Soft or Hard Landing for American Decline?


(picture of the top of the Reichstag in Berlin)
I’ve just returned from Berlin and am scribbling a brief note from JFK Airport in New York.
One of the unavoidable impressions I got from Europeans and particularly Germans during this trip is that there is widespread regret that America has slipped off its pedestal as a largely benign superpower that promoted liberty and economic opportunity. The dollar’s decline against the euro has only reinforced a widespread view that America can’t afford its global pretensions any longer. While America remains important, it is clear to everyone that it is less so.
And the Germans are angry at Bush and America as a whole for so badly screwing up a number of collective efforts — particularly on climate change — but also in the Middle East. They are angry that Europe is not in a position to fill the void America is leaving and focus their frustration not on their own leadership problems but at the U.S. for undermining the dynamics of global order.
A widespread view among elite Germans and the non-elite normal types I spoke to is that America is in fast decline — sort of like Britain after World War II. I think that the impressions foreigners have of this decline is “overshooting reality” as there are many substantive realities about America’s ability to deploy force and purpose in the world that remain formidable.
But conversation in some serious circles is turning to what Europe can do to help America stabilize in some position of “lesser global stature.” There is also a sense that the nation that is filling much of America’s previous geopolitical space is China and that Europe feels tension in its strong alliance with U.S. power in decline and its strategic distance from China clearly ascending.
More later on this, but wanted to scribble out these impressions of an interesting discussion evolving among politicos and wonks in Berlin and more broadly in Europe.
— Steve Clemons


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