China has a plan to lead the world. What’s ours?

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Editor’s note: The following is an exclusive adapted excerpt from David McCormick’s Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America.

After leaving the Army in 1992, I took an eight-month trip around the world. Along the way, I read Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster, cataloging his journeys on the “Iron Rooster”—the dilapidated trains connecting cities across the Chinese countryside. The book captivated me. I had to see it for myself.

From Beijing, I rode the Iron Rooster to Nanking, then Shanghai, Guilin, and finally Guangzhou before crossing over to Hong Kong. Early morning runs took me down bicycle-laden streets, past low-slung buildings and crowds of elderly Chinese practicing tai chi in the dawn quiet. My presence was as foreign to them as theirs was to me.

Just over a decade later, I returned to Beijing, this time as a senior U.S. government official. From the state-of-the-art airport, we drove down ten-lane highways into a transformed city. Skyscrapers and cranes crowded the skyline. China had arrived. It was the most significant up and-coming power in the world — and a serious adversary.

In June of 2006, Saint Vincent College, outside Pittsburgh, invited me to speak

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