On the eighth anniversary of 9/11, a professor of mine made a comment that caused a lot of soul-searching for me. He remarked, quite casually, that the United States is in decline.
Those words angered me. Nobody likes to hear their country characterized in that manner. But ever since then I’ve been considering that casual statement.
I think it accurately describes the state of our nation.
We are a nation in decline.
We are in decline for a variety of reasons, some more controllable and some less so. Economic weakness has something to do with it, as does the popularity of anti-Americanism (thank you, George Bush). Misadventures in the Middle East and the rise of China also play a participating role.
But enough about why we are in decline. What can be done to stop it?
There are two courses for the United States to take, both of which can somewhat alter its path of late. The first is to pay less attention to the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, that region of the world drew the undivided attention of the United States; to this day, it is still obsessed with Iraq and Iran and Israel and Afghanistan and on and on.
Most would agree that the United States has been hurt by this obsession. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have and continue to drain its energy and finances. America’s world image (and soft power) has been terribly damaged, strengthening those less friendly to it. Moreover, the Middle East has relatively little of value to offer, save for oil. And even that valuable resource does not justify excessive entanglements in a place that, more than any other part of the world, dislikes the concept of the United States.
The second bit of advice I have is to admit more immigrants. An immigrant is the best thing a nation can have. By definition, he (or she) is ambitious and hard-working enough to move thousands of miles, away from friends and family, to a place where he does not speak the language or know anybody. Very few people are motivated enough to do this.
Immigrants have created millions of jobs: the late 1990s technology boom was the product of Chinese and Indian immigrants who moved to Silicon Valley. Albert Einstein was an immigrant; Barack Obama is the son of an immigrant. For continued economic growth and national welfare, admitting more Albert Einsteins and Barack Obamas (the father, who had the same name as the president) is absolutely essential.
Every year the United States denies entry to an enormous amount of potential immigrants – the cream of the crop of humankind. Sadly, the immigration debate today is dominated by illegal immigration and nativist anger; it is unlikely that America’s doors will crack wider anytime soon. What cost appeasing anti-immigrant sentiment does to the well-being of the nation as a whole is unknown, but it is certainly great.
Admitting more immigrants might not reverse U.S. decline, nor might limiting U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Superpowers – whether they be Spain, Britain, America, or China – do not and cannot last forever; in the end they all fall. But perhaps, if these two suggestions are followed, the United States might just last longer than most.