America as Number Two—And Loving It

“When America Becomes Number Two." That was the January 21 headline in The World Post, a new lefty offshoot of The Huffington Post. The author was Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean diplomat and academic who has emerged as a prominent intellectual figure in Asia, mostly because he argues for the inevitability – and the urgency – of dethroning the US as the world’s leading superpower.

Mahbubani’s World Post article advances his favorite dethronement theme. He writes:

In 2019, barely five years away, the world will pass one of its most significant historical milestones. For the first time in 200 years, a non-Western power, China, will become the number one economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. America will become number two. Yes, it will take longer for China's economy to overtake America's in nominal terms, but the trend line is irresistible. And in PPP terms, China's economy could be twice that of America's by 2020.

Mahbubani – whose heritage reaches back to Muslim Pakistan – bolsters his America-as-Number Two argument by quoting Bill Clinton in 2003. The former president told a Yale University audience:

We should be trying to create a world with rules and partnerships and habits of behavior that we would like to live in when we're no longer the military political economic superpower in the world.

Needless to say, Mahbubani is delighted by the prospect of American decline; he adds that only “massive self-deception” keeps Americans from seeing the truth about their own faltering reality.

Okay, so Mahbubani, the lefties at Huffington/World Post, and the 42nd president agree that America is in eclipse. Probably they all savor the prospect.

So here’s the question: What should Americans think about this? More to the point, what should we do about this? It’s unlikely that the right answer is simply, “Replace Barack Obama with a Republican.”

After all, Clinton spoke of decline in 2003, when George W. Bush was in the White House. Indeed, it’s hard to observe the history of the 43 administrations – from 9-11 to the Iraq War to the Great Recession – and not conclude that Bush was part of the problem. Who thinks that a hypothetical President McCain or President Romney would have reversed these negative trends?

In other words, the Mahbubani challenge – more like the Mahbubani taunt – is out there, and it’s darn hard to think of the current American leader, or the current American leadership agenda, that can do anything to stop it.


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