RE: “Choosing decline,” by Fred Hiatt (Washington Post, June 27, 2011)

There has been a lot on nonsense written about the “decline of America” or the “decline of the West,” which has gained a certain popularity among those who seem often want to use it against President Obama and his careful approach to military actions and his decision to cut somewhat the humongous defense budget.  One recent example among many is the op-ed article by Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post,  published on June 27th under the print headline “Choosing decline.”

Hiatt wrote: “In fact, Obama embraced retreat as policy in his address last week: ‘America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”

While I heartedly agree with Mr. Hiatt’s perspective that America has the responsibility to lead in a still dangerous global environment, I take issue with a number of his arguments of how that must be done and on the fundamental view that Obama’s leadership may lead to a decline.

The basic fallacy of Hiatt’s argument is that “war” and American boots on the ground are a gauge of American global leadership. As a retired American diplomat, I not only disagree but also find that in recent times, at least, such an approach has been a determent to constructive American leadership around the world.

Further, I believe that President Obama has set a course that has already helped American leadership in contrast to George Bush’s “war-war” as the definition of American engagement in world affairs.  Our war in Iraq did great damage to American leadership almost everywhere and was, in Secretary Gates’ words, “a war of choice.” It proved a disaster for America and our values.

I take issue with the argument that Obama’s call for domestic building of our economy and society is in contradiction to effective global leadership. On the contrary, it is building the foundation of that leadership…and the wasting of our resources on unneeded hostilities makes us only weaker abroad.

Finally, I think America is in a new ascendency in a complex and inevitably mobile global environment. Obama brought us a re-set in U.S. – Russia relations and the New START agreement, and he is taking us out of Iraq at last–to our allies’ and the world’s populations’ approval. He has reached out to the Muslim world, and, contrary to Hiatt’s views, took the lead in the first few days of the Libyan action with the vast majority of the air strikes conducted by U.S. forces.  Obama saw to it that NATO would carry on, with our support, without American “boots on the ground.” I further suggest that Gaddafi will go in time. He also oversaw the killing of Bin Laden, decimating the Al-Qaeda leadership where Bush failed, obtained a huge intelligence gain for us, and set a course to get us out of a decade long war.

Let’s be clear: we are living through a very “rough patch,” as my British friends, would say of a major disaster.  We are facing an economic and financial global meltdown, which was not Obama’s doing. It has made countries less generous and more myopic and selfish. To Obama’s credit, he has tried to “herd cats” abroad that seem more interested in self-destructive economic polices, while trying to gain the cooperation of his dysfunctional Republican House of Representatives, all of which are still works in progress. Obama’s calls for greater energy efficiency and clean energy, a growth agenda, investment in science and technology, as well as his calls for addressing massive unemployment and supporting strong government functions, all point to a nation, that following Obama’s original vision, can, and perhaps still will, “rise” both at home and globally.

What may bring American down is the crazies of the far right that seem bent more on their own selfish and greedy agenda than on helping our nation grow and lead globally. The simple fact is that the world still looks to America for leadership.  Does anyone think that China or Russia is a viable and responsible world leader at this time and with the challenges we face?

America is indeed still the “indispensable” nation but getting others to support us is also indispensable to succeed. It is not helping to attack and weaken the only nation which and leader who has a chance to put the pieces together.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

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