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Will America Thrive?

by Kristin M. Lord

Ten years into the 21st century, America confronts upheaval abroad and two crises at home, one economic and one a crisis of vitality.  All carry risks for the United States, even dangers.  They are also entwined, in cause and effect, and in the responses required.

Together, these challenges threaten to undermine American power, stature, and confidence.  But, regrettably, the political difficulty of confronting them will tempt American leaders to do precisely the opposite of what is required.  This would be tragic since, in the era we are entering, the United States should be poised to thrive.

The World America Faces

Upheaval abroad encompasses the violent and unpredictable turmoil engulfing the Middle East; cataclysmic natural disasters; the prospect of persistent conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq; China’s evolving ambitions in its neighboring seas and territories; the spread of powerful capabilities to groups and individuals who lack a stake in the international system; and other political, economic or natural eruptions  not yet apparent.

These upheavals are merely symptoms of a broader global power transition now underway — driven by technology, demographic change, and markets, and by powerful new coalitions between people, industries, and states. This transition features the oft-noted rise of new powers such as China, India, and Brazil but also the less-remarked on rise of new powers within states: massive middle classes that will lift vast numbers out of poverty and initiate a period of economic and social dynamism even as they create intense new stresses on resources and the natural environment.  This transition will also create intense new political stresses on governments, which are likely to become more pluralistic even if they do not become more democratic, and pressure to deliver economic growth to nations and jobs to ever growing numbers of individuals even as technology makes some jobs unnecessary.

Within countries, these pressures will spur new competition for influence as new centers of power and populations grow.  (The population of Pakistan, to give just one prominent example, is projected to grow from 169 to 295 million by 2050.)  These political and economic competitions will create new winners and losers, and will spawn anger in some.  While nothing new, those with grievances now have within their reach a historic potential both to connect with others who share their distress and to inflict harm, extensively and far from their native homes.

Globally, as countries compete for jobs and markets, resources and influence, their competition is likely to be cloaked in nationalism as peoples and their political leaders grasp for what unites them as so much pulls them apart.  This competition may usher in more frequent military confrontations, often on the seas or in cyberspace, and always with the risk of escalation.  Yet, given the diffusion of military capabilities and the damage they can wreak, more conflict may not beget more war, at least not between states.  Competition, in many forms, will dominate.  And the United States must be prepared for this world.

America’s Path

Because the world will grow more complex, with more nodes of influence and more vectors of conflict, it may appear to require a vastly higher investment in America’s military, diplomacy, and foreign assistance.   It may seem to require a grand strategy that will align resources and contingency planning for every eventuality.   It may seem to call for an even more robust commitment of American forces abroad to protect wide-ranging interests from wide-ranging threats and to reassure American allies who will be ever more anxious of threats and wary of abandonment.

Yet the scope and scale required of effort required for this approach would be unaffordable.  It would also be counterproductive, and it would drain the lifeblood of American security.  It undervalues key modes of influence and inflates the ability of U.S. government agencies and armed services to control global events.  A different path is necessary.

At its very foundation, American security derives from its strength, which in turn derives from an economy that is robust and adaptive, a society in which mobility is possible and innovation is rewarded, and a shared commitment to justice that extends to all and unites the many in a common venture.  It derives from a sense of vitality and possibility that attracts both dollars and talent, and rewards exertion and ingenuity.  And it is nourished by a thirst for innovation that betters the lives of Americans but also serves the world.  Economic strength generates not only the resources but also the global connections and creative power that will enable the United States to confront the range of unexpected challenges it is likely to face in the future.  Many of these challenges are unpredictable, so the greatest protection against them is 1) strength 2) a dynamism that enables a people to believe that solutions are possible and 3) the agility and wisdom to use those assets well.

This strength and dynamism is in jeopardy.  America’s debt is crippling and, if not addressed, will constrain American options in the years ahead.  Military spending sustained at post-9/11 levels would divert minds and dollars from investments with greater potential to generate sustained economic power; meanwhile, the military acquisitions process is ossified and slow, forcing Americans to overpay for military capabilities, some of which quickly become outdated. Some entrepreneurs and scientists no longer consider America mobile casino the land of greatest opportunity, and are lured abroad by better-funded laboratories and faster growing markets.  Social mobility in America is declining, and with it the meritocracy that challenges the system and undergirds the social contract in which achievement is rewarded handsomely but ultimately open to all.

