Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy.Note: At the State of the Union on January 26, President Barack Obama argued, "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about." According to a Foreign Policy report, the president had read and been influenced by the TNR article below, discussing it at length in an off-the-record meeting on the afternoon of the speech. I.Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? A great deal depends on the answer to these questions. The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires and the qualities of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone.But how real is it? Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest book, that “that used to be us.”
Since Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in Tripoli, Saddam Hussein’s fall in Baghdad eight years ago and 1,800 miles away has framed much of the way many think about it. Global leaders, reporters, experts, and even Libyan officials have explicitly argued that Libya will not become another Iraq. This is particularly emphasized when addressing oil and natural gas, which not only dominate Libya’s economy but also are important to the global economy.
The words most often used by the heads of oil companies to describe the boom are “revolution” and “game changer.” Industry historian Daniel Yergin calls it “the shale gale.” Admittedly, serious questions remain as to whether shale gas will pass the ecological test—critics say it can’t be extracted safely in proximity to groundwater, and the EPA is engaged in a two-year study of extraction techniques.