An Upbeat View of America’s ‘Bad’ Year

Written on December 29, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Foreign Policy

By Ian Bremmer and David F. Gordon

Among global big thinkers, never a bashful crowd, the notion of a United States in decline has become conventional wisdom. In late 2011, this narrative has crescendoed, with experts arguing that China has surpassed the United States economically, Niall Ferguson declaring that we are at “the end of 500 years of Western predominance” and The National Interest proclaiming “the end of the American era.” Even the National Intelligence Council’s coming Global Trends 2030 study reportedly assumes an America in decline.

As 2011 draws to a close, the U.S. military’s exit from Iraq and challenges in Afghanistan along with American vulnerability to the European crisis provide further confirmation of the decline narrative.

We agree with some of these views. The United States has neither the willingness nor the capability to provide the kind of global leadership that it has provided in the past several decades, and other countries are increasingly less willing to follow America’s lead.

But the conventional wisdom obscures as much as it reveals. Specifically, the declinists overlook the inconvenient truth that global power is relative. And comparing America’s year to that of our present and potential adversaries paints an interesting picture: 2011 was not the year when the United States fell off the wagon. Instead, a look back at the past 12 months suggests that U.S. power is more resilient than the narrative of inevitable decline portrays.

Take Al Qaeda, our most consistent adversary (by their definition and ours) since the 9/11 attacks. Despite some severe missteps, we have in 10 years degraded Al Qaeda’s capabilities to the point that they are having difficulty mounting attacks against significant targets. In 2011, the United States killed Al Qaeda’s most effective propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki; its operating chief, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman; and of course its founder, chief executive and spiritual leader, Osama bin Laden. Moreover, the Arab Spring undercut the notion that political change in the Middle East requires the violent jihad that Bin Laden spent his career espousing. Read more…

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of “The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?” David F. Gordon, former director of policy planning at the State Department, is head of research at Eurasia Group.

As published in www.nytimes.com on December 27, 2011 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 28, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune).


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