The Obama Administration has completed its first national security strategy. As in similar documents prepared by previous administrations, the strategy calls for continued efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, defeat terrorism and promote freedom around the world. But this security strategy is different from those of the past, because it is being produced by the government of a country that is in decline. Over the past ten years, America’s share of the global economy has declined about one percentage point each year, falling from 32% of world output in 2001 to 24% today. Employment levels, which grew 20% in the 1980s and 20% again in the 1990s, have barely risen at all in the last ten years, making the first decade of the new millennium the worst period for job creation since the Great Depression. The U.S. trade deficit on the eve of the recent recession was the biggest ever recorded by any nation, and now our budget deficit is also the biggest ever recorded.
These trends undercut the credibility of the Obama Administration’s security strategy, because they suggest that America is losing the wherewithal to sustain its role as the world’s only superpower. Eight years ago, the Bush Administration’s first national security strategy could credibly claim that America’s model of democracy and free enterprise was “the single sustainable model for national success”. Back then, the Bush strategy’s commitment to “pro-growth” regulatory policies, fiscal restraint, free trade and “lower marginal tax rates” did not sound ironic. Now it rings hollow, because everybody knows that China’s mix of mercantilism and state control has been the big economic success story of the new millennium. While America was losing an average of 40,000 manufacturing jobs every month for ten straight years and falling deep into debt, China’s economy grew by double digits each year. The CIA summed up the situation in its first big global assessment for President-elect Obama when it warned, “In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the global shift in relative wealth and economic power now under way — roughly from West to East — is without precedent in modern history.”
In other words, America is losing ground fast. President Obama promised the nation a “new era of responsibility” shortly after taking office, but responsibility is not the first word that comes to mind when reading White House budget projections for the coming decade. As Robert Samuelson pointed out in Monday’s Washington Post, even if the bi-partisan deficit reduction commission meets its goal of paring the federal deficit to no more than the cost of interest payments on the debt in 2020, the deficit will still be nearly a trillion dollars. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have offered a plausible plan for how this erosion can be halted. Instead, the Democrats propose to further burden the economy with taxes and spending obligations, while the Republicans act as if their failed prescriptions of the past will produce better results under President Romney or Palin than they did under President Bush. And so we continue to drift toward a Judgment Day when the rest of humanity finally tires of funding our excesses. That is the reality of our current circumstances, which makes any new national security strategy — no matter how high minded — hard to take seriously.
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