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What Obama's Reading

11:20 AM, Jan 27, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Josh Rogin reports: “President Barack Obama is personally enamored with a recent essay written by neoconservative writer Bob Kagan, an advisor to Mitt Romney, in which Kagan argues that the idea the United States is in decline is false.”

Obama

We’re thrilled that the president is “enamored” by our long-time colleague and contributing editor, and trust it will spur sales of his fine new book, The World America Made.

In particular, Rogin points to these lines from the State of the Union Address on Tuesday as evidence of Kagan’s influence:

“The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe…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. That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years. Yes, the world is changing; no, we can’t control every event.  But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs – and as long as I’m president, I intend to keep it that way.”

It is true: The president sounded a more promising note on American exceptionalism than he has in the past. That is, while he used to say every country believes that it is exceptional and while he believed in a foreign policy of leading from behind, Obama now says that America is a “moral example” and that she “remains the one indispensible nation” and that “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.”

But something does not seem quite right . . . maybe the president should reread Kagan’s essay (or the book that it’s excerpted from).

For example, take military power. Kagan writes:

“Military capacity matters, too, as early nineteenth-century China learned and Chinese leaders know today. As Yan Xuetong recently noted, ‘military strength underpins hegemony.’ Here the United States remains unmatched. It is far and away the most powerful nation the world has ever known, and there has been no decline in America’s relative military capacity—at least not yet.”

But in the same speech that the president was supposedly channeling Kagan, he also redoubled his disastrous effort to slash the military.

“That’s why, working with our military leaders, I have proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget,” Obama said.

So cutting the military by half a trillion dollars is the best way to advance American exceptionalism and to help strengthen the “moral example” of the “one indispensible nation” in the world?

It would seem that the president wants to have it both ways.

Read what Kagan actually writes:

“BUT THERE IS a danger. It is that in the meantime, while the nation continues to struggle, Americans may convince themselves that decline is indeed inevitable, or that the United States can take a time-out from its global responsibilities while it gets its own house in order. To many Americans, accepting decline may provide a welcome escape from the moral and material burdens that have weighed on them since World War II. Many may unconsciously yearn to return to the way things were in 1900, when the United States was rich, powerful, and not responsible for world order.

“The underlying assumption of such a course is that the present world order will more or less persist without American power, or at least with much less of it; or that others can pick up the slack; or simply that the benefits of the world order are permanent and require no special exertion by anyone. Unfortunately, the present world order—with its widespread freedoms, its general prosperity, and its absence of great power conflict—is as fragile as it is unique. Preserving it has been a struggle in every decade, and will remain a struggle in the decades to come. Preserving the present world order requires constant American leadership and constant American commitment.

“In the end, the decision is in the hands of Americans. Decline, as Charles Krauthammer has observed [in THE WEEKLY STANDARD], is a choice. It is not an inevitable fate—at least not yet. Empires and great powers rise and fall, and the only question is when. But the when does matter. Whether the United States begins to decline over the next two decades or not for another two centuries will matter a great deal, both to Americans and to the nature of the world they live in.”

What Kagan is suggesting is not actually similar to the president’s policies over the last three years, unfortunately. An American leader cannot just hope that America does not decline. One has to act to advance and strengthen America. It’s great that the president is reading Kagan, and even echoing him. It would be even better if his policies were Kaganesque.

Don’t hold your breath. There’s presumably a reason why Kagan is an advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

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