June 17, 2011
Perceptions matter. When Washington acts—whether to bolster an ally, eliminate a safe haven, or remove a terrorist leader or dictator—the stakes are high. The fruits of success or pains of failure are not limited to a single policy objective. With the United States, there is always a demonstration effect, a global reverberation that shapes views of American power abroad. This phenomenon is not limited to U.S. engagement overseas. Other nations watch U.S. domestic politics almost as closely as they watch their own.
The rest of the world knows that the United States is entering a period of intense fiscal pressure. Even defense spending has entered a period of greater scrutiny. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked in Abilene, Kansas, in 2010, “the gusher has been turned off,” not to be turned on again for some time.1 U.S. technological leadership may be assured for the near future, but there is an increasing feeling that the scientific foundation critical to U.S. economic and national security is eroding at a time when that of other nations is gaining strength.