
The worries and warnings come from across the political spectrum and across the oceans. New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff calls America "an empire enthralled with its own power and unaware that it is fading." Former Clinton administration official Charles Kupchan concludes that "American primacy is already past its peak." According to Joseph Nye, who served under Presidents Carter and Clinton, America's "soft power -- its ability to attract others by the legitimacy of U.S. policies and the values that underlie them -- is in decline."
Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for the most optimistic of presidents, Ronald Reagan, asserts that "in some deep fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed." Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute warns that America's military "overextension could hasten the decline of the United States as a superpower."
Matthew Parris of the London Sunday Times reports that the United States is "overstretched," romantically recalling the Kennedy presidency, when "America had the best arguments" and could use moral suasion rather than force to have its way in the world. From his vantage point in Shanghai, the International Herald Tribune's Howard French worries about "the declining moral influence of the United States" over an emergent China.
Are the declinists right about America's impending demise? Perhaps. But perhaps they're wrong: After all, declinism has a long history and a strange way of rearing its head when the U.S. is riding the waves of what Churchill called the "primacy of power." Indeed, it is during periods of U.S. ascendance -- or perhaps better said, periods that subsequently are recognized as having been ascendant -- that the declinists usually start sounding the (false) alarms. The "decline and fall of America" mantra has become an almost-decennial prophecy.
Power comes and goes, as does the perception of influence. American values -- and the ideas this country was founded on -- will endure forever. Like global-warming alarmists who mistake weather for climate, declinists mistake the ups and downs of one nation's struggles with the sweep of history. There is nothing special about America except what America stands for. Our only obligation is to leave our ideas for the future, a little stronger than we found them.