Historian Robert Kagan is calling out Barack Obama for his reading comprehension skills, telling the President his multilateral foreign policy will actually ensure an America in decline.
In private meetings, Obama has reportedly been using Kagan's new book to rebut criticism of his "leading from behind" foreign policy. Late this past January, the New York Times obliged to spin what's on President Obama's bookshelf with a political purpose in mind. The president is actually hiding behind the book's thesis to bolster his own foreign policy record and the identity of its author.
Robert Kagan-- a conservative and an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign-- just released The World America Made, a robust defense of the United States' place in the world, it's value as a force for good, and a defense of its preeminence. The Times, however, gushed that Obama has been using the book to prop up his own real-life foreign policy record of American decline-- including such strategic blunders as from walking away from its traditional leverage in the Middle East, to slashing the defense budget, to both actual and metaphorical "bowing" to regimes the world over, and on and on.
As Kagan points out, this is a misreading of The World America Made-- a book that argues for precisely the opposite of both Obama's policies and the worldview that make them possible:
Look, I'm glad the president liked the argument in my book. Given that many people believe he and his administration have basically accepted American decline -- Frank Fukuyama told me he voted for Obama because he thought Obama would be better at "managing American decline" -- and given his apparent embrace of the "post-American world" idea, it's encouraging to see him reject it, at least rhetorically. The problem comes with action. You can't claim to be resisting decline while allowing the defense budget to be cut by hundreds of billions of dollars. You can't claim to be against decline when you withdraw all troops from Iraq, leaving it possibly to descend into civil war, or by looking for a premature exit from Afghanistan. The US is not in decline now, but the wrong policies can take us there.
Rather than endorse Obama's self-congratulatory posture-- Kagan warns against the excesses and ideological impulses so prevalent in the current administration, arguing that a world without American leadership will be less prosperous, less safe, and offer a lower standard of living. If Americans had a clearer picture of what might come if isolationism takes hold, the book posits, they would be more inclined to preserve the world they have made.
In The World America Made, Kagan concludes that, “for all its flaws and its miseries, the world America made has been a remarkable anomaly in the history of humanity. Someday we may have no choice but to watch it drift away. Today we do have a choice.” Let's hope Obama reads that far and takes it in.
This is not the first time Obama has played politics with his reading list. Four years ago, Obama-- then a primary candidate-- was found clutching a copy of Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. It's no wonder his conservative critics pounced, tying Obama's seeming distaste for his nation's leading role in the world with the book's thesis that, next to emerging nations like China and India, America was in comparative decline.
While the thought of Obama endorsing such a view outraged Republicans, the liberals he was then courting in the Democratic primaries, however, would take a more sympathetic view. Certainly, for the tightly-controlled Obama campaign to countenance its candidate being photographed with Zakaria's book was a signal meant for a particular audience. The New York Times piece on Obama's use of The World America Made should be seen in the same thoroughly political context.