As promised, here’s some optimistic thinking about the situation in which our nation currently finds itself.
In James Traub’s “Wallowing in Decline” in this week’s Foreign Policy magazine, he does anything but despair our country’s future. Traub begins by exposing the feeling among many Americans that we’ve jumped over the edge and fallen into a tragic and irreversible national decline. In some cases, like Thomas Friedman’s recent column portraying competition between the U.S. and China as a foot race that the arrogant, overweight american boy loses, Traub makes the pessimistic naysayers look ridiculous.
Traub, mostly focusing on foreign policy, argues that reports of the catastrophic decline of American influence abroad are not only premature, but perhaps completely misguided. The main rays of hope he offers are that despite the economic disaster, overdeployed troops, competition from abroad, etc., etc., “The United States remains unmatched in military and economic might.” Perhaps more importantly, though, since he spends most of his article discussing it, the United States has important economic, humanitarian, and democracy-spreading obligations overseas that benefit the world and that no other country could fulfill.
But the reasons he gives to be optimistic about America’s continued hegemony don’t necessarily carry over to Americans’ actual lives. True, the United States plays an important role abroad — it’s counterproductive to our economic security (not to mention national security) to resort to isolationism in a time of unprecedented global economic competition and terrorist threats.
Nevertheless, Traub’s thinking can easily be taken too far. Our country cannot for now afford large-scale foreign projects aimed at bolstering our undisputed hegemony. And some of the extreme amount of money the United States spends on our incredible military (almost as much as the rest of the world combined) could and should be used to balance our budget and afford our domestic programs.
It’s great to come across reasons why our national pessimism is overblown. But at a time when millions of our fellow Americans are jobless and the safety net is strained more than ever, we have an unusually good opportunity to reconsider our priorities.