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OPINION

In Pursuit of a New American Century

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

As Chinese leader Xi Jinping departed his recent trip to Russia, he is quoted as saying to President Putin: “Right now there are changes – the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years – and we are the ones driving these changes together.”

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Xi is correct. The world is changing in ways it has not in many decades. 

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has been suspended in a sort of historical stasis produced by the Pax Americana and the liberal international rules-based world order (the “Order”).  Many coming to believe this cryogenic state will persist forever, even dubbing it “the end of history.” But with the relative decline of the West and the rise of China and the Rest, the ice is now cracking more with each day that passes, as history returns at last. 

The Order, an anomaly produced by the unique conditions spawned from World War II and the subsequent Cold War, is ending. There are those, however, particularly in the West, despairing of the Order’s impending passing and trying desperately to hang onto it for as long as possible. Some because they are global elites that have benefited disproportionately from the Order; others, because they cannot conceive of a world without it. 

But instead of bemoaning its loss, Americans especially should welcome, even celebrate its passing, for it has been more burden than blessing. As geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan wrote in his book The End of the World is Just the Beginning, the last few decades under the Order and globalization have been far from an American Century. Indeed, they have been an “American sacrifice.”

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As Zeihan correctly asserts, the Order has always depended excessively upon American power, and American willingness to disadvantage itself economically, by trading away its own economic prowess and natural advantages for the benefit of other nations. This has been done for the purposes of building and sustaining a worldwide security network, anchored by America, to police the global commons, and increasingly, enforce so-called “universal values.”

While perhaps this made sense in the aftermath of WWII and during the Cold War period, given America’s unrivaled economic and military strength, and the necessity of rebuilding a decimated world and defeating the global threat of Communism, those days have long since ceased. Yet still the Order and the American sacrifice upon which it requires remains—even while it causes America’s own relative power and strength to severely wane. 

Despite its own increasingly stretched finances and dire domestic needs, America continues deploying billions in taxpayer dollars to subsidize the defense of others, including very rich European countries. America also acts as the de facto security force for globalization, safeguarding the channels of international commerce—even as US workers and businesses suffer from it. And as a result, America is constantly forced to expend its blood, treasure, and focus on distant conflicts around the globe; many having nothing to do with US core national interests, or worse, running directly counter to them. 

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Further, under the Order, America has ceded much of its own sovereignty and ability for self-determination to global multilateral, supra-national organizations, like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. As such, the Order has handcuffed America in significant ways. This includes restraining America from investing in and protecting its own workers and industries and engaging in the sort of economic nationalism that made it such a powerful, prosperous nation in the first place. 

For the sake of the Order, America has gutted its own middle class and outsourced its once unrivalled manufacturing might, so that nations oceans away could benefit—and of course global corporations seeking to exploit low wage labor. The Order has also given rise to America’s greatest adversary, China, which took full advantage of the American sacrifice to grow rich and powerful. And while China played by its own rules, putting itself and its own interests first, such as in trade, the Order left American towns and communities fully exposed to economic and societal decimation caused by Chinese mercantilism.

In return for its tremendous sacrifice, instead of gratitude, America receives scorn and treachery from much of the world, including from supposed friends and allies. Indeed, even now as America spends billions to defend Europe from Russia in Ukraine, many European nations cozy up to China and speak openly of “strategic autonomy” in the burgeoning New Cold War; a euphemism for playing both sides. Many Asian and Middle Eastern nations as well, who have long enjoyed, and taken full advantage of, access to America’s huge consumer market, along with the protection afforded by America’s security umbrella, are now hedging their bets; and, in some cases, outright undermining America in favor of China by among other things, ditching the US dollar. 

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This is occurring even though many remain wholly dependent upon the Order for their own safety and prosperity. This still includes to a significant degree China, which owes much of its own meteoric rise to the Order. And for a few more years, anyway, would be economically crippled if America suddenly stopped underwriting the globalization upon which China’s export driven economy is so reliant. 

The truth is that the Order has always needed America, far more than America needs it. America is phenomenally blessed with an abundance of geographical advantages and natural resources virtually unmatched by any other nation on earth. This gives America the ability to become self-sufficient, in energy, food, and nearly every other important category. While allowing America to not only break its dependencies on other nations, but also, freed from the restraints of the Order, to fully leverage its tremendous natural advantages against them to the economic benefit of American industries and citizens. As a result, unlike many others, America can thrive in a deglobalized, post Order world. Relatively speaking, America would be stronger than ever. 

As Xi Jinping noted, the world is realigning. What shape it takes, however, is yet to be decided. The question is whether China, Russia, and others will determine it for their own benefit. Or, whether America, instead of trying to sustain the dying Order a little while longer, overturns the global table to weaken its rivals and put its own people and interests far ahead of others. 

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It is time for the sacrifice to end. And for a new, better American century to begin. 

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