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Global Japan
NOV 18, 2013

Has America Lost It?

By Yoshito Hori
Mark Skrobola/Flickr

“America Is Losing Its Allure” was the stark title of a recent GlobalPost article about how foreign investors are “falling out of love” with the U.S. because of “Washington’s recurring games of debt default chicken.”

The sad thing is, I think the article is right.

The U.S. used to be the unquestioned leader of the world. Sure, like any country, it had its share of problems, but it was still an economic giant that attracted the world’s best and brightest; a model nation that believed in values like justice, idealism, and fair play. I myself was lucky enough to attend Harvard Business School. The experience inspired me to become an entrepreneur: the first thing I did on getting back to Japan was set up GLOBIS Business School.

Recently, though, there’s something not quite right about the U.S.

Consider politics. It wasn’t that long ago that in Japan that we referred disparagingly to our gridlocked political system as kimerarenai seiji, “the politics of indecision.” These days, though, people everywhere see political paralysis as a uniquely American problem. In Japan this July, the Liberal Democratic Party’s sweeping victory in the elections for the upper house of parliament gave them control of both houses. The result? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” reform program is being unrolled at high speed in an impressive display of genuinely decisive politics.

The U.S.’s inability to follow through came out with Syria. First, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons would be “a red line…that would change my calculus.” When that red line was crossed, what followed was not decisive military action, but the president desperately trying to wriggle out of his own words.

Obama’s decision to skip the APEC summit in Bali in October due to the government shutdown seriously delayed the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement for 13 Asia-Pacific countries. So much for the U.S.’s self-announced “pivot to Asia.” (Incidentally, while everyone expected China to make a big impression at APEC, Japan was the country that made its presence most strongly felt.)

Obama initially achieved fame as an orator, especially in contrast to the bumbling George Bush Jr. But try comparing the recent speeches of President Obama and Prime Minister Abe, and you may be in for a surprise. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Abe’s speeches are more upbeat, heartfelt, powerful, and substantive.

Just a few days ago, something truly unbelievable happened. On November 12, China and Saudi Arabia were among several countries to win seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It’s an irony too rich even to be funny. Once so energetic in promoting the cause of human rights, has the U.S. lost the will to prevent a travesty like that?

I respect America. I believe in its inherent strengths. More than anything, as a Japanese, I’m profoundly grateful to the U.S. Military for coming so promptly to Japan’s aid after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in “Operation Tomodachi.” For all these reasons, I really hope America will come to its senses and become its old self again.

For me, America is a country that will never lose its allure, however hard it tries.

So, in that sense at least, America has not lost it.