Europeans See Debt Debate as Sign of American Decline

The superpower status of the United States is at risk, say editorials

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We already brought you examples of Europe's disdain and frustration over the American debt ceiling debate. But in the past week a new theme has emerged: the stalled debt ceiling negotiations as a symbol--nay, even a catalyst--of American decline. British historian Timothy Garton Ash alone has produced a guest column each for the Spanish El País and the German Süddeutsche Zeitung advancing this view of the situation.

"It is difficult to avoid concluding that the United States and the European Union today are competing to be the first to reach the decay," he writes in his Spanish offering. "The two major political entities in the West seem unable to solve the problems of debt and deficits their patterns of liberal democratic capitalism, very similar, have accumulated." Democracy itself is failing: politicians providing "the most noisy of the people what they want in the short term, instead of proposing long-term needs to the majority of the population that needs long term and risking immediate unpopularity." He adds in his German op-ed a poignant, if perhaps a trifle overdone and typically Ash-ian, reference to the movie Independence Day:

Sure, it was only a movie. But the blockbuster from 1996 is also a document of its time, in which America seemed superior, powerful, incapable of being resisted, in the cinema as in politics. The new Rome, which boasted the strongest army the world had ever seen, was the only superpower in a unipolar world.

Garton Ash is not, though, the lone voice proclaiming the possible fall of the superpower. Ansgar Graw wrote, explicitly, in Die Welt on July 21 that the "USA is on the edge of giving up superpower status," expressing incredulity that "among the political elite of the last extant superpower no consensus rules that they must meet their future debts. ... If Republicans and Democrats can't show their ability this weekend" to put the good of their country ahead of political imperatives, "out of the American 21st-century crisis could come the downfall of the dominant power of the 20th century." Following up on Sunday, July 24, Graw wrote again of the resolution of the debt ceiling debate being a "national imperative if the USA wants to remain a superpower."

To round up a few more German samples: Martin Kling has recently written in Deit Zeit that the debate "goes to the heart of the question of what role the state and the levying of taxes will play in the shaping the American future," while René Wildangel, German Marshall Fund fellow in Washington working in House of Representatives, harped on the same theme in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: 

But the coming decisions don't just have consequences for the 2012 elections. ... In exceeding the national debt, the threat is losing creditworthiness. America's great trump card, the ability to innovate, is at risk of being lost through economizing on education and research. At stake is nothing less than the global competitiveness of U.S. industry.

Pierre-Yves Dugua for the French publication Le Figaro likewise gets down into the details of U.S. economic losses. The lesser and more likely of two possible dangers with default, he writes, "is the degradation of the AAA rating given to the U.S. debt. American bills would no longer be the riskless instrument chosen by the banks and investors the world round in which to park their liquidities."

Fabrice Rousselot, on the other hand, New York correspondent for the French Libération, is less apocalyptic and more frustrated in tone:

The deadline is August 2. After that, the U.S. could find itself in a default situation. That would not necessarily be the end of the world, but it would be ridiculous, seeing as an agreement is clearly within everyone's reach.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.