Dec 22, 2010 3:07 pm


Paul Kennedy made it to Yale prophesying decline in his opus magnum: The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Empires decline when their strategic/military expenses outpace their economies/innovation growth. The US overspends on the military. Hence, the US is bound to decline. If you'd think that under current conditions he would be jumping up and down shouting"I've told you so," you are wrong. His new mantra is that decline is merely a return to normalcy.

Where on earth is the United States headed? Has it lost its way? Is the Obama effect, which initially promised to halt the souring of its global image, over? More seriously, is it in some sort of terminal decline? Has it joined the long historical list of number one powers that rose to the top, and then, as Rudyard Kipling outlined it, just slowly fell downhill: “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday / At one with Nineveh and Tyre”? Has it met its match in Afghanistan? And has its obsession with the ill-defined war on terrorism obscured attention to the steady, and really much more serious, rise of China to the center of the world’s stage? Will the dollar fall and fall, like the pound sterling from the 1940s to the 1970s?

It is easy to say “yes” to all those questions, and there are many in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and in the United States itself, who do so. But there is another way to think about America’s current position in today’s mightily complicated world, and it goes like this: All that is happening, really, is that the United States is slowly and naturally losing its abnormal status in the international system and returning to being one of the most prominent players in the small club of great powers. Things are not going badly wrong, and it is not as if America as becoming a flawed and impotent giant. Instead, things are just coming back to normal.

Why the change of heart? I would venture to argue that the redefinition is not based on analysis but on ideology. Paul Kennedy is a leftist. He wrote his book as a repudiation to Reagan's renewed efforts to defeat the USSR. Let us not forget that"Morning in America" followed the 70s declinist Carter era. To Kennedy's dismay, Reagan won and America not only emerged as the sole superpower but it also harvested major peace dividends during the Clinton administration.

The last thing Kennedy wishes to see is an American electorate repudiating the Obama declinist administration in the same manner it repudiated that of Jimmy Carter. His purpose is to tell Americans to get used to being nothing special. Ironically, no one is more fearful of America deciding to go along with Kennedy's view of the world than emerging Asia. He, like his fellow leftists refuse to acknowledge that America remains in the 21st century what it has been throughout the 20th one, An Empire by Invitation, the only difference is that in the new century, is is Asia that is doing the inviting. Nothing would doom the peace in Asia faster than a receding America. Just listen to recent assertive noises coming out of China, India, South Korea and Japan in the recent year.

In other words, whether Paul Kennedy is right or wrong ultimately depends on the American people. They may decide to throw in the towel and reelect Obama or they may decide to redouble their efforts to regain their position as number one by electing a president committed to do what is necessary to achieve to preserve that position. Let us not forget, just as the 20th century"European civil wars" did not remain in Europe, the 21st century"Asian civil wars" are unlikely to be contained in Asia. The next war (and I do not mean minor skirmishes such as the one in Afghanistan) is bound to become a world war and is unlikely to be even more costly that the previous ones.

Ironically, Paul Kennedy understands these realities. He just not wish to acknowledge that an oversized America is the only effective peace keeper. He argues that a normal America would do just as well.

America’s global position is at present strong, serious, and very large. But it is still, frankly, abnormal. It will come down a ratchet or two more.

It will return from being an oversized world power to being a big nation, but one which needs to be listened to, and one which, for the next stretch, is the only country that can supply powerful heft to places in trouble. It will still be really important, but less so than it was. That isn’t a bad thing. It will be more normal.

Sorry, history is not on his side.

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William Robert Barker - 1/7/2011


Perhaps you've read Pat Buchanan's latest column - or Dr. Thomas Sowell's?

If you believe I'm wrong... that they're wrong... please state your case.

I'm NOT trying to pick a fight with you; to the contrary, it's because I have so much respect for you that I want to hear - from YOU - where I'm going wrong.


William R. Barker

William Robert Barker - 12/31/2010

No doubt Paul Kennedy is a Left-leaning Democratic partisan who will shoebox his writings into his ideology, but when it comes to the continuing decline of America...


Tell me, Dr. Klinghoffer, what is it you see that I don't?

Compare the "product" of a K-12 education system now to... say... his or her 1940's or 1950's predecessor.

Compare the wide range of skills a 25 year old man or woman had in 1945, 1955, or 1965 to today's 25 year old.

(Oh... and just for laughs... compare the long ago high school graduate to today's college graduate.)

Compare the ability of America to produce finished goods compared to what we were capable of as recently as 1988.

I'm sorry, Dr., but we're nowhere near the same people we were in 1941 or even 1969.

Explain to me how everything I know about demographic trends doesn't lead to disaster.


Explain to me how we're going to successfully dismantle the American Welfare State before the American Welfare State dismantles us.

Dr. Klinghoffer, with the utmost respect, explain to me how with everything I learn day in and day out (see: I'm somehow "confused" as to what it means.

Please... with all sincerity... I beg you to convince me that there's a viable pathway towards saving this once great nation of ours.

William R. Barker