It’s been a banner month for the oracles of American decline. The shutdown of the federal government, the prospect of a default on the country’s debt, and the political dysfunction that made the United States seem rudderless on Syria and forced the cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia seemed to confirm that the end of American preeminence is finally upon us.
Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass argued that Washington was “hastening the emergence of a post-American world.” The Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash wrote that “the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted — while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.” And the financial Web site MarketWatch declared: “This is what decline of a superpower looks like.”
The idea that such a moment was coming has dominated U.S. foreign policy circles since the late 2000s. The declinists warn that in light of American difficulties at home and abroad, and the rapid rise of new powers such as Brazil, India and China, we should prepare for a global order no longer dominated by the United States. Some argue that the United States should retrench and do less. Others that it should share the burden of leadership with the emerging titans.