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Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew Talks America's Strengths And Weaknesses

Authors: Graham T. Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and Ali Wyne, Associate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
February 13, 2013
Forbes Online


Both in the United States and abroad, many influential observers argue that the U.S. is in systemic decline. Not so, says Lee Kuan Yew, the sage of Singapore. Lee is not only a student of the rise and fall of nations. He is also the founder of modern Singapore. As prime minister from 1959 to 1990, he led its rise from a poor, small, corrupt port to a first-world city-state in just one generation.

Today, Singapore's six million citizens have incomes higher than those of Americans. He has served as a mentor to every leader of China since Deng Xiaoping initiated China's march to the market, and every American president since Richard Nixon has sought his counsel about the U.S. role in Asia. In the pages of Forbes and elsewhere, he has consistently emphasized America's resilience. Here is how he summarized that judgment to us when we interviewed him in May 2011:

America will not be reduced to second-rate status. Historically, the U.S. has demonstrated a great capacity for renewal and revival. America's strengths include an ability to range widely, imaginatively, and pragmatically; a diversity of centers of excellence that compete in inventing and embracing new ideas and new technologies; a society that attracts talent from around the world and assimilates them comfortably as Americans; and a language that the lingua franca of those who rise to the top of their own societies around the world.

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