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Sorry, Mitt: It Won't Be an American Century

Author: Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
February 6, 2012
Foreign Policy

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"This century must be an American century," Mitt Romney insisted in a recent speech on foreign policy. "In an American century," the former Massachusetts governor continued, "America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world." Adhering to his party's traditional playbook, the likely Republican nominee went on to reaffirm that the United States is "an exceptional country with a unique destiny."

In an election season, such talk rolls easily off the tongue. But Romney's hackneyed rhetoric is woefully out of step -- both with an American electorate hungry for a less costly brand of foreign policy and with a world in the midst of tectonic change. A sharp economic downturn and expensive, inconclusive conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left Americans ready for a focus on the home front. Abroad, the charge for the next U.S. president can hardly be to stick his head in the sand and deny that the global distribution of power is fast changing. On the contrary, it is to react soberly and steadily to the implications of such change and ensure that the United States remains secure and prosperous even as economic and military strength spreads to new quarters.

President Barack Obama is on the correct path. Leaving Iraq and overseeing a paced withdrawal from Afghanistan will bring U.S. commitments back into line with U.S. interests. Special operations and drone strikes have proved far more effective in fighting al Qaeda than has occupying countries in the Middle East and South Asia, and an offshore posture in the Persian Gulf is the best way to deal with Iran. Amid China's rise and the economic dynamism building in its neighborhood, Obama is right to downsize the U.S. presence in Europe and orchestrate a strategic "pivot" to East Asia. The move constitutes a necessary hedge against Chinese ambition and ensures that American workers will benefit from expanding markets in the Pacific Rim. These policies will enable the United States to simultaneously adjust to a shifting global landscape, husband its resources, and grow its economy -- facilitating the president's pledge to focus on "nation-building here at home."

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