Is the U.S. in an irreversible decline as the world's premier power?
-- Time, October 15, 1992
The United States won the war against the "evil empire," but it is losing the battle against the forces of decline.
-- Le Monde, October 20, 1992, in the first of a 12-part series on America in eclipse
Victory over Saddam Hussein, although incomplete, masked temporarily America's declining economic power and dwindling interest in the rest of the world and postponed moves to fill the vacuum created by America's retrenchment and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
-- U.S. News & World Report, November 16, 1992
Bill Clinton was elected president at a moment of both triumph and uncertainty for America in the world. The triumphs of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War will be long remembered. The memory of the uncertainty is already fading.
In 1992, the United States was widely seen as unlikely to sustain its global engagement in the absence of an overriding threat. It was lagging competitively. U.S. alliances were in jeopardy, with their missions undefined and with new threats -- from the Balkans to a nuclearizing North Korea -- being inadequately addressed. Japan and western Europe were considered increasingly likely to forge separate identities outside their alliances with America. U.S. foreign policy had barely come to grips with the emerging challenges of a globalized world, from the volatility of markets to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to the spread of disease.
For 50 years, America self-assuredly had defined its leadership in terms of what it was against. In the years immediately following the victory over communism, America defined its "post-Cold War" policy in terms of what was ending. The Clinton administration's task was to renew our leadership in terms of what we were building, while restoring the domestic vitality that enabled us to lead in the first place. Historians may debate the choices we made, but there is no disputing their cumulative outcome.
America today is by any
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