Rumors of America’s demise are exaggerated

If you don’t want to be live-tweeted, don’t speak to a group in their 20s!  My 5-7 minutes or so presentation at the G8 & G20 Youth Summits at George Washington University this morning generated close to two dozen tweets.

What I said, or should have said according to my notes, was pretty much this:

1.  Contrary to what one often reads, my generation is not leaving the world worse off.  It is leaving as a legacy a freer, wealthier and more peaceful world than the one it inherited.

2.  But just because of that it is also a more uncertain world, where leadership is more difficult than when the United States and the Soviet Union faced off in nuclear confrontation. The demands made of leadership also shift in a more democratic and peaceful world, with greater emphasis on economic challenges and we hope less on security dilemmas.

3.  Even if America’s relative weight in the world is declining by some measures, the much-rumored demise of America is greatly exaggerated.

4.  The United States retains its inherent advantages:  two large, protective oceans, two cooperative neighbors north and south, immense natural resource wealth, global military superiority, a dynamic economy and political system.

5.  It also has other advantages that make it specifically well-adapted to the current world order:  an ability to pivot (as it is currently trying to do, from the Atlantic to the Pacific) and a high degree of interconnectedness with the rest of the world.  Anne-Marie Slaughter in particular has been vocal in point out how important interconnectedness can be.

6.  Interconnectedness is an interesting source of power, because it works at both ends:  I may be able to leverage my connection to you, but you may also be able to leverage your connection to me.

7.  We need to learn to use this interconnectedness to strengthen each other, not to undermine each other, and to improve the world order.

In the Q and A, Barbara Slavin and I differed on Iran and Syria.  I think President Obama is not taking military action on Syria because it would lose him Russian and Chinese participation in the P5+1 talks with Iran.  Barbara thinks the U.S. is hesitating because of uncertainty about the consequences in a Syria with a divided opposition.  We may also differ on Iran’s nuclear intentions, but writing about that I may get it wrong, so I’ll desist.

There were a lot of good questions, but the one that sticks in my mind is about how we will manage the rise of China.  A great deal depends on which China rises.  If it is an increasingly autocratic and militarized China, the task will be far more difficult.  If, as suggested in recent remarks by Wen Jiabao (I was mistaken this morning when I cited Hu Jintao), China finds it needs democratic political reform to manage its own internal problems, things will be a lot easier.

Next generation:  you were well-represented today!

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