This is one of those big think-piece cover stories editors send out in hopes that we’ll all start buzzing about it:
Is the American era over?
For a generation raised to wave the banner of triumphant Western democracies, and nursed on the mother’s milk of American exceptionalism, the very idea seems an affront. Predominance is regarded as an American birthright. Less than a decade ago, the United States was held out as the rarest of historical anomalies, a lone superpower leading the world. Today, such talk of boundless promise already seems part of a receding past.
That’s an arresting first sentence, but pretty much everything that follows is the same-old same-old. James Kitson quotes various eminences – Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Francis Fukuyama… Do you sense a pattern here? Apparently, the end of the American era dates to the 2002 State of the Union Address.
But, if the jig is really up, you could just as easily make the case that it dates back to what Mr Kitson considers that golden age “less than a decade ago” – ie, America’s holiday from history, when the wise old foreign-policy stability fetishists had nary a word to say about resurgent Islam, freelance nuclearization, and the demographic decline of the west which makes traditional great-power clubs like the G7 about as relevant to the future as dinner theatre in Florida. The Great Men cited by Kitson were in large part responsible for the illusions of the Nineties – for the complacency (Scowcroft), inevitablist theories of history (Fukuyama) and failure to understand long-term threats (Brzezinski). It may be that the Bush Doctrine proves the wrong answer to those threats, or that we have roused ourselves too late or too tentatively. But the idea that America could have lived in the Brzezcroftyama Golden Moment for eternity is the kind of intellectual laziness partly responsible for our present woes.
If America is over, this essay is not the autopsy.