Philip Stephens writes for the FT, and on Friday he published a rather sage little essay in it: "America is still indispensable but it must work with others." OK, the last thought is both obvious and more than a bit hoary. Still, it's true. And everyone knows it.
The surprising argument that Stephens makes you did not get from the Democratic debate, at which the underlying theme was the decline and fall of the United States. Instead, his major point is the indispensability of the U.S. and the recognition by the major powers that it is indispensable. That American power is the axis around which the world revolves.
Early next week George W.?Bush will be greeting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, at the White House. A day or so later France’s Nicolas Sarkozy will pitch up in Washington. By the weekend, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, will be sharing a hamburger with the US president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Lame-duck president he may be but Mr Bush does not lack for foreign visitors.
The netrooters actually believe that Bush did undermine American power totally and irredeemably. But let's be frank: many of them are overjoyed by this sloppy thought. For all Bush's errors and deceptions in the international arena, he did worse in the domestic sphere than the foreign one. Stephens understands that the French conversion to the American alliance -- five decades after the Gaullist Fifth Republic revolution -- is a tell-tale fact, and not just for the French.
Every time I come back to Washington I am reminded that the US, for all its present troubles, remains the indispensable nation. Anti-Americanism may be rife among electorates everywhere, but the US remains the reference point for everyone else’s foreign policy. Hence one of the ways Mr Sarkozy wants to persuade France to leave behind the past is by building an easier relationship with Washington. If things go well, the French president envisages a symbolic break with Gaullism by taking France back into Nato’s military command structure.
The Democrats will have to confront the ugly schadenfeude about imagined American decline. It is now endemic in their own ranks, and it goes as high as a former president. This is the biggest obstacle to the Democratic return to power.