Conor Friedersdorf: Promises About Another American Century Are Pretty Lies

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Circa 1912, it would've been a phenomenal feat to predict the events and outcome of Word War I, and impossible for anyone on earth to anticipate the rise of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the Axis alliance, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the events of World War II, and America's subsequent place in the world. Nor could any person in pre-World War I America imagine the partition of Europe by Soviet communists, the nuclear arms race, the Cold War or its end. Neither could the British nor the French nor the Germans nor the Japanese nor the Russians nor the Poles anticipate the respective courses they would take over the ensuing nine decades.

So it's especially inane pandering for President Obama to say, while speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, "If anyone tries to tell you our greatness is past, that America is in decline, you tell them this. Like the 20th century, the 21st century will be another great American century. We are Americans, blessed with the greatest form of government ever devised by man."

Statements like that are politically popular. And when it comes to jingoistic nonsense repeated ad nauseum, there's no one more prolific than Mitt Romney. It is nevertheless important to remind ourselves that these men are lying to us, for it would be foolish to act as if what they say is true. Perhaps America will remain the most powerful country in the world nine decades hence. I hope so, and insofar as it's possible I think we ought to continue to have the strongest military in the world. But operating as if a superior form of government guarantees we'll remain the most powerful country is idiotic. The American century owed as much to Old World self-immolation as New World triumph. And history is rife with inferior forms of government conquering their betters....

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