Alternatively, a turning inward may seem fitting.  America is overstretched and, in countries around the world, the political grandstanding that accompanies globally diffused power may lead to an America berated, not venerated, even as Americans die protecting others who then curse us and even as America depletes its coffers to help those who then either spurn us or thrive without us. Such isolationism would be erroneous, however, even if it were possible (which is unlikely), and even if retrenchment and rethinking are in fact in order (which they are).  In the world we are part of, global engagement is necessary to both security and prosperity.  Strength will come from connection and leverage not retreat.

To protect America’s national security in the years ahead, then, six things are necessary.

1)      A robust but reshaped military presence in the world, retaining the strength necessary to defend against a range of often unpredictable threats but emphasizing flexibility and limiting America’s visible military footprint, which generates opposition in a world where power is diffusing and nationalism is increasing.

2)      A renewed economic foundation, built on fiscal sanity but also an economy and society that rewards innovation, empowers the many, and allows potential to flourish.  The time of vilifying business must conclude and a more nuanced treatment of business should follow.  The business community is essential to creating the global connections, national wealth and individual opportunities America will need to thrive.

3)      A new appreciation of politics within foreign countries and the dedication to reduce political leverage over the United States by those we do not wish to empower.  This will require new dexterity in American diplomacy, not just by diplomats but also by military leaders and all those who represent American interests on the world stage, with increased sensitivity to the complex political environments of foreign nations , and with greater focus on cultivating relationships with multiple centers of power.

4)      An embrace of both competition and connection, a national mindset that will enable strength, project vitality, and engender resiliency.  America is served well by a vibrant global economy, but must be prepared to compete within in it.  We will not always come out on top.  But we will benefit more than we are hurt; a reaction to limited losses should not torpedo far vaster gains.  Competition strengthens, even as it challenges, and that strength is America’s fiercest weapon.

5)      A recognition that the world will evolve faster than we can predict and in ways beyond our ability to control.  Preparedness will therefore require flexible capabilities, adroitly applied.  Intervention abroad should be undertaken with a fundamental humility about how what we can accomplish.

6)      An acceptance that many of the best, fastest and most responsive solutions to the many stresses described above may not come from government.  However, government can invest in and establish a conducive environment for the more agile private and not-for-profit enterprises that develop these solutions.

Together, these principles would promote economic growth, spur a new national confidence that encourages bold solutions to difficult challenges while improving the lives of individual Americans, and enhancing American power on the global stage.  They could herald a new American exceptionalism, born not of arrogance, but of a renewed potential for greatness.

The world will be increasingly contentious and America will be challenged.  We should face that competition squarely, without fear or resentment.  In the years ahead, security may need to come less from the sword and less still from the shield, and more from leverage, agility and reinvention.  These traits encapsulate America’s history but also its best path forward.  If they are embraced, no country is more poised to thrive in the turbulence that will define the 21st century.

Kristin Lord is Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for a New American Security.

Discretionary Decline

by Celeste Ward Gventer

 The United States has outlasted at least five previous episodes of declinism and in the last hundred years has navigated the dangerous waters of international politics with surprising adroitness.  It has bested great power rivals, helped stamp out noxious ideologies, and built enduring global institutions. It has done this without sacrificing the legitimacy of its domestic system or crippling its economy by creating a garrison state.  While the country suffers from a variety of pathologies today – fiscal prodigality, declining educational standards and attainment, sclerotic politics, et al – the U.S. also possesses long term advantages compared to its challengers that may end up mattering most for national power in coming decades, as Francis Gavin has pointed out in this forum. If results are what count, America must be doing something right.

But extending America’s time on the broad, sunlit uplands requires not only that global forces outside of U.S. control break our way, but that the U.S. skillfully manages its power in the next few decades. Decline will come, but its timing may depend on choices that will either enhance or weaken the U.S. position.  If ever a time came for the U.S. to husband its power, this is it.

