Perhaps the single most important thing Americans can do however is to be

Perhaps the single most important thing americans can

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students for high-skilled careers in the auto industry. Perhaps the single most important thing Americans can do, however, is to be honest with themselves about the challenges the country faces and the seriousness with which it needs to treat them. America needs to talk less about its exceptionalism and focus more on demonstrating it. If America chooses the path of economic adaptation, reform, and restored productivity -- that is, if it resolves to make tough choices -- it will be able to remain prosperous and strong and therefore retain extraordinary influence over its future and in the world. If it does not, it will see the domestic sources of its power erode far more quickly and with far more damaging consequences than is currently appreciated. Within the United States, there is an ongoing debate about the appropriate uses of American power abroad. But whatever one's views on how U.S. power should be used, there is little reason
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to support its erosion. If one favors extensive American engagement, a resilient America will be better able to lead and intervene effectively. If one favors retrenchment and restraint, a more powerful America will be better insulated from outside threats. If one favors measured engagement, strength provides options and the firmest basis for sustained success. And, irrespective of foreign policy, an economically dynamic, growing America will benefit all its citizens, particularly the generations to come. Otto von Bismarck is often quoted as having said that God takes special care of drunks, children, and the United States of America. But as another saying goes, God takes care of those who take care of themselves. Although the former may still be true, the latter certainly is. While believing that America is doomed to decline is a fallacy, refusing to confront the problems that imperil its economic vitality would be no less a failing. American strength and freedom of action are not rights to be inherited but outcomes to be earned. Preserving U.S. influence abroad requires that Americans focus on renewing the sources of their nation's power and mitigating its weaknesses. It is time to play the long game. Elbridge Colby is the Robert M. Gates fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Paul Lettow was senior director for strategic planning on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2007 to 2009. The views expressed here are theirs alone. Infographics by MGMT. design.
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