We once had to fight the Germans and Japanese in a life-and-death struggle between good and evil. We once had to resist Soviet communism in the Cold War. Today we face nothing remotely comparable.
That's a great blessing, but in a few quarters, you can detect nostalgia for those dark days. Back then, we had a grand and noble purpose in the world. When we triumphed, we were left with a void in our national identity that some people yearn to fill.
One of them is Mitt Romney, whose speech the other day to the Veterans of Foreign Wars reads as though it were written in a different century. In his survey of the globe, there is hardly any good news to be found, except the armed might and courage of the United States.
Romney apparently sees himself as the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, who led his nation in a desperate fight against Nazi conquest -- and whose bust he plans to install in the Oval Office. He doesn't seem to notice that our position bears zero resemblance to Britain's in 1940.
"Sadly, this president has diminished American leadership, and we are reaping the consequences," asserted Romney.
"The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic."
Well, yeah. This unfortunate disorder is the central and imperishable fact of geopolitical reality. When Romney says the world today is dangerous, the question is: Compared to when?
Consider our position. The Russians don't like us, but their armed forces are a shell of what they once were. The Chinese have regional ambitions, but their military is far inferior in every respect to ours, and their neighbors are flocking to us.
North Korea is a minor nuisance. Iran may aspire to produce nuclear weapons, but it is impeded by international economic sanctions. Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein is gone. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has retired.
Who am I forgetting? Oh, yes: Osama bin Laden. Odd that Romney would not mention the person who carried out the 9/11 attacks.
But to acknowledge bin Laden's fate would blur the picture of Barack Obama, cowardly weakling. To note all the al-Qaida leaders killed over the past three and a half years would not fit the appeasement narrative. Also forgotten by Romney: Moammar Gadhafi.
Even as the drones fly, Romney pretends the president is in the grip of a naive pacifism. He denounces Obama's "radical cuts in the military," referring to the possible sequestration of $500 billion over the next decade -- which in truth were part of a budget deal agreed to by congressional Republicans.
Romney says modifying our missile defense plans in Europe was "abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic." Seriously? We are fully, unequivocally committed to their protection as part of the NATO alliance. Romney published a 44-page white paper on foreign policy. It doesn't mention NATO.
He faults Obama for calling Russian President Vladimir Putin after his dubious election victory. Would any president do less with a leader whose help we need on matters like Iran? Has Romney forgotten George W. Bush's far warmer embrace of Putin?
Romney says Obama betrayed the cause of freedom by not more vocally championing Iranians who marched against the Tehran regime in 2009. He omits why Obama held off: not because he didn't want to help the Green Movement, but because he did. He knew an ostentatious show of support would make the opposition look like American stooges.
One problem with Romney's approach is his habit of fudging or ignoring facts about Obama's record. A bigger one, though, is his view of our position in the world as deeply insecure. He sees us beset by formidable foes whom we can deter only by endlessly flaunting our willingness to go to war. He's a man with a hammer, looking for nails.
The beginning of wisdom about American foreign policy is to see the world as it really is. Being vigilant is one thing. But there is nothing to be gained from always running scared.
Steve Chapman blogs daily at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/steve_chapman. To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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