Unfortunately, there is a fiendishly – if curiously – persistent tendency in American foreign policy that risks the opposite: promiscuous military adventures in the name of nation building.  Exorbitantly expensive, improvident in the expenditure of American lives, strategically fraught with peril, and frequently attended by abject failure, incompetence, and waste, the U.S. has nonetheless sought to transform cultures and societies from the Philippines to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, and beyond.  The U.S. can little afford such missions in the coming decades.

This is not a call for isolationism or even offshore balancing.  The U.S. has succeeded when it has engaged with the world, and there are times when it has had strategically defensible reasons to intervene with force (though even these are not without controversy).  The benefits of fighting the Nazis or imperial Japan and even some counter-proliferation and humanitarian interventions, while controversial, have often justified the costs. The difference is that the objective in these engagements was not to transform societies but rather to address core American interests.  What about Germany and Japan, you ask?  Both countries had enormous head starts in terms of wealth, a highly educated workforce and relatively homogeneous societies.  More importantly, these successes were driven less by the desire to refashion societies than the larger, long-term effort to contain communism and Soviet expansion.

Yet America’s penchant for nation building reappears with determined frequency, the proverbial triumph of hope over experience. Iraq was an eight-year, trillion-dollar-plus project resulting in a still troubled, violent nation and ambivalent “ally.”  The United States remains mired in Afghanistan for an eleventh year and counting, and the future there looks grim under even generous assumptions. While arguably neither of these conflicts began with nation building as a core purpose, both soon devolved into such projects, with the attendant results.

Given the poor outcomes, risks, and expense, why is this (seemingly peculiarly American) tendency so tenacious? It is a puzzle, but one can venture a few possible answers.  At least in the last few decades, we intervene because we can. The U.S. military remains the most capable and powerful on earth and, crushing national debt notwithstanding, the country can continue to finance military action on credit.  Since the creation of an all-volunteer force in the 1970s, Managing unstructured best data recovery is covered in Chapter 13. very few Americans experience any dgfev online casino pain when the military is committed or are seemingly aware of what those forces are doing. Less than one percent of the nation serves, and the agony of repeated deployments and the horror of possible (or real) loss of a loved one are restricted to a tiny minority of families and friends. There are other possible reasons, such as a steadily expanding definition of American “interests” in the last twenty years, a growing consensus across the political spectrum for greater activism after September 11th, 2001, and a foreign policy cadre educated in similar institutions, using many of the same texts, and raised in a post Cold-War foreign policy era when the U.S. was at the height of its power.

But these possible explanations are of recent vintage; America’s recurring bouts of enthusiasm for nation building go back much farther.  Perhaps the American can-do spirit is a factor, as well as American hubris.

Whatever the reasons for the U.S.’s historical proclivity for nation building, the coming decades can and should be different.  After over a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, American policymakers should take this moment to reflect on the causes of this recurring folly, and seek ways to avoid, as a Russian expression would have it, stepping on the same rake.

Nation building risks draining the Treasury, distracting policymakers and analysts from long term global trends, expending lives on problems that are not central to maintaining U.S. power, and exposing the country to needless strategic risk.  The countries that are growing in significance and have seen the greatest advancements in their citizens’ quality of life – from Brazil to India and China – are often those who resisted American intrusions, built their own nations, and focused on growing their power while the U.S. fought its “Long War” in the Middle East and South Asia.  Decline may not be a choice, but the time of its arrival might; U.S. wisdom and prudence in its foreign policy may go a long way towards extending the nation’s predominance.

Celeste Ward Gventer is Associate Director at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas-Austin.  She previously served as  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations Capabilities.

by Francis J. Gavin

Assessing whether the United States is in decline requires a better sense of what it is that is declining and compared to who or what.  This revolves around the question of state power – what is it, how can it be measured, and how is it different from the past?  From about the middle of the seventeenth century until the end of the last, we had a rough sense of how these things worked.  Core state power was some combination of wealth, geography, and population that could be translated into military power, which is what really mattered in world politics.  This military power was used either to conquer other states, so that the territory and population could be added to the invader’s aggregate power, or to defend or deter such an attack.  There were rough measurements of these kinds of things: the soldiers, tanks, ships, sea port access, land mass, rivers, mountains, population, and natural resources, etc. within a state could be counted and compared to others, and one could get a sense for which of the powers was rising and which was declining.  The United States was obviously endowed with great assets in this system, and was the greatest world power throughout the 20th century.

