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The decline of the superpowers

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In political circles, of course, everyone knows who is to blame for the fact that Washington cannot run much of th eworld as firmly and decisively today as it almost could in the heyday after World War II.

If you are among Democrats the blame lies at the doorstep of Republicans, particularly President Nixon and his most important adviser and lieutenant, Henry Kissinger. If you are among Republicans, the fault lies with Democrats for having overloaded the federal budget with goodies for the undeserving poor and neglecting the national defense.

The truth of the matter lies elsewhere. For anyone willing to work through a highly sophisticated and technical explanation of what has happened to reduce the ability of Washington to make plans for most of the world and have them executed, I refer to an article in the spring issue of Foreign Affairs, "Inflation and American Power." It was written by Prof. David P. Calleo, who is at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

The fault behind declining US power lies with many people and many events. One big part of the blame, of course, goes to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson for having pursued expensive domestic and foreign policies. Another piece goes to Republican President Richard Nixon for continuing those expensive policies and then sustaining them by devaluing the dollar. If Lyndon Johnson laid the foundations for our troubles, Richard Nixon built the superstructure by the dollar devaluation which unleashed inflation. It has been with us ever since.

But according to Professor Calleo's reconstruction of the story (which seems to me to be eminently correct), there is also the fact in the background that the policies pursued by the United States at the end of World War II were sound, and remarkably successful. Americans set out to rescue the economies of their friends and allies, and eventually their former enemies, and to build a coherent economic trading community among those countries which did not follow the Moscow way.

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