The global trends review, produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) every four years, represents sobering reading in Barack Obama's intray as he prepares to take office in January. The country he inherits, the report warns, will no longer be able to "call the shots" alone, as its power over an increasingly multipolar world begins to wane.
My question is whether Obama will manage in such a way as to reduce Americas unique role as hyperpower or whether he will maintain American primacy. There is no doubt that Obama has a unique situation. He can manage US relations so that the world like America more. That will mean making America relatively weaker and more of a first among equals than a clear leader.
He will do that by weakening US expenditure on defence technology and by sapping the productive capacity of the US by redistributing gains from the entrepreneurs and industry to the unskilled.
The temptation will be there to reduce the huge defence expenditure. There is waste there but it is part of what keeps America so far ahead of the free worlds enemies.
Gorbachev was a wonderful Soviet leader for the West. He presided over Perestroika and the destruction of the soviet union and the almost fatal weakening of Russia. He is respected in the West but not in his own country.
Why does this matter. The world is unstable and requires strong guidance. There is an opportunity now for Obama to follow up the muscular approach of Bush with a Marshall plan like focus on building wealth in the poorer parts of the world. Obama seems an instinctive protectionist and redistributionist rather than a free trader entrepreneur. He has the same problem as Helen Clark in that all his background is in academia and legislature and nothing in the world of commerce and industry. That does not mean he will fail but it may mean he fails to place sufficient importance on maintaining Americas technology lead and ensuring poorer nations have the opportunity to compete on a level trade playing field.
America removing its troops from Iraq too early, avoiding use of American hard power, reducing its defence expenditure too deeply, sapping productivity through over taxation will all cause the predictions of the NIC 2025 report to come true.
This is not to say that Obama is at fault. America has consumed excessively and has huge debts to China and the Arab world to show for that. Europe is weak and introspective in hard power.
My alternative prescription would be to ride out the current economic crisis and accept that there is capitalist creative destruction taking place. Maintain the technology lead and open up trade to all the world by completing Doha.
The United Nations is flawed. It is dominated by undemocratic nations. A league of democracies and a muscular approach to dictatorships is required. America should draw India & Brazil strongly into this league and into the UN security council. They are strong and rapidly growing democracies.
Peace in the middle east can be gained by forcing the Israelis to treat Palestinians morally and eliminating the flow of rockets to Hamas and Hezbollah that cause the Israelis to be so defensive. unfortunately the only way to achieve that is to make it clear to the Mullahs supplying them from Iran that Iran will pay the price if it continues.
It will be interesting to see whether Obama's call for more EU troops will be heeded. If so there is a chance to use Western power to bring stability and peace to the remainder of the world. I honestly hope world leaders take the opportunity Obama's election brings. But I suspect that an Obama desire to be liked will bring lots of warm speeches and a slow decline in US power and the power of democracies.