Is America doomed? Conrad Black doesn't think so


Former press baron Conrad Black speaks to the Calgary Enterprise Forum in Calgary, Alta., Friday, May 10, 2013. (The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

First aired on Q (22/5/13)

Conrad Black is a businessman, an author and a peer in the British House of Lords. But he's best known for his high-profile fraud case in the United States, for which he spent three years in prison. He's since been released and is now back in Canada. In his attempt to settle into a "normal" life, he's taken on plenty of new projects including writing provocative columns for the National Post and the Huffington Post, co-hosting an upcoming weekly newsmagazine on Vision TV and, of course, writing books.


Black's latest book, Flight of the Eagle: A Strategic History of the United States, is arguably his most ambitious work to date. It traces America's rise from colonial upstart to global superpower and through to the present day. But Black is insistent that while literature about American history is indeed plentiful, no one has taken the same approach as he does in Flight of the Eagle. From Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Black focuses on their strategies and decisions, and how these strategies led to America's global dominance culturally, economically and politically. "This is a novel look at the subject," Black told Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview on Q. "I was not under the illusion that I was bringing a lot of facts to the attention of readers that they didn't know before."

Black argues that America's long-standing global power is unique in history. "There's never in the history of the world been such a success story, where a country rose from such modest origins to such heights so quickly," he said. According to Black, this is due to a combination of two things: a succession of ambitious, visionary men and a series of legitimate threats to American supremacy. America has created a climate where aggressive ambition is celebrated, and threats to its status as the number one superpower created opportunities for these men to showcase their strengths as leaders. "[The United States] have had the knack of attracting and elevating such people when you need them."

In fact, America is so good at this type of leadership that it's actually what led to its downfall in recent years. From Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, the United States "masterminded the elimination of the competitors," Black said. And without a legitimate threat (Black argues that China's emergence as a threat to American supremacy is grossly exaggerated), America is drifting. The nature of its biggest challenges is changing. And until Americans recognize that, Black believes that a strong leader who can push the country forward simply won't emerge. He points to the "hemorrhaging deficit" and the disintegration of the education system, justice system and "to some degree" the health-care system as examples of internal problems America needs to deal with before getting back on track.

Despite its problems, Black believes America can correct its course, with the right leader and the right attitude. "I [do] not think the decline was irreversible and I [do] not think the country was disintegrating."

And who knows more about making a comeback than Conrad Black himself?

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