But how we think about power – its sources, its uses, its measurements – has changed dramatically in the past few decades.  The most important reason is that both the sources and purposes of state power have changed.  Wealth still matters, though how it is created and distributed have changed significantly.  But it is not clear that land and population figure into the formula in the same way it did historically.

Take geography: there are a number of reasons it is less important than it was in the past.  First, the agricultural revolution of the 20th century and globalization’s ability to create an efficient global market for food, commodities, and finished goods means that a state needs far less land to thrive than it did in the past.  Combined with a dramatic drop in birth and death rates, the wealthier countries of the world don’t face the kinds of scarcity that drove fear and conquest in earlier centuries; if anything, their problems are ones of plenty.  Second, conquest is far more difficult than it was in the past.  Nuclear deterrence makes great power war absurd.  But even in non-nuclear countries, invasion and occupation – as we found in Iraq and Afghanistan — is are costly and counterproductive.  Conquest and empires don’t pay like they used to.   In the 21st century, it may be better to be Singapore than Russia.

Nor is it clear that population works like it once did.  Will China and India’s one billion plus people add to their state power?  Part of the answer depends upon the demographic composition of the citizenry and how prepared it is to contribute to the economy.  Will they be an older population, more likely to pressure expensive social welfare and health systems than to innovate, as could be the case in China, Europe and Japan in decades to come?  And in states where the population is younger, will they be healthy and educated in a manner that allows them to add to a nation’s wealth, as opposed to being a source of instability?  Whether fast growing states in South Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America can create the infrastructure necessarily to prepare the majority of their younger populations (and not just an elite minority) to compete in and benefit from a globalized world is an open question.   Even in the realm of military power, the sheer mass of high-population states matters less than having an integrated, educated, well-trained force armed with the latest technologies (outside of the United States, how many militaries around the world could prevail in a contest with the tiny but highly effective Israeli Defense Force?).

For those that are skeptical that the sources and casino online nature of power have changed dramatically, consider the following thought experiment.  Which would be more likely to harm U.S. power: reducing the U.S. military budget to zero (yes, zero) for a year, closing Wall Street for twelve months, shutting down Silicon Valley until next summer, shuttering the Ivy League plus Stanford and MIT, or putting Hollywood on hold for the same length of time?  While in some ways an absurd exercise, just thinking it through reveals how much the source and uses of power have changed in recent times.  A zero military budget would be unlikely to lead to an invasion of the United States by China or Russia.

This exercise also highlights the importance of a particular kind of wealth.  In the past, harvesting wheat, mining coal, and producing steel formed the basis of state power.  Today, the ability to finance, insure, and fund much of the word’s economic activity, to create and distribute cutting edge technologies, to educate and retain the globe’s best minds, and to influence the world’s culture – these matter more now than arming a levee en masse to conquer an undefended Canada.

Despite enormous problems, the United States is actually well placed to thrive in this new world against its competitors.  While it can create countless low-level engineers, it is not clear that China can produce the sustained culture of innovation, transparency, and accountability that creates high-end wealth.  Europe and Japan face fiscal crises worse than ours, with a less favorable demographic pattern to boot.  Other potential competitors – India, Brazil, Turkey – have their merits but are still far from being consequential actors on the world stage.  And should military power once again become the thing that matters most in international affairs, the United States is in a far better position than anyone.

We should not rest on our laurels, of course.  Under these new metrics of power, having a highly-educated, healthy, adaptable, and tolerant population with faith in the institutions that produce stability and encourage robust wealth-production and its fair distribution (such as local, state, and national government, schools, universities, banks, investment firms, media, major corporations, etc) is paramount.  There is much work to do to achieve these goals, but fortunately, the United States has both a head start and built-in advantages that provide a large and potentially growing lead over any potential rival.

