Friday, September 14, 2012

The U.S. as "selective superpower"? Not if Romney can help it

The Financial Times's Philip Stephens, surveying global macro trends with his usual acuity, sees the U.S. gradually downsizing its role as global hegemon:
Whether led by Mr Obama or Mr Romney, the US will continue to see itself as the most powerful nation on the international block. But the focus and ambition of its world view have narrowed. Leading from behind in the toppling of Muammer Gaddafi in Libya and the extreme reluctance to intervene in Syria have been signposts to the future. So too the eagerness to quit Afghanistan and Mr Obama’s “rebalancing” to Asia.

The US image of itself as permanent guarantor of the global commons is being replaced by a sharper assessment of national interests. Grandiose talk of building a new international system has made way for a strategic outlook that sees the US at the centre of a return to a world of great power balancing and coalition-building. America, you could say, is fast becoming the selective superpower.
There's just one kink in the thesis. Romney doesn't acknowledge the necessity of this devolution. Stephens notes in passing that Romney denies that "the defense budget faces a long squeeze" -- and then too that "Even now Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is doing his very best to blackmail the US into waging another war of choice."  He might have noted that Romney doesn't consider Netanyahu's hysterical demands "blackmail," but rather  marching orders. Regarding American policy in Iran, Romney in a December debate declared, "I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?’"

More broadly, Romney is not only denying the imperative that the U.S. be "selective" in projecting its power -- his whole foreign policy is premised on a fantasy of unchallenged hegemony (albeit steered by Israel in one quarter) that never was.  Just yesterday, desperate to extract some advantage from the assaults on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya,  Romney advisers, as Kevin Drum relays, made these preposterous claims: of Mitt Romney's advisors said this to the Washington Post:
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, said in an interview....“In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations — the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”
A few hours later, Benjy Sarlin of TPM gave the quote this gloss:
A top foreign policy aide to Mitt Romney suggested Thursday that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens would never have happened if Romney were president. There wouldn’t even be anti-American protests in the Middle East if Romney were in charge, the aide said.
These fantasies gave birth to a new Twitter meme: RomneyStrength. But the dangerously comic vision projected is not just of a superhero president. It's of a hyperpowerful nation, with no  constraints on its ability to pacify unruly natives worldwide.

Stephens seems to assume that Romney, presumably a man of some intelligence and pragmatism, would leave these campaign fantasies behind once in office. That's doubtless true to an extent. But Romney has surrounded himself with Bush administration hardliners and publicly positioned himself in pawn to Netanyahu, not to mention in the pay of Sheldon Adelson.  As on the domestic front, he is committed to the crazy.

In contrast to furthering the United States' course toward selective superpowerdom, the Romney Doctrine as now defined is clear: accelerate imperial overstretch.

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