National Security & Defense

The Corner

After America, What?

An afternoon panel here at the 2014 Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty considered the question, “After America, what?” General David Petraeus gave a simple answer: “North America.” China “will continue to grow” and continue to “transition,” he said, and the world will become more “multipolar.” But the coming decade belongs to North America, in which he included the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Petraeus cited North America’s energy boom, its cutting-edge technology, its “profound” medical ingenuity, its demographic future, and its shared commitment to “free markets.” The United States has challenges, Petraeus said, including immigration reform, education reform, and “gridlock” in Congress.  Overall, though, “after America” comes “North America,” a “market of 500 million people.”

The London School of Economics’s Dr. Keyu Jin contended that it was simply “too early to talk about ‘After America.’” In China, Jin said, we don’t talk about either a “post-America world order” or “Chinese government” but whether they can “catch up” and “lick their wounds, having been so poor for so long.” “China is still a developing country,” she said, and the idea that it’s about to take over the United States is based upon “the wrong metrics” and a “misunderstanding.” “The U.S.’s GDP is twice that of China; China has a lot of time before it can catch up to the U.S.” The notion of China having a “reserve currency,” she added, is “borderline ludicrous.” There is a “distinction between [China’s] affecting the world economy,” she concluded, “and being able to drive it.”

John Howard, the former prime minister of Australia started by knocking the “indifferent leadership” that he suggested had “squandered Iraq.” Howard drew a distinction between the current world leaders and the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who had such “complete cultural self-belief” that the “world shifted toward them.” “It remains my view,” Howard ventured, that “Islamic fundamentalism is a greater threat than most people believe.” “I read President Obama’s West Point speech,” he added, “which I believe was supposed to clarify his foreign policy.” It was “disappointingly complacent.” Howard went onto agree with General Petraeus on the importance of America’s “shale revolution” and to knock European countries for putting up roadblocks to such innovation. And “don’t be mesmerized by China,” he added. The middle class won’t put up with their political impotence if they become accustomed to “affluence.”

Later, answering a question about “isolationism,” General Petraeus suggested that Americans had been through periods of post-war “soul-searching” before, but would come to realize that America must “lead.”​

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