The truth about US ‘Decline’ (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By VICTOR DAVIS HANSON 04/26/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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Almost daily, we read of America’s “waning power” and “inevitable
decline,” as observers argue over the consequences of defense cuts
and budget crises.
Yet much of America’s “leading from behind” strategy is a choice, not
a necessity. Apparently, both left-wing critics of US foreign policy
and right-wing Jacksonians are tiring of spending blood and treasure
on seemingly ungrateful Middle Easterners — after two Gulf wars, the
decade in Afghanistan and various interventions in Lebanon and Libya.
We certainly have plenty of planes and bombs with which to pound
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Never in the last 70 years has the US
military been so lethal.
But chaos in Libya followed Moammar Khadafy’s death, and the anti-
American Muslim Brotherhood seems poised to win the election in
Egypt. Most Americans assume that if we were to remove the murderous
Assad regime in Syria, the rebels would either show us no gratitude
or install a not much better replacement regime.
So much of our sagging profile abroad is simply a realization that
the Mideast is, well, the Mideast. You can change the faces, but the
regimes end up mostly as reflections of a volatile mix of tribalism,
oil money, radical Islam and generations of dependency.
Can decline be better measured by our huge debt of $16 trillion,
growing yearly with $1 trillion deficits? Perhaps. But Americans know
that with a new tax code, simple reforms to entitlements and
reasonable trimming of bloated public salaries and pensions, we could
balance federal budgets. The budget crux isn’t due to an absence of
material resources, but a preference for not acting until we’re
forced to in the 11th hour.
Do high gas prices and huge imported-oil fees reflect an energy
shortage? Not really. Some 25 billion barrels of oil sit off
California’s central coast, and much more in Alaska, the Midwest, the
Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern shore. At some point, when gas hits $5
or $6 a gallon, Americans will be cured of their smugness and decide
to tap trillions of dollars in natural riches.
The manifest symptoms of decline — frustration with the Mideast,
military retrenchment, exorbitant energy costs and financial
insolvency — are choices we make but need not make in the future.
If our students are burdened with oppressive loans, why do so many
university rec centers look like spas? Student cellphones and cars
are indistinguishable from those of the faculty.
The underclass suffers more from obesity than malnutrition; our
national epidemic is not unaffordable protein but rather a surfeit of
even cheaper sweets.
Flash-mobbers target electronics stores for more junk, not bulk-food
warehouses to eat. Children don’t suffer from lack of Internet
access, but from wasting hours on video games and less-than-
instructional Web sites. We have too many, not too few, TV channels.
The problem isn’t that government workers are underpaid but that so
many seem to think mind readers, clowns and prostitutes come with the
An average American with an average cellphone has more information at
his fingertips than did a Goldman Sachs grandee 20 years ago. Over
the last half-century, bizarre new words entered the American
vocabulary — triple-dipping, Botox, liposuction, jet set, cost-of-
living adjustment — that don’t reflect a deprived citizenry. In 1980,
a knee or hip replacement was experimental surgery for the 1 percent;
now it’s a Medicare entitlement.
US poverty isn’t measured by absolute global standards of available
food, shelter and medical care, or by comparisons to prior
generations, but by one American now having less stuff than another.
As America re-examines its military, entitlements, energy sources and
popular culture, it will learn that our “decline” isn’t due to
material shortages but rather arises from moral confusion over how to
master the vast riches we’ve created. If decline is fighting just two
wars at a time rather than three, just budgeting what we did in 2008,
tapping a bit more oil offshore or having our colleges offer more
grammar courses and fewer rock-climbing walls, then by all means
bring it on.
Victor Davis Hanson’s latest book is “The End of Sparta.” (Copyright
2012 NYP Holdings, Inc. 04/26/12)
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