Tom Switzer: The World Today, Foretold by Nixon

Roundup: Media's Take

Tom Switzer is a research associate at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney, Australia.

“When we see the world in which we are about to move, the United States no longer is in the position of complete pre-eminence or predominance [and] that is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it can be a constructive thing. ... We now have a situation where four potential economic powers have the capacity [to] challenge [the U.S.] on every front.”

So said Richard Nixon, 40 years ago today. Addressing media executives in Kansas City on July 6, 1971, the 37th president predicted “in 5 years, 10 years, perhaps it is 15, but in any event within our time,” America’s global hegemony would be replaced by a multipolar world, in which the United States, the Soviet Union, Western Europe, Japan and China would be leading powers.

Not only had the Soviets matched U.S. military might, the old cold warrior conceded, but Japan and Western Europe were competing vigorously with U.S. companies for markets. The American Century had ended.

“I think of what happened to Greece and Rome, and you see what is left — only the pillars,” Nixon concluded somberly. “What has happened, of course, is that the great civilizations of the past, as they have become wealthy, as they have lost their will to live, to improve, they then have become subject to decadence that eventually destroys the civilization. The U.S. is now reaching that period.”

Imagine if President Obama or leading Republicans today welcomed the end of U.S. pre-eminence and the rise of global multipolarity. The American body politic would denounce them as declinists, defeatists, perhaps even un-American. Yet Nixon’s speech sparked no outrage in July 1971...

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