NEW YORK – Let me posit a radical idea: The most critical threat facing the United States now and for the foreseeable future is not a rising China, a reckless North Korea, a nuclear Iran, modern terrorism, or climate change. Although all of these constitute potential or actual threats, the biggest challenges facing the US are its burgeoning debt, crumbling infrastructure, second-rate primary and secondary schools, outdated immigration system, and slow economic growth – in short, the domestic foundations of American power.
Readers in other countries may be tempted to react to this judgment with a dose of schadenfreude, finding more than a little satisfaction in America’s difficulties. Such a response should not be surprising. The US and those representing it have been guilty of hubris (the US may often be the indispensable nation, but it would be better if others pointed this out), and examples of inconsistency between America’s practices and its principles understandably provoke charges of hypocrisy. When America does not adhere to the principles that it preaches to others, it breeds resentment.
But, like most temptations, the urge to gloat at America’s imperfections and struggles ought to be resisted. People around the globe should be careful what they wish for. America’s failure to deal with its internal challenges would come at a steep price. Indeed, the rest of the world’s stake in American success is nearly as large as that of the US itself.
Part of the reason is economic. The US economy still accounts for about one-quarter of global output. If US growth accelerates, America’s capacity to consume other countries’ goods and services will increase, thereby boosting growth around the world. At a time when Europe is drifting and Asia is slowing, only the US (or, more broadly, North America) has the potential to drive global economic recovery.