America remains number one in terms of global power.
Walter Russell Mead has some good observations on American power which are worth reading. His basic contention is that America is likely to remain what is was during the Cold War, the preeminent power. That doesn't mean we get our way, but it also means that no other country has the ability to set the international agenda like America does. Mead writes:
Although this is going to be tumultuous and challenging century, the outlook for Americaâ??s continuing world role is pretty bright (assuming we maintain the domestic sources of our wealth and strength). The rise of China is not, or does not have to be, the kind of challenge to American power that, for example, the rise of Germany posed to Britain one hundred years ago. China is rising â?? but so are India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Malaysia. Chinaâ??s destiny is probably not to leverage its hegemonic power in Asia into a global challenge to the American system. Rather, it is more likely to concern itself with building a stable Asian state system which will rest in part on Americaâ??s continuing presence as an off shore balancing power and guarantor of the peace.
It is not the cleverness of American foreign policy that makes this outcome likely; it is the geography and economy of Asia. Britainâ??s unique role in the 19th century European balance of power worked much the same way. Many European countries had larger populations and bigger armies than Britain did, but Britainâ??s offshore position and sea power enabled it to play a unique and global role.
I think this is largely correct but I don't know how Mead can write a long post about the future prospects of American power without reference to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Both represent still open-ended conflicts which are consuming American resources and attention. Doesn't American power look quite different if a stable Iraq allows for a full U.S. withdrawal vs. an unstable Iraq precipitating Surge II?
I wouldn't worry about American policymakers suffering from a surplus of cleverness, but we should be on guard against foolishness and hubris. Both were evident in the decision to invade Iraq (to say nothing of the planning and execution of the war) and both could easily manifest themselves again. The U.S. is large and powerful enough to absorb multiple mistakes and own-goals without severe consequences, but there's a limit, isn't there?