Obama: The US is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth

Would you agree with Obama or not, and why? And BTW, in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for the US for the 21st century at this moment?

Kurk DorseyAssociate Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

I still find this kind of exaggeration from President Obama surprising. I am not sure whether he has really become more of a nationalist or just plays the role for political reasons.  Of the great military powers or countries with large populations, I agree that the United States is in a good position, but it is foolish to say that the United States is bettered prepared than Norway or Canada, for instance, for the rest of the century.  I do think that those two countries, and many others, benefit from a general, if imperfect, Pax Americana, though. But the United States has two big problems that will not be easily solved.  First, as the historian Paul Kennedy noted way back in 1987, we still have the problem of imperial overstretch, trying to balance our commitments against what is wise to invest in military and diplomatic initiatives.  The hundreds of billions of dollars invested in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to return no more that shattered veterans, more debt for the US government, and increased suspicion of the US government abroad.  The second problem is that our economic growth is so uneven.  We have large pockets of urban poverty and our economy is not producing jobs that will give those people a chance to climb out of poverty.  It is hard to imagine that a city like Detroit will ever be prosperous again.  I volunteer at a local food pantry for the poor, and our client list keeps growing even as the economy technically recovers.

Having said that, if I had to buy bonds that would mature in 50 or 100 years, and my choice were US, Chinese, or Russian, I’d certainly buy US bonds.  The nation has great strengths and resiliency; I have two small boys and I am very optimistic about their future.

Joshua Walker, Director, Global Programs, APCO Worldwide, Non-Resident Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States

I do believe this statement to be true and here is why, despite all of the pessimissim, political gridlock, and challenges globally, America remains the most innovative super-power in the world. I agree with the Presiden that “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” Just like America invented the cars of Ford/GM etc, we also invented and perfected the economic use of the internet, Apple, Google, and Silicon Valley etc. However this is not static and the global economy is dynamic. Given that Obama has used up most of his big initiatives early on in his tenure I didn’t expect anything particularly fresh for him to say at the State of the Union, but I was glad to see him highlight the need for the US economy to be innovative. I would note that Bloomberg.com has a slideshow ranking of the world’s 30 most innovative economies. Where the top 5 are: (5) Germany, (4) Japan, (3) US, (2) Sweden, and (1) South Korea. Given our relationships with all of these countries and the impact the NSA scandal and discussion on the TPP and TTIP sometimes what the President doesn’t say, is more important than what makes his SOTU.

Yes, there are big challenges in the 21st century for the US not the least of which is to stay competitive in the global economy that smaller countries have the advantage sometimes. While we compete in the security realm with China or Russia, there are cyber threats and other non-traditional threats to the US as well but the biggest challenge for the US is one of mentality. Every 20 years we have discussions about US decline, which have always been proven wrong. American politics is like a pendulum that swings from one extreme of global engagement and intervention like under President Bush to overcautious, skeptical neglect like under President Obama in the international arena. Balancing our instincts and focusing on being a dynamic and innovative nation will be our greatest challenge moving forward given the fatigue we all feel with the burden of being a global super power.

Jack Goldstone, Professor, Director, Center for Global Policy, George Mason University

What makes a nation strong going into the 21st century? Three things matter most:

(1) An economic and legal system that supports private enterprise with solid property rights and contract protection, good macro-financial management, and moderate levels of debt;

(2) A knowledge base of universities and innovative firms that have learned to institutionalize innovation and have easy access to the latest technology; and

(3) a young, growing, and well-educated workforce.

Strange as it sounds the United States is the ONLY country in the world that enjoys high levels of all three of these key factors. The world’s other wealthy countries all have shrinking work forces and faster-aging populations. China too is in that category of a having a shrinking and aging work force. Of the emerging market countries with still young and growing populations — India, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Nigeria, Thailand — all have problems of corruption and of weaknesses in education and innovation that prevent them from directly competing with the United States. Russia suffers from both an uncertain legal and property regime scarred by corruption and a fast aging and shrinking work force.

