All I know is that back when hip internationalists made fun of George W. Bush every day, American decline wasn’t the buzzword it has become since they started loving Barack Obama. In today’s New York Times, British historian Piers Brendon offers a vaccine for American Decline Flu:
Despite its grave problems, there are some relatively simple steps America could take to recover its position. It could bring its military commitments in line with its resources, rely more on the “soft power” of diplomacy and economic engagement, and, as George Washington said, take advantage of its geographically detached situation to “defy material injury from external annoyance.” Such a policy would permit more investment in productive enterprise and pay for butter as well as guns, thus vindicating Joe Biden’s faith in the recuperative capacities of the Great Republic.
The problem is that Barack Obama is not too keen on guns and the First Lady has it in for butter. The administration is already so caught up in a containment policy of the U.S. that everything external constitutes an “annoyance.”
We’ve got the “soft” part covered; it’s the “power” that’s gone missing. Hard to see how Brendon can suggest a course of retraction from the world when we are, under this administration, already bystanders to most global events. The U.S. has failed to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions; failed to check Russia’s resurgent thuggishness; and accommodated all of China’s provocations. We couldn’t even push around Honduras (good thing, in that case), a poor country in our own back yard.
With the exception of two wars initiated by the previous administration, foreign policy has already become a spectator sport for the U.S. At the very same time, major and minor menaces such as Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Burma are forging deeper and more dynamic ties. Yet it’s somehow prudent for us to capitalize on our “geographically detached situation” and go isolationist.
Embracing powerlessness as a means of conferring power has already failed a year-long experiment. Obama said in his inaugural address: “Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” Nice thought, but since then Iran has gone enrichment-crazy, there have been multiple terrorist attempts on the U.S. (some successful), and our traditional allies are finding “the force of our example” a little wanting.
There is a clear course of action if Obama wants to halt American decline: U.S.-supported regime change in Iran; definitive victory in Afghanistan; a continued support role in Iraq; hardball with China; an embrace of old democratic allies, like Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic, and new ones, such as India. Domestically, this means not following, debt-wracked Europe down the socialist sinkhole. Doing all this would, of course, bring the campus liberals back out into the streets and the international naysayers back to the lecterns. That state of affairs, however, does not indicate a country in decline, but rather its opposite: a nation strong enough to absorb internal debate and withstand international denunciation.