Francis J. Gavin is the Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairsand the Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas-Austin.

by Jason Brooks

The only thing declining in America is our own faith in our capacity for hard work, innovation, and entrepreneurship. America is relatively strong and poised for another surge in ascendancy. However, this is understandably a contested position, so let us consider the notion of American decline.  For a nation to be in decline, it should first be assumed that it is in economic or military decline, or both. Second, it should be assumed that said nation is in decline either relative to the rest of the world or some other nation – usually China is held to be the prime contender. Let’s review each of these propositions in turn, beginning with military decline relative to the rest of the world and then relative to China.

America suffered a devastating homeland attack on September 11, 2001. In response, we mobilized the U.S military, invaded Afghanistan, and rolled into the capital, Kabul, in just a few months cheered on by enthusiastic crowds of Afghans.

In 2003, America invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks. While many  have criticized the George W. Bush administration and the U.S. Military for falling down on the job in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years after 2003, a very different story can also be told–one of organizational learning and tactical and technological innovation. Learning and innovation occurred on two fronts. First, the U.S. military adapted to the changing nature of conflict in a few short years adopting a counter insurgency strategy that turned the tide of the war in Iraq and has made marked improvements in the Afghan theatre as well.

Second, the U.S. military and the CIA have made staggering progress in waging counterterrorism campaigns, led especially by innovations in intelligence and drone technology. With the help of these tactical and technological innovations, America has all but dismantled Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is eviscerating their network in Yemen. Most importantly, the CIA, in conjunction with the U.S. military, succeeded in locating and eliminating Osama Bin Laden.

What about the American role in the Arab Spring and the broader Middle East? With U.S. military leadership, an international coalition supported an indigenous rebel movement in ousting legendary Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. An impressive aspect of this feat was America’s ability to garner support from regional Arab nations and organizations such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab League, and African Union (not to mention getting European powers to play a leading military role).

The United States also helped guide the Egyptian revolution to a peaceful conclusion culminating in the ousting and recent imprisonment of long time authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. Now the United States is working with another international coalition of partners (including regional players) to squeeze the Iranian regime in an effort to constrain its nuclear aspirations while at the same time fending off Israeli ambitions to address the problem unilaterally. Those are just a few highlights which, notably, skip over America’s diplomatic inroads in the Middle East and Asia.

Is China casino online rising militarily relative to the United States? Not likely. One aspect of U.S. military exceptionalism is our well-funded, highly trained, all-volunteer force. China relies on a conscript military that is underpaid and poorly trained. China’s defense budget lags well behind America’s. Moreover, the Chinese military has not been seriously combat-tested since the Chinese Communist revolution (brief engagements in the Korean War and Vietnam notwithstanding).  China’s technological capabilities are improving in some areas such as its Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy but, in others, they are far from impressive—not to mention unproven. For example, China now has its first operational aircraft carrier—a Soviet era hand-me-down—that will take China five to ten years to master the operation of.

Conversely, the U.S. military is comprised of combat buy non prescription viagra online veterans hardened over a decade of combat in two theatres. During this time, the U.S. military has developed and battle tested leading strategies, tactics, and technologies. Joint operation capabilities are growing and deepening and American reserve units have become ever more integrated while repeatedly proving their salt on the battlefield.

What about economics? Surely the 2008 financial crisis signals America’s economic decline. Not so fast.  Thanks to swift bi-partisan efforts, U.S. government action staved off total economic meltdown, arguably preventing a spiral into depression. Those efforts were much more successful and effective than the political-economic debacle unfolding across the Euro zone.

Since 2008, high oil prices have been a drag on U.S. economic recovery. Moreover, they buoyed vexatious middling petro-states like Venezuela and Iran while propelling others like Russia to the status of emerging economic power. However, high oil prices allowed American innovation and entrepreneurship to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. An American shale oil and gas boom is shaking up the global energy industry led by production innovations such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. This development has reinvigorated the American economy and pushed global oil prices well below the mark needed to sustain the budgets of belligerent petro-states.

The American economy is slowly climbing out of recession only to peer over the precipice and see BRICs crumbling. The BRIC economies are slowing and fading from the limelight. The most important, of course, is China. China’s GDP is slowing; critically, this is a deliberate move on behalf of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) coming to terms with the fact that prolific Chinese growth is edging toward volatility.

