On January 27th, the New York Times reported:
Now, as he runs for re-election, President Obama has latched on to a new foreign policy book, which offers a more appealing narrative for a leader facing fresh charges — this time from Mitt Romney and the other Republican candidates — that he is leading the United States into its twilight of global influence.
The book, “The World America Made,” makes the case that the nation’s decline is a myth, a reaction to the financial crisis of 2008 rather than to any genuine geopolitical shifts. In a delicious coincidence for the White House, the author is Robert Kagan, a neoconservative historian and commentator who advises Mr. Romney. The president has brandished Mr. Kagan’s analysis in arguing that the nation’s power has waxed rather than waned.
Although they may disagree about prescriptions for ensuring American primacy, most conservative and liberal analysts agree that the United States has the strength to remain the world’s leading power for decades. That message has permeated the White House, where aides say that Mr. Obama has been determined to rebut the Republican critique about a declining America since before excerpts of Mr. Kagan’s book appeared in The New Republic magazine. The book will be published on Feb. 14.
Foreign Policy provided some additional background:
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.
“The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe,” Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening. “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,” Obama said.
Just hours earlier on Tuesday, in an off-the-record meeting with leading news anchors, including ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and NBC’s Brian Williams, Obama drove home that argument using an article written in The New Republic by Kagan entitled “The Myth of American Decline.”
Obama liked Kagan’s article so much that he spent more than 10 minutes talking about it in the meeting, going over its arguments paragraph by paragraph, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to The Cable.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will also discuss Kagan’s essay and Obama’s love of it Thursday night with Charlie Rose on PBS.
While Kagan’s article is behind a paywall, you can read a copy at the Brookings Institute website. A word about the Brookings Institute would be in order. Like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, et al, this is one of those bipartisan policy study groups that form a part of the “invisible government”. If you look at their board of trustees, you will find Richard Blum, the arms industry billionaire who is married to Dianne Feinstein and sits on the board of the World Wildlife Fund. As I told Michael Barker, who informed me about Blum’s “green” affiliations, I wonder how long it will take Leon Botstein to recruit him to Bard College’s board of trustees. The chairman of the Brookings board is one John L. Thornton who used to be President of Goldman-Sachs until 2003 and went on to found the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust afterwards as part of a sense of noblesse oblige, I guess. Pardon me for my cynical snicker at this.
Kagan kicks this off with this gem:
The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions.
One imagines that the loss of 2 to 3 million Vietnamese civilians was part of this noble mission. This blatantly imperialist worldview might seem at odds with the standard liberal defense of Barack Obama as more “reasonable” than the frightening Republican opposition. But Kagan, as shrewd observer of the president, reminded Foreign Policy readers back in March 2010 that there are no real differences:
Unnoticed amid the sniping in Washington over health care and the wailing about “broken government,” a broad and durable bipartisan consensus has begun falling into place in one unlikely area: foreign policy. Consider the fact that on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran — the most difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous foreign challenges facing the United States — precious little now separates Barack Obama from most Republican leaders in and out of Congress.
Today…a substantial majority of Republicans have supported President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan. Both the administration and the Republican opposition are committed to a stable, increasingly democratic Iraq. Vice President Joseph Biden’s recent remarks claiming Iraq as Obama’s success may have annoyed Republicans, but it is good news: the most divisive issue since the Vietnam War has become politically uncontroversial. On Iran, differences are rapidly narrowing now that engagement is giving way to pressure. Republicans may complain, along with many Democrats, that the administration has been too slow to support the Iranian opposition and took too long to pivot to sanctions. Yet some also realize that Obama’s prolonged effort at engagement accomplished what George W. Bush never could: convincing most of the world, and most Democrats, that Iran is uninterested in any deal that threatens its nuclear weapons program. As a result, France, Britain, and even Germany appear more determined than at any time in the past decade to impose meaningful sanctions. A majority of Republicans, along with most Democrats, will support the administration as it toughens its approach to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now calls the “military dictatorship” in Tehran. Partisan divisiveness will return only if the administration backs down from its own stated objectives.
