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After the bin Laden era, is America 'weaker?'


The years bookended by the Sept. 11 terror attacks and this week's death of Osama bin Laden are already beginning to harden, like a bruise, into a distinct historical era in American history. But unlike the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, or those kooky go-go 1960s, America is exiting the bin Laden years in worse shape than it entered, argues big-dog defense analyst Loren Thompson. Americans and their policymakers focused so closely on the immediate goals of war and security that they haven't noticed just how different -- how much "weaker" -- America is today, Thompson writes:

According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. share of global output shrunk from 24.4 percent in 2009 to 23.3 percent in 2010. If the federal government stopped borrowing money tomorrow, our economy would quickly contract to 20 percent of world production, since federal borrowing currently represents over a tenth of GDP. In other words, borrowing is the main reason that America's share of global output has not fallen to the lowest level in living memory. So the National Intelligence Council was right when it told President-elect Obama in 2008 that, "In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the global shift in relative wealth and economic power now under way -- roughly from West to East -- is without precedent in modern history."
So with bin Laden's death, maybe it'll be possible for policymakers to realize just what has been happening under their noses, Thompson writes, although it won't be easy. Americans don't do well dealing with reality.
... [W]e can't blame Osama bin Laden for America's decline after 9-11, since our wounds are largely self-inflicted. But we can speculate that the constant distraction of overseas wars aimed at defeating terrorism had something to do with why policymakers neglected the nation's economic health until it became a crisis reflected in record federal budget deficits. And we can reasonably assume that if America's economic decline continues, many historians will see 9-11 as the symbolic turning point in America's fortunes -- the day on which the golden age of American affluence and influence began to ebb away. The question is what Washington should do about it now that the best known author of our recent difficulties is dead.

For me, the answer is simple. The United States needs to relinquish its pretentious crusade to save the world and set about saving itself. Having ceased to be a model for other countries' development, America must rediscover the basic principles that enabled it to rise to economic greatness after the Civil War. That means first of all paying our bills rather than deferring pain and enforcing our trade rights against mercantilist nations that seek to compete unfairly. In other words, we need to write the requirement for a balanced budget into the Constitution, and we need to start imposing tangible sanctions on nations like China who have repeatedly flouted their obligations under trade treaties. As far as Afghanistan and all the other basket cases we have tried to bail out in recent years are concerned, it's time for us to move on. We need all the resources at our disposal to fix and defend America, and no longer have the luxury of pursuing missionary work in the world's most backward places.

What do you think? Does bin Laden's death mark a new turning point, a signal that the U.S. needs to get itself together after all the blood and treasure it expended hunting for him? Can America continue to be a hyperpower into the rest of the 21st century?
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