"Missionary Muscularity"

It may employ my least favorite kind of cheap, rhetorical trick, but Benjamin Schwartz' article on President Obama's avowed foreign policy is still an eye-opener:

"Change” has been President-elect Barack Obama’s mantra, and for many of his supporters, the most important change his administration promises is a more restrained, less arrogant foreign policy... They’re exasperated with the messianic invocation of “America’s larger purpose in the world,” with the smug notion that this country is “called to provide visionary leadership” in “battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.” They discern the dangers of declaring with righteous omniscience that America “has a direct national security interest” in seeing its economic and political beliefs take hold in foreign lands. ... In the claim that “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people,” they hear echoes of the universalist logic that led to the disaster in Vietnam and see a sweeping foreign policy that the rest of the world finds at best meddlesome and at worst menacingly imperialist.

These lofty but potentially dangerous sentiments are entirely consistent with George W. Bush’s assertion in his second Inaugural Address that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands” ... But the pronouncements quoted above—all of them—are in fact from Barack Obama’s two major foreign-policy statements, both made in 2007.

... With missionary muscularity, Obama says that the United States “shouldn’t shy away from pushing for more democracy … in Russia,” proposing an intrusion hardly conducive to smooth relations between two sovereign great powers. ... But Obama also asserts, correctly—and in the very next sentence—that America “must work with Russia” to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. He fails to apprehend how the pursuit of his first imperative stymies the second.

Schwartz may push quote-pulling to the point of misrepresentation to make his point--that a multi-polar world is both more desirable and, ultimately, more stable than American hegemony--but his warning against "missionary muscularity" should be taken seriously. Let his tale be cautionary, not prescient.

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