Overton: A welcome loss of power


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“Only 43 Percent Now Believe America is the Last Best Hope of Mankind,” a headline from Rasmussen polling proclaimed in July 2012.

We can only hope that this arrogant and arguably narcissistic view of the United States, first stated by Ronald Reagan, enters its death throes sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, a national survey by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday shows that Americans’ delusions of grandeur are waning.

A record 53 percent of U.S. respondents said America is “less important and powerful than 10 years ago,” while just 17 percent said the country is more important and powerful.

For the first time since asking the question in 1964, Pew also found that a majority of Americans believe the United States should “mind its own business internationally.”

Americans seem to be getting the message. There are other emerging centers of economic and political power around the world: China, Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa, and others.

Hard as it may seem to believe, this really is a positive development. It’s not that the United States is necessarily declining. It’s that everyone else is catching up to us. This nation could still be the most powerful one (there’s more to power than the economy), but the international power stage won’t be so relatively lopsided that the United States can just do whatever it wants with impunity.

Such as all those times during the Cold War when the American CIA covertly participated in plots to remove democratically elected leaders in foreign nations and replace them with dictators.

Remember the good ol’ days when the United States and the Soviet Union used large swaths of post-colonial Africa to stage a series of deadly proxy wars against one another? Good times. Unless you were, well, in Africa.

How about that time when a U.S. drone strike directly targeted and blew up an elderly Pakistani woman as she was harvesting vegetables — right in front of her grandchildren. (Look out, she’s got a cabbage.)

And don’t forget the National Security Agency’s habit of spying on even our closest allies.

Oh, and that time when the United States was chasing down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, then randomly decided to destroy Iraq and rebuild it.

Power’s nice. But too much power in the hands of one country is bound to be abused. The world will no longer revolve around the United States of America. With power spread out more evenly among the citizens of Planet Earth, it will be much harder for one superpower to unilaterally blow up any old country without punishment from the international community.

Even today, the United States wields comparatively enormous political, economic, and military power with just 300 million out of the world’s total population of 7 billion. It is extremely unequal and slowly but surely, the distribution of power is leveling out, albeit imperfectly. What we’re seeing is a democratization of international power.

The decline in relative power for the United States is nothing to mourn. Let’s be honest, we went mad with power. We probably won’t be the best at everything again, and that’s OK. This isn’t an argument to just let the United States fall back and become complacent. This is an argument for greater international democracy and equality.

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