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Opening Arguments

Homeward bound

I think is an unusually thoughtful look at the possible consequences of America's global retreat from the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, which is usually so fawning over President Obama that it's hard to take seriously:

The impulse to “Come home, America,” as Sen. George McGovern phrased it during his 1972 presidential campaign, is nothing new. Traditionally two philosophies have fueled it. One sees the United States as a moral exemplar but believes we aren’t obliged to solve the world’s problems. The other is skeptical about America’s moral standing to impose its will, believing that more often than not it has used its power to exploit other people on behalf of U.S. corporations or other selfish interests.

Today a third strand entwines those two: a sense, fueled by the deep U.S. recession and China’s rise, that America is a declining and overextended power that can no longer afford to lead as it has in the past.

Obama doesn't seem quite a good fit for any of those three strands. It's more like he doesn't even like American power or believe in American exceptionalistm. If McGovern was "Come home, America," Obama is "Go to your room without supper, America."

There are risks and rewards both for intertanaional engagment and global retreat, and the truth is we aren't faced with such an either/or dichotomy. The question is how much we should engage and how. But just turning our back on the world seems like the most dangerous option:

History will not repeat itself, precisely. But if the United States retreats too quickly and too far, history will reach out to grab us back. It may happen soon, with an Israeli attack on Iran, a Syrian wielding of chemical weapons or — most likely — some calamity we have not foreseen. It may happen after Obama has retired.

Either way, it will give rise, as it did in 2001, to resolutions that, this time, we have learned our lesson — this time, we won’t come home before the job is done.