By Barry Rubin
A reader has remarked that America seems so polarized, so deadlocked that he finds it hard to believe that the United States can return quickly (ever?) into being a great power, in the sense that is usually defined. Another reader thinks that the US has objectively declined in economic and, well, civilizational terms to the point that it cannot make a comeback.
My response is that while there are certainly objective factors, the solution is real willpower and good policies. Never forget that in a democracy a heck of a lot is changed by merely electing a different person to lead the country. If either Hillary Clinton or John McCain had been elected we probably wouldn’t be having any of these conversations over how terrible is the foreign policy, much less all the domestic issues. That doesn’t mean everything would be perfect–not by a long-shot and especially given economic woes–but the train wouldn’t have gone so far off the tracks.
Of course, there are deeper, longer-term factors involved but that’s why elections are so important: they decide who is going to deal with the problems and how they should do so.
Remember, too, that the loudest voices and activists on both sides–much less both extremes–are minorities. The mass of the people is able to move from one side to the other as they think appropriate and as they are persuaded by experience and arguments.
Also remember that the US has been through this kind of thing before. The Vietnam syndrome existed when reaction against the war there made America reluctant to engage internationally. But then there was a pendulum swing. Jimmy Carter was followed by Ronald Reagan. The radical 1960s (most accurately, 1966-1972) were followed by big-hair and discos in the 1970s. George W. Bush was followed by Barack Obama. And so on.
The same applies to the other contenders for international leadership. The Soviet Union, which challenge America for almost half a century, is no more. Japan, an economic though not a strategic power, has fallen by the wayside. Europe, which was supposed to eclipse the United States, is in serious trouble and sabotaging its own development. China and India have a very long way to go with a huge number of things that could go wrong along the way.
America is the country of rapid change and new beginnings, over and over again.
I wouldn’t count the United States out yet.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).