But it is not clear how long Russia's energy power will last. It is built on the absence of significant energy in the rest of Europe. However, new technologies have made it likely that Europe will find energy resources that don't depend on Russia or third-party pipelines. If that happens, Russia's political and financial positions will weaken dramatically. Russia has a weakening hand, and it can't control the thing that weakens it: new technologies.
The U.S. energy situation also will improve dramatically under most scenarios, and it can be expected to be able to supply most of its energy needs from Western Hemispheric sources within a few years. A decline in dependence on energy resources drawn from the Eastern Hemisphere reduces the need of the United States to intervene there and particularly reduces the need to concern itself with the Persian Gulf. That will be a sea change in how the global system works.
I will examine each of these issues in detail in the coming weeks, but the United States, not necessarily through any action of its own, is in fact facing a world with two characteristics: All competing powers have problems more severe than the United States, and shifts in energy technology -- and energy has been the essence of geopolitics since the industrial revolution -- favor the United States dramatically. A world with declining threats and decreasing dependence gives the United States breathing room. This isn't to say that the threat of Islamist terrorism has disappeared -- and I doubt that that threat will dissipate -- but it will remain a permanent danger, able to harm many but not able to pose an existential threat to the United States.
It is the breathing space that is most important. The United States needs to regroup. It needs to put the "war on terror" into perspective and rethink domestic security. It needs to rethink its strategy for dealing with the world from its unique position and align its economy and military capabilities with a new definition of its interests, and it needs to heal its own economy.
The logic of what it must do -- selective engagement where the national interest is involved, with the least use of military force possible -- is obvious. How this emerges and is defined depends on the environment. Dispassionate thought was not possible between 9/11 and today, nor would it be possible if we saw the pillars of the international system increasing their unity and power. But that is not what is happening. What is happening is a general decline in power, greater than the decline of the United States. And that provides room. This will frame Obama's foreign policy choices.