FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORMED: The Waning of American Primacy: President Obama’s successor may find that reversing American foreign policy decline will take more than a mere act of will.

That President Obama has been a singularly weak leader in foreign policy and national security is a view that was held by the entire field of Republican candidates for President this year, a sizable percentage of the American people and, perhaps to some degree, even Hillary Rodham Clinton, an exponent of a more conventionally muscular approach to American world leadership. Obama’s emphasis on the limits of U.S. power and the intractability of global challenges, along with his seeming aversion to “big box” military action indeed mark a change from the heroic style of presidential leadership the public has been accustomed to since World War II. While it is true that Obama is no pacifist—he ratcheted up the use of lethal drone strikes considerably above the level of George W. Bush—and that predecessors as illustrious as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan also refrained from the large-scale use of force, the impression is widespread that Obama has deliberately forsaken the reins of global leadership and thus bears responsibility for American decline. The nearly unanimous verdict of critics is that Obama’s diffidence in wielding American power has diminished U.S. prestige, emboldened adversaries, and created a vacuum that revisionist powers have rushed to fill. . . .

The waning of American primacy under President Obama is due to several factors, some external and others internal. As has been frequently remarked for some years now, the emerging multipolar international system is more complicated and difficult to manage than any situation the United States has faced since the end of World War II. Its architecture today is essentially triangular, with China and Russia bidding, if not to rival the United States globally, then to supplant it regionally—and at a time when America’s traditional West European partners, particularly Britain and France, are either less able or less willing to pitch in. India’s emergence as a fourth great power is further diversifying the global chessboard. Lesser powers, such as North Korea and Pakistan, have the capacity nonetheless to destabilize the international system thanks to their possession of nuclear weapons. Adding to the complexity is the crumbling of states in the Middle East and elsewhere, the emergence of lethal non-state actors with global reach, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the multiplication of threats to the global commons (potential pandemics and several environmental issues, for example), for which governance protocols are inadequate.

One metric of a changing global balance of power is greater vulnerability of U.S. territory to attack. U.S. strategy must now reckon with the ability not only of Russia and China to devastate the homeland but also potentially North Korea. Obviously, too, the United States must defend itself against terrorist organizations that will continue to strike its territory and would likely employ weapons of mass destruction should any fall into their possession; hence the abiding concern over unstable Pakistan’s vulnerable and constantly expanding nuclear arsenal.

Luckily, we’ve had Obama, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton on the job.