In relative terms, America has little to fret over. While China’s GDP is now the second largest in the world, it is still, per capita, a very poor country.  CCP rule is tenuous and relies heavily on China’s future economic prospects. Overall, China is a long way from realizing economic strength that puts America in relative decline.

As has been demonstrated over the last decade, hard work, entrepreneurship, and innovative ideas allow American’s to transform our problems into “probletunities.”

Jason Brooks is a former U.S. Marine Sergeant, Iraq veteran, and graduate student in the Master of Global Policy Studies program at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas-Austin.

by Jeremi Suri

Vienna was the center of European creativity in the years between 1780 and 1914. It was the city of Mozart and Beethoven. No place could rival its music. It was also the city of Klimt and Kokoschka. Vienna pioneered modern art as we know it. In addition, the Austro-Hungarian capital led the new science of psychoanalysis with the work of Sigmund Freud and his many followers in medicine, philosophy, and literature. The mix of ethnicities and cultures in this uniquely cosmopolitan nineteenth century city made it a true crucible of innovation and creativity. You can still see and hear the remnants of that long-gone golden age today in the music, the art, and the libraries that have outlasted their political masters.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire did not collapse in 1918 because it failed to cultivate new ideas or nurture personal freedom. It was filled with expressive, entrepreneurial, and free-thinking groups. The problem was that the Habsburg political system, which for three centuries had held diverse groups together, generated remarkable wealth, and defeated foreign tyrants (notably Napoleon), failed to adjust to new demands for national independence and democratic participation. Franz-Josef served as Emperor for more than sixty years before his death in 1916, as a pious, hard-working, and fair-minded political leader. He even encouraged equality for Jews at a time of rising anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Nonetheless, the system of imperial monarchy that he directed failed to address the growing demands for independence, development, and wealth redistribution throughout his lands. Despite his efforts, he was a prisoner of a stagnant and outdated set of political institutions.

Even with the best of leaders and institutions, large societies cannot prosper if they cannot adjust to change. At the same time that the cosmopolitan city of Vienna entered a terminal crisis in 1914, much more provincial cities like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland led a rapid growth in American wealth and power behind their flexible political systems of governance. These midwestern cities were the heart of a Progressive Movement that courageously assessed the needs of businesses and citizens at the time, and experimented with institutions in ways that traditional Europeans would never contemplate. The Progressives believed in the U.S. Constitution, but they took their inspiration from the needs of the time, what William James and John Dewey called a “pragmatic” impulse.

Pragmatic reforms were the engine behind the transformations that allowed American society to grow and adjust while European society stagnated. Americans in the late nineteenth century created the public high school before any other society, with the expectation that all workers needed some basic vocational and intellectual preparation for a modern economy. Americans invested in railroads and highways on a scale that no other society would match until Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Most important, Americans expanded political participation for poor citizens, for immigrants, and for women beyond other countries at the time. (African-Americans, still frequently denied the right to vote in the former Confederacy, were the notable exception to this final trend.)

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire entered the First World War it was a sophisticated but stagnant political regime, unable to harness the creativity of its citizens for victory in war or prosperity thereafter. When the United States entered the First World War it had a still provincial but incredibly dynamic government, ready to experiment with new policies and institutions, best embodied by the creation of the Federal Reserve System to manage a modern economy in 1913, and President Woodrow Wilson’s articulation of the “Fourteen Points” to manage a modern world system in 1918. People in Chicago and Detroit were not better innovators than their counterparts in Vienna, but they had a government that was more responsive and encouraging of their new solutions for contemporary challenges.

This basic historical analysis is the source of my combined frustration and optimism about the future of the United States in the early twenty-first century. Our society is filled with more creative young people than ever before. Just casino online look at our technology, our medicine, our entertainment industries, and our university campuses. No other country has as many diverse individuals pushing the boundaries of innovation on a daily basis. We continue to nurture and attract the best people in these and other fields. American society is as creative as it has ever been, as impressive as the Vienna of Mozart and Beethoven.

