The Myth of American Decline, Take Two

In the Wall Street Journal this week, Bard College Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities Walter Russell Mead (and New America Foundation board member) debunks the myth of American decline.  If this sounds familiar, Robert Kagan preached a similar theme earlier this year, inspiring part of President Obama's State of the Union Address. Kagan, who is currently an adviser to likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, wrote a manifesto on the decline myth for the New Republic in January and then spoke about America’s role in the world at the Election 2012 event series sponsored by New America, the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for a New American Security in March (read an event dispatch here).
 
Although Mead reaches the same conclusion as Kagan, his perspective is unique, and worth a read.
 
Here’s a central takeaway:
 
 "The United States isn't in decline, but it is in the midst of a major rebalancing. The alliances and coalitions America built in the Cold War no longer suffice for the tasks ahead. As a result, under both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, American foreign policy has been moving toward the creation of new, sometimes difficult partnerships as it retools for the tasks ahead."
 
Mead argues that it’s the “trilateral system,” or the economic and policy partnership formed among Japan, Western Europe and the United States in the early 1970s, that’s really in decline. Both Japan and Western Europe were considered “rising powers” back then, Mead says.  But instead of growing stronger, Japan and Europe stagnated. The trilateral partnership suffered.
 
“The result today is that the trilateral partnership can no longer serve as the only or perhaps even the chief set of relationships through which the U.S. can foster a liberal world system…The U.S. will still be a leading player, but in a septagonal, not a trilateral, world. In addition to Europe and Japan, China, India, Brazil and Turkey are now on Washington's speed dial.”
 
What, then, should be America’s foreign policy strategy if we’re now in an era of septagonal relations?
 
Mead’s answer:
“…the key now is to enter deep strategic conversations with our new partners—without forgetting or neglecting the old. The U.S. needs to build a similar network of relationships and institutional linkages that we built in postwar Europe and Japan and deepened in the trilateral years. Think tanks, scholars, students, artists, bankers, diplomats and military officers need to engage their counterparts in each of these countries as we work out a vision for shared prosperity in the new century.”
 
For more discussion on American foreign policy issues, check out the next event in the Election 2012: The National Security Agenda event series. The event on April 18 will dive into the details of America’s foreign policy relationship with the newly robust East Asian economies. (RSVPs have closed for the event, but it will be streamed live on CNN's Opinion page: http://www.cnn.com/OPINION/).

Globe and American flag image via Shutterstock.