Hillary, Obama and American Power

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I’m struck by Hillary Clinton’s speech today about how we are in the midst of a “new American moment,” one that demands leadership from–and the values of–the United States to make the world a better place. Clinton’s message may seem like typical foreign policy mush. But in the current moment it amounts to a striking rejection of the recently-ascendant declinist school of foreign policy, which holds that America’s global influence is on a long downward slope, and policymakers had better start dealing with that hard truth. (Mr. Luce would not approve!) But it’s not only Hillary talking this way. I was struck in President Obama’s speech about Iraq last week by the tone he struck early on, when he said that “the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment” and that “the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.” That’s pretty uplifting rhetoric for a speech about a war that took a brutal toll on America’s standing abroad.

It’s true that Obama has at other times acknowledged the new limits on American power, as he did in his December 2009 address announcing the Afghanistan troop surge. (“As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests.”) But as a general rule, you won’t find declinists populating this administration. You’re more likely, as my colleague Massimo reminds me, to find someone like deputy White House chief of staff Mona Sutphen, who recently co-authored a book with former Clinton White House official Nina Hachigian on The Next American Century. Perhaps Hillary and Obama have read it.