The problem is our governance, and that is the source of my frustration. I believe this is a frustration shared by millions of other Americans. Our political system that served us so well in the past does not harness the creativity of our citizens today. It does not address the core challenges that most need flexibility and innovation. Our political system is stagnant and non-responsive to needs across society. Our political system often disgusts us in its daily operations, and it does not inspire us. Citizens do not look up to our politicians for good reason.

Despite all of our new technology, we have failed to build twenty-first century infrastructure for our society. Our electrical power grid, our roads, our airports – they are all crumbling. Despite our remarkable advances in medicine, we have made absolutely no progress during the last decade in delivering health care to all citizens in a way that is affordable, cost-effective, and sustainable. We are, in fact, bankrupting ourselves because we cannot manage the best medicine in the world. And then there is education. Since the 1970s our system of education has failed to provide the social mobility for hard-working people of modest means that it pioneered in prior generations. Children of well-educated professional parents get a high quality education today, preparing them for success. Children of poorly educated non-professional parents get an inferior education, and they are statistically stuck in the same circumstances where they started. What happened to the American dream of self-improvement for the unwashed masses?

The real “game changer” for the American future is whether our society can summon the will to bring the creative impulses of our citizens into government. We have good solutions for our challenges, but they are not getting attention from our government as it exists. American citizens must demand creative leaders and more dynamic political institutions, as they have not in the last decade. American voters must begin, as they did in the late nineteenth century, by electing school board leaders, mayors, and governors who offer innovative policies, not the empty rhetoric about cutting waste or class warfare that animates this year’s presidential election so far. The United States needs more innovative and responsive government if it is to avoid the fate of Habsburg Vienna.

Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin, where he has appointments in the Department of History, the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law

Following last week’s fascinating contributions from Drew Erdmann and his colleagues on urbanization, I will be moderating this week’s blog discussion and its focus on the question of “American decline.” The current draft of Global Trends 2030 describes three possible future scenarios for the state of the world in 2030. As varied as the scenarios are from each other, what all share in common is the assumption that the power of the United States will decline relative to the rest of the globe. These diverse declinist scenarios project a reduction in American power across several domains, including economic and military strength, and diplomatic and cultural influence. They also posit an array of potential actors accruing a greater share of the global power distribution at the expense of the United States, whether from a new superpower hegemon such as China, or the diffusion of power across a broader spectrum of middle powers around the world, or even the transformation of power as non-state and transnational actors take on greater influence in the international arena.

These assumptions of American decline may well turn out to be true. The contemporary world provides ample grist for declinist narratives, as challenges to American primacy are abundant and diverse, both external and internal. The rise of new great powers such as China and India looks likely to be a sustained reality, as is the ascension of influential middle powers such casino pa natet as Turkey, Vietnam, South Africa, and Indonesia. Each rising power will in different ways be demanding a bigger seat and larger plate at the high table of international politics – and perhaps in some cases will even be setting new tables of their own. When these external factors couple with the internal challenges in the US such as current fiscal straits and reduced budgets for an overstretched military, a presumption of American decline becomes very plausible, perhaps even inevitable.

Yet other analysts and some political leaders contest this view. They point to factors such as America’s continued economic resilience, military prowess, vast natural resources, and adaptive political system capable of self-correction and renewal, and contend that predictions of American decline are overwrought. Additionally these voices take a comparative approach and argue that while America’s problems are manifest, these problems pale in relation to the mobile casino systemic challenges plaguing every other aspiring superpower in the world. America decline, it is argued, is much less likely than American renewal and continued hegemony.

A diverse group of contributors will be taking up numerous dimensions of these questions this week. Some may argue that American decline is inevitable, and the only realistic policy option is to acknowledge and manage it. Others might hold that American decline is exaggerated or even fictitious, and that the United States will continue to dominate the international order, albeit with a potentially new set of alliance partners and friends and eventually a new set of international institutions. And still others may suggest new angles from which to consider the very question, in light of evolving measures of power and shifts in the international system, or through the lens of history and the insights of the past. Our contributors this week will also span the spectrums of age and experience, from young graduate students to retired policymakers and eminent scholars, and will bring diverse professional and academic perspectives. Together they will attempt to deepen our understanding of what America’s power and international role might look like over the next two decades, and what it might mean for a changing world.

William Inboden is a Distinguished Scholar at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and Assistant Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin.