On the Record

No Doubt: U.S. Remains Tremendously Influential

Robert Kagan

Editor’s Note: Robert Kagan discusses America’s evolving role in a globalized world and his book, The World America Made, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

STEVE INSKEEP, NPR: As the lives of foreign policy writers go, Mr. Kagan has hit the jackpot, just as he prepares for publication of a new book, The World America Made. And he’s in our studios. Mr. Kagan, welcome.

ROBERT KAGAN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Ok. Why aren’t we in decline?

KAGAN: Well, a lot of what people think is decline is based on a very faulty memory of what things used to be like. People have a sense that America used to call the shots, used to be able to dominate the world, get everyone to do what we wanted them to do. And of course that’s ludicrous.

Anyone who remembers even the early Cold War years knows that we couldn’t do anything about the revolution in China. We couldn’t do anything about the Soviets getting a nuclear weapon, etcetera, etcetera. So we’re making a bad comparison.

And if you look at the fundamentals of power, on the economic side, the United States produces 25 percent of the world’s GDP, and has for the past 40 years. That hasn’t changed. People note the rise of China and Asia, which is true, but most of that has come at the expense of Europe’s declining GDP.

In terms of military power, even with defense budget cuts that I think are unfortunate, the United States is still by far the most powerful nation in the world. So I think the United States remains tremendously influential.

INSKEEP: Although you make a point, that when we have a lousy economy, like we have had the last several years, Americans get kind of anxious about their place in the world.

KAGAN: Well, in a way, it’s one of the good things about our country, we are constantly nervous that some one is about to take us overtake us. Not so many years ago, it was Japan that was going to rule the world, while the United States sank into obscurity. Before that, it was the Soviet Union.

What’s interesting about these economic difficulties we’ve gone through, if you look at the great economic crises in American history – in the 1890s when we had a great depression, in the 1930s, in the 1970s with the oil crisis – in the very next decade, the United States rebounded, and in a way, outstripped other countries in the world even more than before. So we do have a great capacity to recover.

Listen to the full interview and read the transcript »

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