Monday, March 2, 2009


From January's Atlantic Monthly, with thanks to my friend The Author:

"Change” has been President-elect Barack Obama’s mantra, and for many of his supporters, the most important change his administration promises is a more restrained, less arrogant foreign policy, a global posture that avoids the costs and dangers inherent in playing the world’s policeman.

They’re dismayed by the presumptuous and anachronistic attitudes behind the declaration that the president of the United States is the “leader of the free world.”

They’re exasperated with the messianic invocation of “America’s larger purpose in the world,” with the smug notion that this country is “called to provide visionary leadership” in “battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.”

They discern the dangers of declaring with righteous omniscience that America “has a direct national security interest” in seeing its economic and political beliefs take hold in foreign lands.

They’re annoyed with the historical myopia that results in an unironic reference to American military “operations to win hearts and minds.”

In the claim that “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people,” they hear echoes of the universalist logic that led to the disaster in Vietnam and see a sweeping foreign policy that the rest of the world finds at best meddlesome and at worst menacingly imperialist.

These lofty but potentially dangerous sentiments are entirely consistent with George W. Bush’s assertion in his second Inaugural Address that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands”—an assertion his critics at home and abroad rightly judged as … lofty and potentially dangerous. But the pronouncements quoted above—all of them—are in fact from Barack Obama’s two major foreign-policy statements, both made in 2007.

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