The United States also enjoys a rapidly expanding natural gas and oil base with falling energy prices; a vast internal market with excellent air, rail and road connections; and good relations with two increasingly prosperous neighbors (Canada and Mexico), and strong alliances with the major powers of the Atlantic and Pacific.

So yes, I would agree that the United States is better positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on earth. Of course, the U.S. could squander that advantage, by neglecting its educational system and letting its infrastructure deteriorate, closing its doors to immigrants, or hobbling its economy with excessive regulation. Yet I do not think the U.S. will make all of these mistakes. The United States is therefore likely to remain the strongest nation on earth for decades to come.

Erik JonesProfessor of European Studies, Director, Bologna Institute for Policy Research, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Bologna Center, The Johns Hopkins University

This SOTU was one of the most domestically oriented that Obama has given.  The goal of the speech as three-fold.

First, he wants to announce the recovery.  That is what the ‘best positioned in the world’ business is all about.  We are growing again.  And while the data are not terrific in historical perspective, we are doing better than Europe.  Meanwhile, China, India and Brazil are wrestling with their own problems and many of the principal emerging market economies are suddenly struggling.  That gives the comparative rhetoric the benefit of being accurate in gross macroeconomic terms.  It will not convince Obama’s detractors that we could not be doing better, but it will throw something to his supporters to use in mixed conversation.

Second, he wants to focus attention on income (and risk) distribution.  This is the policy agenda.  Now that we are out of the worst of the crisis and headed toward recovery, we should consolidate the gains we have made in terms of expanding health coverage, encourage savings among the middle classes, and raise incomes – particularly for those who are least paid.  That is why he is pushing the Congress to stop holding votes to repeal the affordable care act; it is also why he has called for a rise in the minimum wage.  He also made it clear that he would use Executive authority where necessary (and possible) to get action.

Third, he wants to reassert his notion of leadership as fostering cooperation.  He says this explicitly in his speech.  He also highlights that the alliance with Europe is the strongest that the world has ever known and then goes on to list a bunch of things that he wishes the Europeans would take off his foreign policy plate.  In this context, he is remarkably consistent.  He has also thrown his strong support behind a project that the Europeans want as well – which is a negotiated settlement with Iran.  He made it clear that he would veto any Congressional sanctions until a deal is struck.  He also conceded that he would support further sanctions if the Iranian government were to renege on its commitments (or to fail to take up this opportunity).  That is essentially an acknowledgement of the limits of this policy – he cannot control what the Iranians do and he cannot hold off the Congress forever.  Let’s hope this initiative works.

Beyond those three policy objectives, Obama wanted to remind the American people of the security situation he inherited, the progress he has made in retrenching American commitments, and the sacrifices we have demanded from our military personnel along the way.  This is interesting for what it reveals about American society – both in terms of how much we have lost in more than a decade of conflict and how unevenly those costs have been distributed.  I think we will be studying this development for a long time to come.  That is going to be the biggest challenge we face in the 21st Century.  The experience of Vietnam was an open wound on the American psyche; but in some ways the experience of Korea was equally important – particularly in terms of how both the military and popular attitudes to military service were affected.  I think we are going to go through another more quiet revolution in civil-military relations in the United States in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The challenge will be to ensure that we retain both the ability to project force and the wisdom about how to use it when that revolution is finished.

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this collection of responses. Jack Goldstone is “factually challenged” (wrong) about the U.S. being the ONLY country with high levels of his 3 criteria. He’s not only incorrect, but there are places that exceed our resources in each of his categories. All the rest had interesting information to digest.

    I vote “good position, not best” regarding the U.S. I don’t personally value strength through military might. To me that’s a moral detriment, like it became in the ancient Roman Empire. If I had less family here, and more liquid capital, there are several countries I would move to in a heartbeat, because I think they are freer, more innovative, healthier, and have more stable infrastructures than ours:
    Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, in that order, would be my top 3 choices for “best positioned”, but others like The Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand are pretty close too.

  2. U.S is developed not only in the economic sage but also in it’s education point of view.

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