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Foreign Policy Disconnect

11:34 AM, Feb 3, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Lawrence Kaplan takes the Obama administration to task for prematurely declaring that “the tide of war is receding.” Here's a taste:

“In America, and in Iraq,” Vice President Joe Biden assured an audience in Baghdad last December, “the tide of war is receding.” For its callowness, this observation was noteworthy. (The tide of war was not receding from Iraq; Joe Biden was.) President Obama, introducing his plan to cut defense expenditures a few weeks later, offered up this analysis by way of justification: “The tide of war is receding.”

Opponents of Obama’s foreign policy, unwilling to credit the president with coherence in any enterprise apart from campaigning for reelection, will get nothing from these words. In President Obama’s speeches, after all, peace ranks among several reasons to shrink the military budget. In his Pentagon address, the president added this explanation: “We have to renew our economic strength here at home.” Or, as he put it in an address last year explaining his decision to draw down American forces in Afghanistan, “It is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”

The president’s vision of a receding tide of war may be in response to various domestic policy needs. But those who trivialize it entirely do so at the cost of discounting a worldview that appears to be sincerely held. The most recent application of the “tides” metaphor—a proposal to cut, among other elements of America’s defense establishment, ground forces by 100,000—provides the clearest illustration of this view. “Now, we’re turning the page on a decade of war,” the president explained. “Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding.” As to what this means in practice, the president summarized the logic of the cuts this way: “As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and the end of long-term, nation-building with large military footprints—we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces.” Peace, in the president’s telling, is what permits this dividend.

Whole thing here.

It's noteworthy, also, that the president is tried this approach in his State of the Union Address. "The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe," President Obama told the joint session of Congress last month. "From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies; to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about."

Yet, the president's policies--cutting defense spending, "leading from behind"--do not support his sudden denial of American declinism. 

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