Missives from the alternate universe of the American left

It's now official: Richard Stengel at The Atlantic has declared "The End of the American Century."  Mr. Stengel offers this tagline to his title to dispel any doubt as to who exactly is responsible for bringing us to this most unfortunate state of affairs: "The country's role as a global model and guarantor of freedom and rule of law is being brought to an end by"...wait for it...that's right: "Trump."

In 1941, a year before America entered World War II, Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time, wrote an essay called "The American Century." It was an argument not just against isolationism but for America as a global moral beacon.  Luce, the son of American missionaries to China, wrote that America must "accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence exert upon the world the full impact of our influence."

I spent seven years as editor of Time before I worked in the State Department as under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. While I was editor of Time, I never wanted to be the first of Luce's successors to pronounce the end of the American Century. In part, this was because of a misunderstanding of the term. Most people thought it meant American power or hegemony and there was not much diminution in America's global power. What it really means is America as a global model and guarantor of freedom and rule of law and fairness.

Trump's administration is the death knell of the American Century.

Yes, you read that right:

America as a global model and guarantor of freedom and rule of law and fairness.

And "Trump's administration is the death knell" of it all!

Let's parse these one by one (as the left is so fond of doing).

A global model – Mr. Obama never tired of apologizing to the rest of the world and telling them how miserable America has been throughout our history.  Military adventurers and imperialists abroad and forever tainted by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and the resulting institutionalized racism that has permeated every fiber of our being at home.  I can't imagine the America of Barack Obama to be one he or Mr. Stengel would offer up to the world as a "global model."

Guarantor of freedom – the peoples of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria might take issue with the job Mr. Obama has done of guaranteeing their freedom.  Mr. Obama hasn't guaranteed anyone's freedom.  He's thrown the people of these countries to the wolves.

Rule of law and fairness – Mr. Obama's disregard for the rule of law is legion.  Auto bailouts that favored unions over shareholders, administrative state excesses that have set records for the number of unanimous decisions against them in the courts, and "pen and phone" executive orders for everything he failed to get legislated.  Mr. Obama has no more regard for the rule of law than he does the slaughtered peasants of Aleppo.

One might be excused for assuming that Mr. Stengel had spent the last eight years in a remote cave with no television or internet connection, but one would be wrong.  Not only has Mr. Stengel not been detached from America's foreign policy adventures of the past eight years, for the last four, he has been, as stated in his article, the State Department's under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.  He's been in the big fat middle and up close and personally watching Barack Obama succeed in achieving everything he is now laying at the doorstep of Donald Trump, who as of this writing has been president for less than one week.

For a much more real-world version, or alternative history, if you will, of Mr. Stengel's fairy tale, John Daniel Davidson at The Federalist, in his critique of a Politico interview with Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes, paints a much more accurate picture.

By refusing to act after his "red line" ultimatum on the use of chemical weapons, Obama took military force off the table. At that point, there was no reason for Assad to negotiate a settlement. He knew he need only wait. Obama and Rhodes take credit for getting chemical weapons out of Syria under Russian supervision, but that's a pyrrhic victory. Assad's ultimate goal was to remain in power, not retain control of chemical weapons – many of which he never gave up anyway.

In a widely-read piece on Obama's foreign policy, The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg rightly concluded that, "In the matter of the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian sponsors, Obama has bet, and seems prepared to continue betting, that the price of direct U.S. action would be higher than the price of inaction."

The price of inaction, we now know, was civilian slaughter on a massive scale. But Rhodes and Obama talk about it with an air of fatalism. "You could call me a realist in believing we can't relieve all the world's misery," Obama told Goldberg. "We cannot resolve the issues internal to these countries," Rhodes said in his Politico interview. Rhodes also repeated a version of the rhetoric Obama often used when discussing the Iran nuclear deal, that it was a binary choice between the deal or war with Iran: "I don't know how we could have started a military conflict with Assad that we didn't feel compelled to try to finish by taking out Assad."

Pretending American military action will inexorably lead to war and regime change is a way to justify the dismantling of the post-Cold War international order and America's retreat from global leadership. But it's also more than a justification: Obama and Rhodes really believe it's true. The logic of their worldview demands that America not act, even when a leader like Assad attacks civilians with chemical weapons, or Russia invades Crimea, or China threatens its neighbors. Unless the U.N. Security Council is on board, America is powerless to act.

At his last speech to the U.N. General Assembly, in September, Obama said, "If we are honest, we know that no external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to co-exist for long." History and experience suggest otherwise, but for Rhodes and Obama, an America that's unable to impose its will or uphold international norms is necessary for a better world – even if it means we have to sit back and watch it burn.

It would seem that Mr. Stengel and Mr. Rhodes occupy the same alternate universe.  That they can write and say the things they do with no measure of self-awareness whatsoever is difficult to conceive.  Mr. Davidson's piece lays out quite nicely the case for Mr. Obama executing, in textbook fashion, all the requisite components of Mr. Stengel's "end of the American century," yet he still manages, somehow, in his mind, to lay it at the feet of Donald Trump.  And still the leftist media don't understand why nobody trusts them.

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