- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rise of declinists

“American ‘decline’ is the foreign-policy equivalent of homelessness: The media only take note of it when a Republican is in the White House,” Wall Street Journal columnistBret Stephens writes.

“Broadly speaking, declinists divide between those who merely accept America’s supposed diminishment as a fact of life, and those who celebrate it as long overdue. As for the causes of decline, however, they tend to agree: declining (relative) economic muscle, due in large part to the rise of China; an overextended military bogged down needlessly in Iraq and endlessly in Afghanistan; the declining value of America’s ‘brand’ on account of Bush administration policies on detention, pre-emption, terrorism, global warming — you name it,” Mr. Stephens said.

“Yet each of these assumptions collapses on a moment’s inspection. In his 2006 book ‘Uberpower,’ German writer Josef Joffe makes the following back-of-the-envelope calculation: ‘Assume that the Chinese economy keeps growing indefinitely at a rate of 7 percent, the average of the past decade (for which history knows of no example). … At that rate, China’s GDP would double every decade, reaching parity with today’s United States ($12 trillion) in 30 years. But the U.S. economy is not frozen into immobility. By then, the United States, growing at its long-term rate of 2.5 percent, would stand at $25 trillion.’

“Now take military expenditures. Yesterday, the administration released its budget proposal for 2009, which includes $515.4 billion for the regular defense budget. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this would be the largest defense appropriation since World War II. Yet it amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, as compared to 14 percent during the Korean War, 9.5 percent during the Vietnam War and 6 percent in the Reagan administration. Throw in the Iraq and Afghanistan supplementals, and total projected defense spending is still only 4.5 percent of GDP — an easily afforded sum ….

“Finally, there is the issue of our allegedly squandered prestige in the world. There is no doubt America’s ‘popularity,’ as measured by various global opinion surveys, has fallen in recent years. What’s striking, however, is how little of this has mattered in terms of the domestic political choices of other countries or the consequences for the U.S.

A matter of trust

“Why do so many conservatives detest — and yes, ‘detest’ is the most accurate word — John McCain?” Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi asks.

“Why are radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Hugh Hewitt abandoning their customary stance on Republican unity by endorsing or supporting Mitt Romney?

“Why would the right-wing queen of provocation, Ann Coulter, claim that she would rather campaign for Hillary Clinton than the longtime Republican senator from Arizona?

“Why, many talking heads marvel, are conservatives ambushing their only real shot at a general election victory in November?

“Well, just maybe, to conservatives, the principle is worth more than the victory,” Mr. Harsanyi said.

“After all, hadn’t conservatives won the presidency with George W. Bush? Hadn’t they won both houses of Congress in 2002? How many conservatives are celebrating this week’s news of the first-ever $3 trillion budget unveiled by the president?

“Anger towards McCain, despite the spin of his supporters, isn’t exactly irrational. McCain has shown an elastic sense of principle. To conservatives, it seems like temperamental predilections are just as likely to determine his positions as poll numbers. He’s a man they have trouble trusting.”

Testy exchange

Story Continues →