Good article, he's a smart guy.
This part was particularly insightful:
"Main Street America walks around with Samsung phones in their pockets,
built in a country that we’ve defended for the past 60 years that went
from being one of the most backwards countries in the world to being one
of our greatest trading partners. That’s part of American prosperity,
so we have to understand that we will never be prosperous at home unless
we are also secure and also securing friends from Estonia to Israel to
This is good stuff, and I certainly had used the two terms somewhat interchangeably-but there is a significant semantic and conceptual gap between the two. I would argue though that decline does include personal and societal choice. It's not just the big picture 'beyond the reach of ordinary politics' stuff-as Stephens puts it below.
"I really do not believe for one second that America is in decline,
although I do notice that a lot of people like to say that it is in
decline because they favor a policy of retreat. The difference between
decline and retreat, I would say, is this: decline is a product of broad
cultural and even civilizational forces that are beyond the reach of
ordinary politics. For example: How would a Russian leader, even Putin
with all his power, get Russians to have more babies? Very hard to do.
Russia has this massive demographic problem because Russian couples
aren’t having children."
"How do you get the Japanese to accept that, given their demographic
realities, they have to start taking in many more immigrants, bringing
into question the whole concept, ethnically, of “Japanese-ness”?"
"So these are countries that are in decline on account of these large,
supra-political forces. On the other hand, retreat is just a policy
choice. Retreat is what happens when you get Barack Obama in office
talking about nation-building at home and acting defensively, or
indifferently, or reactively to foreign policy crises. Its’ a choice
that he made, and it’s a choice that we can undo. American retreat is
about choices that were made and what we can do about them."
I disgree that decline is 'supra-political'.
I think decline is a personal and societal policy choice, but this article is quite interesting nonetheless.