America and the Great Abdication
Don’t mistake Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the world for isolationism.
When great powers fade, as they inevitably must, it’s normally for one of two reasons. Some powers exhaust themselves through overreach abroad, underinvestment at home, or a mixture of the two. This was the case for the Soviet Union. Other powers lose their privileged position with the emergence of new, stronger powers. This describes what happened with France and Great Britain in the case of Germany’s emergence after World War I and, more benignly, with the European powers and the rise of the United States during and after World War II.
To some extent America is facing a version of this—amid what Fareed Zakaria has dubbed “the rise of the rest”—with China’s ascendance the most significant development. But the United States has now introduced a third means by which a major power forfeits international advantage. It is abdication, the voluntary relinquishing of power and responsibility. It is brought about more by choice than by circumstances either at home or abroad.