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America in the Asian Century

NEW YORK – At “ground zero”in lower Manhattan, two empty spaces will be filled by water cascades, memorializing in a serene and respectful way the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Next to them, a powerful tower, designed by the architect Daniel Libeskind and nearly completed, rises vigorously into the sky, a symbol of the triumph of life over the forces of death. One word comes to mind to characterize the impression made by this place, the site of an unprecedented crime: resilience.

In a building that houses what will one day be a memorial museum, one can buy a DVD entitled “9/12: From Chaos to Community.” Ground Zero is the architectural and human proof that, despite America’s current economic woes, it would be premature, if not dangerous, to write the country off as a declining power. America has the moral and intellectual resources that it needs in order to rebound.

But what is necessary is not sufficient. In order to reinvent itself, if not to manage its relative international decline, America must proceed toward a rebalancing of its domestic and international priorities. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, a triumphant America withdrew from global responsibility, with tragic consequences for the balance of power in a Europe that was left to face its inner demons alone.

In the aftermath of World War II, by contrast, the US managed successfully to contain Soviet ambitions. Today, unlike in 1945, Americans do not confront an imminent threat. Russia may speak loudly (using its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council as a megaphone), but it is a greatly reduced rump of the Soviet Union. Likewise, while the nationalism of America’s principal rival, China, has become more assertive lately, the communist regime’s clear priority – indeed, the key to its stability – is domestic economic growth.