Charlie Rose

The Myth of American Decline

Editor's Note: Robert Kagan discusses the future of America as a global superpower and his most recent book, The World America Made, in an interview on Charlie Rose.

CHARLIE ROSE: It has become one of the central debates of our time—Is America in decline? With the imminent rise of new world powers and a growing list of problems at home, many believe the United States has lost its way. Robert Kagan believes that America is as strong as ever, and some people seem to be listening. This is what the president said in his State of the Union Address on January 24th:

(President Obama) From the coalition we have built to secure nuclear materials to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease, to the blow we’ve dealt our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

And here is the presidential security advisor, Tom Donilon, sitting at this table with me on January 26th:

(Tom Donilon) Number one he makes the point that if you look back at history even at those times when the United States was said to have maximum power, the United States couldn’t snap its fingers and have countries do exactly what they wanted them to do in every essence. And, indeed, during every period there are going to be disappointments in your foreign policy and he catalogues that. And, secondly, he also makes the point that you have to look at the comprehensive nature of power, right? Not just the inter-dimensional nature of power. And if you look at the United States I would think that it actually stacks up quite favorably.

And here is Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post, he talks about the myth of American decline in this new small book. It is called The World America Made. I am pleased to have him here at this table. You had never seen that.

ROBERT KAGAN: I hadn’t seen the clip, I’d read some of the dialogue, but I hadn’t seen the clip.

ROSE: What Donilon had said.

KAGAN: Yeah.

ROSE: Now here is the argument you make in the New Republic which got all this, at least, attention. I don’t know whether this is an excerpt. Is the United States in decline as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in dangers of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? So that is the question.

KAGAN: I think, actually, as you said at the outset, the United States is really as strong as it’s ever been. Obviously, we face challenges from a rising China and others, but they’re not necessarily greater challenges than we’ve faced in the past with the Soviet Union and I remember we were all worried about Japan at one time. But we can, in a way, talk ourselves into decline if, as a result of a misplaced perception that we’re declining, we start to pull back from the rest of the world, we start to cut too much into our power and our ability to uphold the world order that we’ve created, then yes we could be in danger. But right now I think we have the capacity to continue shaping the world as we have in the past.

Watch the full interview at charlierose.com »