Fareed Zakaria: In Fifty Years 9/11 Might Be Seen As Beginning of America's Decline

It certainly wasn't a Paul Krugman moment, but is the tenth anniversary of the biggest attack on our mainland a good time to say, "Fifty years from now, we might even look at 9/11 as simply the beginning of the decline of America?"

That's what Fareed Zakaria said Sunday on the CNN program bearing his name (video follows with transcript and commentary):


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN: Who are they? Why are they so enraged? What do they want? What will stop them from hating us? But if 9/11 was focused at the time on them, 10 years later, the discussion is mostly about us -- what is America's position in the world today? Are we safer? Are we stronger? Was it worth it?

Some of these questions are swirling around because the U.S. is mired in tough economic times and at such moments the mood is introspective, not outward-looking. Some of it is because of the success in the war against al Qaeda. The threat from Islamic terrorism still seems real but more manageable and contained.

But history will probably record this period not as one characterized by al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Against al Qaeda terrorist training camps.


ZAKARIA: That will get a few paragraphs or a chapter. The main story will be about the fate of the United States of America. Fifty years from now, we might even look at 9/11 as simply the beginning of the decline of America as the world's unrivaled hegemony.

On the day before 9/11, the United States was at peace, had a large budget surplus, and oil was trading at $28 a barrel. Today, the United States is engaged in military operations across the globe, has a deficit of $1.5 trillion, the largest in its history, and oil is at $115 a barrel.

Few people remember today what the Boer War was about, but what they do know is around that time, at the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain spent a great many of its resources and, more important, its attention policing the world and neglected to focus on maintaining its industrial and economic competitiveness, strength, and energy.

America is not fated to follow that path, but it's time we focus on the big challenges that we face -- staying competitive in a new global era -- and make the hard changes and adjustments we need to at home.

You see? The danger comes not from them but from us.

There's really no way to respond to this other than to say it's typical liberal claptrap: all of America's problems are caused by foreign policy endeavors and their associated cost.

So if we were spending $300 billion on national defense rather than $750 billion, all that ails us would magically disappear? The deficit would vanish, the unemployed would all find work, and oil would go back to $28 a barrel.

Isn't it far more likely that our decision after the Cold War to allow defense spending as a percentage of our total budget to precipitously drop led to the attacks on 9/11? If we hadn't opted for a so-called "peace dividend," 9/11 might not have happened and all the subsequent costs - human and financial - would have been saved.

How much better would our world be if we hadn't let down our guard during the '90s?

Zakaria himself in March 2003 saw increases in defense spending following 9/11 as not only financially justified but also responsible for our revival:

Most Americans have never felt more vulnerable. September 11 was not only the first attack on the American mainland in 150 years, but it was also sudden and unexpected. Three thousand civilians were brutally killed without any warning. In the months that followed, Americans worried about anthrax attacks, biological terror, dirty bombs and new suicide squads. Even now, the day-to-day rhythms of American life are frequently interrupted by terror alerts and warnings. The average American feels a threat to his physical security unknown since the early years of the republic.

Yet after 9-11, the rest of the world saw something quite different. They saw a country that was hit by terrorism, as some of them had been, but that was able to respond on a scale that was almost unimaginable...Washington announced that it would increase its defense budget by almost $50 billion, a sum greater than the total annual defense budget of Britain or Germany. A few months later it toppled a regime 6,000 miles away--almost entirely from the air--in Afghanistan, a country where the British and Soviet empires were bogged down at the peak of their power. It is now clear that the current era can really have only one name, the unipolar world--an age with only one global power. America's position today is unprecedented. A hundred years ago, Britain was a superpower, ruling a quarter of the globe's population. But it was still only the second or third richest country in the world and one among many strong military powers. The crucial measure of military might in the early 20th century was naval power, and Britain ruled the waves with a fleet as large as the next two navies put together. By contrast, the United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (yes, all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GDP, a low level by postwar standards.


So, in 2003, Zakaria saw our increases in defense spending as being highly beneficial to our success while financially at a "low level by postwar standards."

But eight and a half years later, our foreign policy endeavors are leading to "the decline of America as the world's unrivaled hegemony."

This is why former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Zakaria later in the program:

There are people who think we're living in the post-American world, to coin a phrase. There are people who believe that we should step back and lead from behind. I personally think that the role of the United States has been a good one in the world, that it's been a healthy thing, that it's contributed to a more peaceful world, and it's not an accident that people all over the world want to come here, and they're standing in line to get a green card to come to the United States.

Doesn't that sound far more patriotic - and accurate! - on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 than what Zakaria said?

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