A couple nights ago, I went to the bar with a couple coworkers after we were done for the day. The conversation quickly turned to politics, and I asked them to share their opinions on what they thought was the single most important function of government. It's worth noting that one of them self-identifies as a non-practicing Jew who considers himself a true moderate, and the other is a Mormon who considers himself a moderate conservative (no, I did not set this up in advance).
After a few seconds of consideration, first one and then the other said it was to provide for national defense. There was some heated debate about how strong the defense must be--i.e. enough to protect borders versus projecting power beyond borders--but the consensus was pretty clear that defense IS the priority.
I've never made a secret of the fact that I am a big fan of defense, that I believe in American exceptionalism most especially in the military, and that we should be able to project power globally. That being said, I firmly believe that if we had, say, Britain's or Germany's or even Sweden's military, scaled appropriately given our population and borders, we would still have a sufficient defense to enable the other benefits of this country, like the rights we enjoy as American citizens that are possible because we are protected from without. And let's face it, those rights are what define the United States as the country it is--freedom of religion, freedom of the press, due process, the right to bear arms, etc. But being the world's superpower is pretty freaking cool too, and I'm perfectly willing to let the government have a little bit bigger piece of my paycheck for that--as opposed to funding "art" that features profaning the Virgin Mary, or supporting radical Latino groups that want to reconquer the southwest, or ACORN.
How many people would be happy with China being the world's superpower--I'm guessing about 1.2 billion or so, but they're all Chinese, and the rest of the world would become pretty darn unhappy with it pretty quickly. Lots of countries (and seemingly, lots of liberals) piss and moan about the US being a superpower, but who else would be better for the world? Some client states might like if France were king, but it wouldn't do the world as a whole much good. The U.N. is an attempt to put everyone on equal footing--how's that working out? In the end, there has to be at least one nation who is the leader if there is to be stability--we did the two nation thing for 50-odd years, and it worked, there was global stability of a kind, though it relied on MAD to balance on the knife edge, a truly mad system if ever there was one. Orwell depicted a 3 superpower perpetual Mexican standoff in 1984, which was stable though also patently insane (and that's setting aside the domestic policies of that dystopian nightmare). No, if there is to be a better world, taking in the limits of human nature, there should be one superpower, and frankly, the US is the only nation currently with the resources and the will to be a superpower that has also consistently demonstrated that it will generally try to do the right thing.
Is America perfect? Hardly. But to twist a great Chruchill quote (which he in turn quoted from an unknown source), "America is the worst possible world leader, except for all the rest..."