Wouldn’t it be great if campaigns offered honest slogans, ones that told you the real reason to vote for their gal or guy? For the Romney campaign, a truly honest slogan would be something like: “Don’t worry, he doesn’t believe a lot of the stupid stuff he says.” For the Obama campaign it would be: “He’s managed America’s decline well.”
The Obama folks will never publicly admit that American power is in decline, but if you compare America’s international position today to its position in the late 1990s, the trajectory is obvious. In Bill Clinton’s second term, the U.S. was flush with cash, its military was coming off victories in the Gulf War, Bosnia, and Kosovo, governments across the world were embracing American-style deregulated capitalism, and America dwarfed its geopolitical rivals. Today, by contrast, America is deep in debt, its military is battered and exhausted, its economic ideology enjoys far less prestige, and it faces, in China, a genuine second superpower. Managing this reality has been the central foreign policy challenge of Barack Obama’s first term, and although his campaign can’t say so, he’s done a pretty good job.
(…)Since the Arab Spring came to Cairo 18 months ago, Obama has faced two key moments of decision. And at both points, his willingness to accept Egypt’s emerging, post-American order has served Egypt, and America, well. The first moment came when Egypt’s masses flooded into the streets early last year demanding that Mubarak resign. From the Gulf to Israel to the GOP, conservatives chastised Obama for not standing more firmly behind America’s old ally. But had Obama invited Mubarak to turn Tahrir Square into Tiananmen Square, Egypt might look more like Syria today. The opposition would likely have turned violent, Egypt’s chances for an even semi-democratic transition would have collapsed, and by aiding a mass slaughter, Obama would have virtually guaranteed the hatred of whatever revolutionary force ultimately succeeded the 84-year-old dictator.
Peter Beinart is editor in chief of Open Zion, a blog about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future at The Daily Beast.