In his Salon op-ed, "One and a half cheers for American decline," Tom Engelhardt applauds the notion that America is deteriorating both at home and abroad:
So here's the good news: it's actually going to feel better to be just another nation, one more country, even if a large and powerful one, on this overcrowded planet, rather than the nation. It's going to feel better to only arm ourselves to defend our actual borders, rather than constantly fighting distant wars or skirmishes and endlessly preparing for more of the same. It's going to feel better not to be engaged in an arms race of one or playing the role of the globe's major arms dealer. It's going to feel better to focus on American problems, maybe experiment a little at home, and offer the world some real models for a difficult future, instead of talking incessantly about what a model we are while we bomb and torture and assassinate abroad with impunity.
Hope for American decline is the foreign policy expression of the liberal desire for an enforced radical egalitarianism and a government of equality of result at home: the U.S. abroad learns to stop being the nail that stands up and is pounded down to resemble all the others, in UN fashion. Neutralism abroad, statism at home, the US as the EU. Ok—sounds familiar, but facts get in the way.
Even in the worst recession since the Great Depression, 300 million Americans still produce three times the goods and services of 1 billion Chinese, a society that has a rendezvous with environmental clean-up, unionism, suburban blues, an aging populace, a disastrous one-child policy, wary and increasingly angry neighbors, and the contradictions between affluence and lack of personal of freedom. The EU is imploding and worried about a hesitant US that traditionally once had allowed the EU to assume its pretensions under a US military umbrella. The EU experiment reminds us that Greece is no more the model for the world than is a bankrupt state like California one for the United States. A post-petroleum world will radically weaken Russia and the Middle East. In contrast, our singular constitution, values, freedoms, and meritocracy, if left intact, ensure that the United States can easily retain its position of global authority. Decline is not a fate, but a choice, or rather a series of insidious choices on the road to serfdom.
The odd thing is that the Obama corrective for our supposed hubris is already imploding. Trillion dollar stimuli and borrowing did not restore the economy, and as the architects of that policy have now mostly fled, and as the Democrats who voted for Obama's agenda mostly don't want to run on it, Obama himself will have to learn how to entice the engine of American commerce back again—or destroy the Democratic Party with further statism. His foreign policy of "Bush did it" is in shambles. A Mutallab, Maj. Hasan, and the Times Square plot reminded him why, after demagoguing national security, he kept open Guantanamo, expanded Predators and seems to like renditions. The only thing that has changed is that violence in Afghanistan is on page 10 when in Iraq it headlined, Hollywood is making no more movies like Rendition, Salon is not talking about the Guantanamo Gulag, and Michael Moore is no longer writing paeans to "Minutemen" insurgents. I haven't seen a vero possumus presidential seal lately either, and well over half the country is convinced that the downturn was made worse, not better, by borrowing $3 trillion from our grandchildren in the last 20 months.
Our policies toward the Middle East, China, Japan, Europe and India have already quietly dropped the soft-power preachiness, and are returning to those of the mid-2000s, apparently in the concession that the world's dangers both predated and transcended George W. Bush. Ahmadinejad appreciated the President's silence when his goons clubbed Democracy protestors, liked the apologetic videos we sent, but somehow still tells the world we planned 9/11 and Israel will soon cease to exist.
A soon to be nuclear Iran, an imploding nuclear Pakistan, an ascendant and increasingly bullying China don't give a damn whether or not American elites envision or welcome American decline; as in the 1930s, such authoritarians have an agenda, the confidence to see it through, and will stop only if, as in the past, in the 11th hour the Western liberal democracies rise to convince them otherwise. Once upon a time a number of relieved isolationist Americans, circa 1939, pointed to the Depression, the vain hope of the New Deal to get us out of it, the dead-end of capitalism, and told the world, thank god, that we could not afford to worry about Hitler, Mussolini, or Tojo, given our own economic decline and years of poverty to follow. But the latter three dictators found us anyway, even when we were not looking for them—and in response, a broke and pessimistic America in four years somehow was producing more goods and services than the world combined. Declinism is as old as the United States, as popular among elites who reap the benefits of a capitalist free America as it is rare among those who do far less well, but have far more hope for their childrens' futures.
We forget why after 1945 the United States assumed the burdens of creating a global system of free trade, open commerce and alternatives to Soviet-imposed communism—we alone had the power, economic and military, to rebuild Europe, stop the spread of Stalinism and establish pretty much the globalized world as it has come to be. If we choose to nationalize the economy and ruin it, as Britain did theirs in the 1950s, and if we choose to let the Milosevics, Saddams, and Ahmadinejads do as they please, we don't just get on with our merry lives, happy to stay home, spread the wealth, and watch the world go by. Others will have a say—just watch.