On the Record

Why the United States Is in a State of Self-inflicted Decline

Robert Kagan

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 MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

MSNBC: Your book seems to come to the same conclusions as [Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski] that no other country could do what the United States does.

ROBERT KAGAN: Yes, I think that’s right. His book is very clear, and I think that this issue of can any other power or group of powers do what the United States does? And I think that we both come to the conclusion of probably not, and we shouldn’t be complacent about the prospect of American decline, if it were to happen, because a lot of the things that we take for granted about the world today, economically, politically, strategically, they wouldn’t exist.

MSNBC: Dr. Brzezinski suggest that, without America as a central power, you don’t have China stepping in, you have chaos. Again, you suggest that we’re like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, where if you want to see what the world is like without America having a strong hand in international affairs, it looks like pottersville in the end.

KAGAN: Sure, well, we saw what the world looked like right before the United States became the world’s leading power in the first half of the 20th century, and obviously in the two world wars, but even before that, when you had a multi-polar world, sometimes that means multi-polar harmony, but in truth, multi-polar worlds historically have been marked by constant war between great powers, and that’s one thing that we’ve been spared for the past 60 years.

MSNBC: So does the world work best with one superpower, the United States, and a check/balance, which was the USSR and is now China?

KAGAN: I think what works best is when you have one American superpower, and a number of roughly equal but lesser other powers. There were times in the cold war when things were a little too dicey, and things have gotten better since the cold war. I’m not looking for China to become the new Soviet Union.

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