Published: Sunday 19 February 2012
“But a limited America still has unlimited possibilities and solemn responsibilities. If not America, then who? Then nobody.”

The usually reliable sources tell us that President Obama picked up a recent edition of the highly reliable New Republic and came away impressed. He read a lengthy essay by Robert Kagan amorphously titled “Not Fade Away,” but unambiguously subtitled “The Myth of American Decline” — the latter saying it all. The president then expropriated (eminent domain?) the essay’s theme for part of his State of the Union message, saying, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Among those who have done so is Barack Obama himself.

The president’s telling has been expressed sometimes in words, but more so in actions. He has conducted himself and his foreign policy as if the United States has indeed slipped in power, prestige and, more important, commitment. The same Obama who cited — again, in the State of the Union — Madeleine Albright’s famous formulation that America is the “indispensable nation,” dispensed with American power and prestige in failing to take the lead in confronting Moammar Gaddafi in Libya and instead was goaded into the fray by Britain and France. This was called “leading from behind,” which is indistinguishable from panting to keep up.

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