A preliminary inquiry. Contributions by W. James Antle III, John Bolton, Midge Decter, Stefan Halper, Matt Latimer, Seth Lipsky, David Malpass, William McGurn, and Jeremy Rabkin.
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Similarly, regarding international geopolitics, observers cite Obama’s indecisiveness, his deference to multilateral institutions and foreign governments, his incessant embarrassment about America, and his general lack of interest in national security. All too true, but hardly evidence of decline that an unapologetic U.S. president couldn’t fix after 2012.
Americans still hold their fate in their hands, and there is no real reason to bet against us. We will once again confirm Churchill’s observation that “you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”
John Bolton is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
It is hard to think of a moment when the government of the United States has behaved more absurdly than it is doing at the moment of this writing — stupefied as it so clearly is by uprisings in the Arab world that, having failed to predict, it can neither identify with any degree of confidence nor figure out how to respond to. It certainly appears to be in a condition for which the word “decline” would be a fitting one. And yet I do not think the answer to The American Spectator’s question is yes. The great Adam Smith, who once offered the observation that “there is a lot of ruin in a nation” may not have had in mind such a moment as the one we Americans are now living through — even so large an understanding as his could perhaps not quite have accommodated it — and I for one now take comfort in his reckoning. And having myself so often in the overheated days of my youth been prepared to apply the term “decline” to this or that national mishap or unconscionable behavior (the dreadful time that came to be known as “the 1960s” and our hatefully misbegotten exit from Vietnam being two leading examples), I am nowadays inclined to be behindhand with my use of so large and so definitive a term. What we are going through instead, it seems to me, is a kind of temporary payback (and may it be short-lived!) for what was a seizure of national foolishness: the idea that we could in one, or two, or maybe three, fell swoops buy our way out of the racial and economic and foreign policy messes in which we had for some time been immersing ourselves. In times, both nationally and internationally, when courage, clarity, and care were called for, the quick fix became king. Deal with a nuclear Iran? Debate in the UN and hope for the best. Too many of the sources of power and wealth had fallen into the bloodied hands of terrorists? Grow more corn, trap winds, and hand out prizes to those who declared that the issue was merely one of national greed. Too many among us are poor? Give them nice houses to live in. Too many of the country’s racial problems are in too many places still festering? Elect a handsome, well-spoken, politically questionable, and totally inexperienced black man president.
And the result? With two foreign wars to finish, a foreign policy it is a joke even to call by that name. We leave East European allies naked to the nuclear weapons of the Russians. We halfheartedly, and with an unarticulated, let alone un-thought-through end in view, move in on uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East while we treat our one totally reliable ally in that God-forsaken region, namely Israel, with open hostility. As for the rest, we are at least soon to find ourselves having large — and no doubt heated and ugly — debates.
Thus we are not, I think, in decline. But we are certainly citizens of a country currently subject to the dumbest — and almost certainly the most ignorant — administration in living memory.
Midge Decter’s books include Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait; Liberal Parents, Radical Children; and An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War.
Americans, often a self-critical and aspiring lot, have feared the nation was “in decline” from the early 19th century — and with great regularity, ever since. If it wasn’t Sam Adams fretting about the brazen assault on morals from newly public theaters sprinkled around Boston, then it was the abolitionist Senator Sumner of Massachusetts rumbling that the “Peculiar Institution” debased the great American experiment in liberty and would bring us to ruin. In the last century F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Oculist helped us worry about our moral fiber during the twenties while Steinbeck chronicled America’s dust-blown desperation and yet Americans evinced a plucky determination to climb forward — even in the darkest days of the Depression. Later, amidst fears that Communism would rob us of our postwar prosperity, the nation was jolted in 1957 by Sputnik — left reeling with self-doubt; our leadership, our security, and our second-rate educational system were all in question.
But in crisis we have always found opportunity. Eisenhower used Sputnik to revamp American education. His investment in R&D closed the high-tech gap, allowing Neil Armstrong in 1969 to be the first man on the moon. Still, the prospect of American decline was ever present; Nixon in 1968 asked, with great effect, if people were better off than when Kennedy was elected in 1960…a refrain we heard again in 1980. And so even amidst our greatest achievements, we are riddled with doubt.
Pessimistic projections of declining technical prowess, educational and health standards, slow growth, various “happiness indexes” are all around us today. It is a continuing feature of American life that growth and progress proceed at uneven rates, and today globalization and “apples to oranges” statistical comparisons further distort perceptions. Comparing U.S. and Danish education achievement, for example, compares a small, homogeneous country, focused on its quality of life — and a large, diverse, global leader, home to a million legal immigrants since 2000 and an unknown number of illegals, the majority of whom are impoverished and do not speak English.
There are reasons for concern, however. We are at a crossroads — and America will become a lesser place if we don’t act with effect. Embroiled in two “un-won wars” at the cost of $12.2 billion a month, we are denying needed education, health, housing, research and development, and infrastructure investment to America. We have a choice — and have taken a step in the right direction with President Obama’s careful position on the Libya crisis. We need not intervene unilaterally in such contingencies unless U.S. interests are directly threatened.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online