Is This The End of the American Century?

This site features updates, analysis, discussion and comments related to the theme of my book published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2008 (hardbound) and 2009 (paperbound).

The Book

The End of the American Century documents the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reality and Hope in the Obama Era

What follows is the first page from the new epilogue of the paperback edition of The End of the American Century, entitled "Reality and Hope in the Obama Era."

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world." --President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009

Much has changed, for better and for worse, since the hardbound edition of this book first went to press in early 2008. Indeed, the publication of the book in October of that year coincided with both the exhilarating finale of the 2008 presidential elections, and the meltdown of the U.S. economy. The election of Barack Obama fulfilled the first criterion of the “best-case scenario” that I posed in Chapter 10: new political leadership. Both for who he is and what he says, Obama provides the best possible hope of restoring some of America’s domestic health and international reputation, after the catastrophic lost decade of the George W. Bush administration. President Obama wants to fix the many American problems enumerated in this book—health care, education, infrastructure, the environment among them—and in the first months of his administration had already initiated policies and legislation to do so. He also pledged from the outset to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, to abide by international law, and to be more cooperative and multilateral in dealing with other countries.

On the other hand, as I cautioned even for the best case scenario, new leadership will not reverse or solve the problems of American decline. The problems facing this country are so systemic and deep seated—most of them long-preceding the Bush administration—that even radical changes will have only minimal impact on the trajectory of America’s decline. Furthermore, the debt-induced economic crisis that I presaged at the end of Chapter 1 is already well underway. Much of the country’s economic growth of the last twenty years was fueled by government and consumer debt, creating a giant country-sized Ponzi scheme that was bound to implode. President Obama’s well-intentioned and necessary—but enormous-- spending plans to fix things will only hugely inflate the country’s already unprecedented levels of debt. It is difficult to see how the country will extricate itself from this mess. Certainly the time frame is many years, perhaps a decade or more, and not the cheerful predictions of most economists and politicians that we will be out of the woods in a few months or years.

On the international scene, the events of the last year have been a good-news, bad-news story. The election of an African-American as President of the United States gave a huge boost to this country’s international reputation. Obama’s message of hope, reconciliation, humility and multilateralism was welcomed all across the globe, and promised to allay—at least somewhat—the ill will fostered by the Bush administration’s arrogance and belligerence. However, during America’s lost decade, much of the rest of the world had moved on, and beyond, the United States. Almost nowhere is the country still viewed as the “city on the hill” to be followed and emulated. Increasingly, foreign leaders and their populations have dismissed, criticized or mocked the U.S. and its policies. This tendency has accelerated as the rest of the world has had to bear the brunt of America’s economic and financial mismanagement. When the Chinese Prime Minister, for example, complained about “the unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption,” there was no question which country he was referring to.

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