Then there are China's very real problems. China has 700 million very poor people. By 2050, it will have 400 million very old people. It will "get old before it gets rich," as conservative writer Mark Steyn likes to say. The country is shot through with corruption, bogus accounting practices that make subprime mortgage bundles look like gold bullion, and a political elite that remains terrified of democracy. A confident government doesn't banish its Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Even with its copycat stealth fighter, China is certainly less of a military threat to the United States than the Soviet Union was. It's more of an economic challenger, but that's a good problem to have, right? Currency wars are better than nuclear ones.
The most important point is that China's rise doesn't reflect some grand failure of American foreign policy but its success. Drawing China into the global economic and political system has been a bipartisan foreign-policy goal for generations. That creates new problems but better ones.
China is still governed by a fundamentally evil system. Hu has blood on his hands -- he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed Tibetan protestors in 1989. But it's less evil than when it kept a billion people in poverty and killed 65 million of its own citizens. That's progress.
For the last century, America was the good-guy lead on the international stage. In that role, we relied on a broad arsenal, literally and figuratively, to help move the world to democracy and prosperity. Contrary to a lot of nostalgic nonsense about the simplicity of the Cold War and the ease of our "unipolar moment," that effort was hard, complicated and punctuated with surprising successes and unpredicted failures. In that sense, the new normal looks a lot like the old normal.