The Mittens Come Off
I see Br. Matthew has beaten me to the punch* on this one, but Mitt Romney is not dropping foreign policy science in his new book.
It’s tempting to dismiss the section on foreign policy as an attempt to see how many different formulations Romney can use to profess his belief in American exceptionalism. But the theme is at the heart of the contrast Romney draws between himself and the president: while his prescriptions are designed to preserve American supremacy, Obama espouses American equivalence. “If the president accepts that America is in an irreversible state of decline relative to the world, it may well come to pass under his stewardship,” Romney warns.
It’s a dangerous perspective, Romney argues, at a time when China’s clout is growing, Russia is resurgent and the U.S. remains mired in a grinding war with Islamic extremists. “The truth is that we are at war with a formidable enemy and that nations like Russia and China are intent on neutralizing our military lead,”
I realize there are some potentially very fruitful (if potentially poisoned) political gains for Romney in this attack. See Br. Matthew’s post at to why. As further proof, consider how hard it will be for Romney to really distinguish himself substantially from Obama in any presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, for the record, it’s worth stating that Obama is nothing if not an American exceptionalist to the core (at times embarassingly so). Obama is rallying support for a surge against a localist insurgency by trying to connect that conflict to a broader Global War on Terror which pretty much no one else is buying, he has violated Pakistani airspace/sovereignty all over the place (which, by the way, he said he would do as a Democratic primary candidate!!!), and gives laudatory paeans to America as guiding light of the world.
Depending on your point of view, you might find all of the above sickening or positive (or some combination of the two), but Obama actually seems to believe those things. In short, he falls squarely within the American exceptionalist camp.
What Obama has realized and is working to accommodate is not US decline, but rather the rise of other powers.
Obama was snapped with a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s Post-American world in his hands during the early phases of the election campaign. Obama has also consulted extensively with Parag Khann, whose work on second world powers (e.g. Turkey, Indonesia) is an excellent primer on emerging nations.
All of which points to the reality that America is not per se in absolute decline but that others are catching up relative to the United States, though none are anywhere close to taking the lead (Romney’s Chinese Red Dawn hints are laughable).
The Post-American world is not a world after American exceptionalism or after American influence/power. It’s post American hyperpower status.
There are structural/economic reasons for why this state of affairs exists and is bound to continue. Economic reasons that Mitt Romney is nothing but a gigantic supporter of, incidentally. The main one being that there is no revolutionary form of economics with sufficient global influence to challenge capitalism — hence the failure of Fascism and Communism in the 20th century.
If you look at Foreign Policy’s list of 33 conflicts on the planet, notice how they are all local/regional insurgencies, civil wars, ethnic battles, independence movements and the like. This ought to alert us to something very important–i.e. no more big wars.
Obama is willing to admit this state of affairs (you can call him a realist) and is trying to formulate a strategy to deal with it. I wouldn’t say that strategy has been super effective to date, but it’s a start. It’s certainly preferable to The Green Lantern Theory of Foreign Policy advocated by Romney.
In other words, there’s American exceptionalism that leads to increased isolation (Romney) or American exceptionalism that (potentially) leads to greater co-operative action. But at the end of the day, the world is headed in an increasingly multi-polar/regionalist direction. When others powers rise (even if only in degrees and not absolutely) they are going to want political buy-ins/recognition. They are in a kind of adolescent state of nationhood and want independence and to be acknowledged while they learn there are rules in the World’s House they need to abide by. The US, however, will no longer be The Mommy/Daddy in this case (if it ever was).
* Update/Clarification: The reference to “punch” was not intended as a (in poor taste) er “jab” 🙂 at Romney’s quasi-fight on the plane recently.