Turning to economic issues, Kagan quite rightly compares the United States to another imperial power that went into decline:
The decline of the British Empire, for instance, occurred over several decades. In 1870, the British share of global manufacturing was over 30 percent. In 1900, it was 20 percent. By 1910, it was under 15 percent—well below the rising United States, which had climbed over the same period from more than 20 percent to more than 25 percent; and also less than Germany, which had lagged far behind Britain throughout the nineteenth century but had caught and surpassed it in the first decade of the twentieth century. Over the course of that period, the British navy went from unchallenged master of the seas to sharing control of the oceans with rising naval powers. In 1883, Britain possessed more battleships than all the other powers combined. By 1897, its dominance had been eclipsed. British officials considered their navy “completely outclassed” in the Western hemisphere by the United States, in East Asia by Japan, and even close to home by the combined navies of Russia and France—and that was before the threatening growth of the German navy. These were clear-cut, measurable, steady declines in two of the most important measures of power over the course of a half-century.
It goes without saying that Obama has no problems seeing the United States as an imperial power determined to avoid Britain’s fate. Anybody who becomes enraptured with Robert Kagan’s words, despite their obvious kinship with Niall Ferguson, does not deserve the support of the liberal left—despite obvious signs that they will back him in 2012 in their quadrennial impersonation of the lemming.
Not only does he do an A-B comparison with Imperial Great Britain, he cites an even more malevolent benchmark:
A British diplomat told Huntington: “One reads about the world’s desire for American leadership only in the United States. Everywhere else one reads about American arrogance and unilateralism.”
This was nonsense, of course. Contrary to the British diplomat’s claim, many other countries did look to the United States for leadership, and for protection and support, in the 1990s and throughout the Cold War. The point is not that America always lacked global influence. From World War II onward, the United States was indeed the predominant power in the world. It wielded enormous influence, more than any great power since Rome, and it accomplished much.
What an amazing evolution Obama has gone through from the time he was sniffing around the left as a headstrong youth to the current day admirer of an imperialist bully-boy like Robert Kagan who flouts America’s continuing economic prowess:
Let’s start with the basic indicators. In economic terms, and even despite the current years of recession and slow growth, America’s position in the world has not changed. Its share of the world’s GDP has held remarkably steady, not only over the past decade but over the past four decades. In 1969, the United States produced roughly a quarter of the world’s economic output. Today it still produces roughly a quarter, and it remains not only the largest but also the richest economy in the world. People are rightly mesmerized by the rise of China, India, and other Asian nations whose share of the global economy has been climbing steadily, but this has so far come almost entirely at the expense of Europe and Japan, which have had a declining share of the global economy.
While I am sure that investors are quite pleased that the U.S. remains as dynamic as it was in 1969, that’s little consolation to working people whose status certainly can be described as in decline, even if their bosses are sitting on top of a profit-generating powerhouse. On August 24, 2011 Bloomberg reported:
Men who do have jobs are getting paid less. After accounting for inflation, median wages for men between 30 and 50 dropped 27 percent–to $33,000 a year from 1969 to 2009, according to an analysis by Michael Greenstone, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who was chief economist for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“That takes men and puts them back at their earnings capacity of the 1950s,” Greenstone says. “That has staggering implications.”
This of course is just a function of having “creative destruction” when there is about 99 percent destruction and 1 percent creation. This morning I was listening to the execrable Stuart Varney on the Don Imus show. Varney is a Fox Business News host who has the typical hatred of working people you will find there. In trying to explain the American economy to the folksy reactionary multimillionaire, Varney referred to the Facebook IPO that has made stockholders instantly rich, including the graffiti artist who worked on Zuckerberg’s headquarters. With only 3000 employees, Facebook is a huge success story in comparison to Google that has more than 20,000. The implication is that the best model for an American corporation is one without any employees. People like Varney and Robert Kagan could care less about unemployment since they will always have a job providing ideological fig leaves for the ruling class.
It is difficult to exaggerate how much of a reactionary thug Robert Kagan is. One of his “achievements” is co-founding the Project for the New American Century with William Kristol. Just in case anybody needs reminding, PNAC was one of the most vociferous promoters of a war with Iraq back in 2003. Their website claims that “American leadership is both good for America and good for the world” and supports “a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.” Isn’t it amazing to think that someone coming into office with expectations of instituting a new New Deal will find inspiration in the malignant views of a Robert Kagan.
Well, maybe not so surprising:
I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.
Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope”