Still The One

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 10, 2010

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Despite constant reports of American declinism, Dan Twining is not deterred from pointing out what declinists ought to know; that America is still, far and away, the preeminent power on the planet. The following excerpt from Twining’s post is worth noting:

The United States today enjoys a share of global GDP no different than it did in the 1970s. The spread of democratic capitalism to large parts of the world that, during the Cold War, suffered from closed economies of scarcity is an enormous victory for American power and principles, and has made this country — not to mention billions of people across Asia, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and at least parts of Africa and the Middle East — decisively better off.

This outcome, no less than the end of the U.S.-Soviet balance of nuclear terror, is the ultimate victory of the Cold War, and its final chapters have yet to be written — as China’s leaders, consumed by domestic insecurities even as the world lauds their unprecedented ascent to world power, seem to understand.

The United States remains the world’s indispensable nation, even if President Obama has cast off the bracing language of American primacy in favor of a more subtle and understated poetry about American purpose. Washington’s security commitments continue to order Asia, deter aggression in the Middle East, and make possible Europe’s historic experiment in regionalism. The United States remains the international system’s core convening power — as seen most recently at Copenhagen– and no solution to any pressing international problem is possible without American leadership.

The same cannot be said of China, so often conflated to be America’s global equal despite possessing an economy one-quarter of America’s size and political, demographic, and economic challenges that dwarf those of any other great power (with the possible exception of Russia, whose future appears bleak). China’s passive acquiescence may be necessary on a host of international challenges, from stemming Iranian proliferation to (not) agreeing to climate change targets. But where is Beijing forging international solutions on the hard issues of the day? More often it is free-riding on the leadership of others, or belatedly consenting to decisions after being forced to take a position by the more active leadership of the West.

Free-riding is a great way to be a power-miser, but it’s a lousy way to extend and exercise one’s influence. No one should doubt that China is a formidable player on the world stage. But a match for the United States? The claim would be laughable if the issue at hand were not so serious.

About the only way America would lose its hegemonic edge–and this is an issue that concerns me–is if we take a close-the-borders stance to immigration. Preventing highly talented, highly motivated people from coming to America, and lending their skills to the continuing creation of the American story is a surefire way to achieve second-rate status. On the issue of immigration, America enjoys a tremendous advantage vis-à-vis other countries; whereas one needs to be part of a homogeneous ethnic group to be accepted in countries like China, Japan, or South Korea, anyone can become an American. It would be pure folly for the United States to shut itself off from the advantages that accrue from welcoming the world’s best and brightest to American shores. We should continue to allow them to help work to keep the United States at the forefront of the international community, while at the same time, allowing those immigrants to do well for themselves and for their families.

But until and unless America takes a calamitous turn on the issue of immigration policy, I see no reason to doubt the continued primacy of the United States. American leaders will have to work to ensure that the populace does not go nativist, but unless it does, predictions that China will surpass American power in a generation or so will likely not come to pass.

For more on the issue of Chinese power, as compared to American power, see this post of mine, as well as this excellent piece by my friend and colleague, Chris Badeaux.

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