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Necessity, Choice, and Common Sense

A Policy for a Bewildering World

Courtesy Reuters

The United States is declining as a nation and a world power, with mostly sighs and shrugs to mark this seismic event. Astonishingly, some people do not appear to realize that the situation is all that serious. A few say it is serious and hopeless. I count myself among those who think it is most serious yet reversible, if Americans are clear-eyed about the causes and courageous about implementing the cures.

The United States is in danger of becoming merely first among major powers and heading to a level somewhere between its current still-exalted position and that of China today. This would be bad news for both the United States and the world. Were this to happen over time, it would leave nations without a leader to sustain world order and help solve international problems. No single country or group of countries, and no international institution, could conceivably replace the United States in this role -- and leaders the world over know this well.

The decline starts with weakening fundamentals in the United States. First among them is that the country's economy, infrastructure, public schools, and political system have been allowed to deteriorate. The result has been diminished economic strength, a less vital democracy, and a mediocrity of spirit. These conditions are not easy to reverse. A second reason for the decline is how ineffectively the United States has used its international power, thus allowing its own and others' problems to grow and fester. The nation must attend to both issues, the former even more than the latter. Here I address principally foreign policy.

Foreign policy is common sense, not rocket science. But it keeps getting overwhelmed by extravagant principles, nasty politics, and the arrogance of power. These three demons rob officials of choice, which is the core of commonsense policy. In fact, the decision-making drill, although complex in substance, is a relatively straightforward process. Most foreign policy professionals understand it well: find out what is really going on in other

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