The conundrum facing America’s allies is how to cope with a great imperial power in decline that is still a great imperial power.
A peculiar cognitive dissonance seems to have taken hold in the world. The Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—led and propped up by the United States—has reminded the world that the international order is, if anything, more dependent on American military, economic, and financial might now than only a few years ago. Yet everywhere you turn, there is a sense that the U.S. is in some form of terminal decline; too divided, incoherent, violent, and dysfunctional to sustain its Pax Americana. Moscow and Beijing seem to think that the great American unwinding has already begun, while in Europe, officials worry about a sudden American collapse. “Do we talk about it?” Michel Duclos, a former French ambassador to Syria who remains well connected within Europe’s diplomatic network, told me, somewhat indignantly, after I asked whether an American implosion was ever discussed at the highest levels of government. “We never stop talking about it.”