The PJ Tatler

If you wanted to take the United States from 'exceptional' to 'ordinary,' how would you do it?

The United States’ position in the world is tops in every major category. Our economy is the largest and most vibrant by far, our currency is the global standard, our military is unchallenged, and our influence is unrivaled. Our strategic alliances around the world have made friends out of former enemies, rebuilt war-torn countries and a continent, and our global presence has established a Pax Americana, in which the countries most influenced by long-term American presence or friendship enjoy a relatively peaceful and prosperous existence. There are exceptions, of course, notably Afghanistan and Iraq, but the exceptions in some respect prove the rule: They were both violent tyrannies before we began the exhausting and expensive project to bring them into the Pax, and now at least Iraq has a chance at something approaching a civilized existence.

But what if you wanted to destroy all that? What if you wanted to take America down a peg, from “exceptional” to merely “ordinary,” from leader to just another member of the state club? How would you do it?

Well, you couldn’t do it overnight. But you might begin by finding ways to marginalize our military, either by making it look ridiculous or by simply keeping it out of as many relevant leadership roles as possible, to undermine its influence on events.

You might also take steps to weaken our strongest alliances, beginning with NATO, which has been the linchpin of European peace for more than half a century. Make that alliance appear worthless, and pretty soon the whole Pax may begin to unravel as hostiles see and exploit fissures and allies seek other means of protection. You might also find ways to signal to other long-time allies that America is no longer a reliable partner. Pick a couple of longstanding allies, different from each other so the message is broadened, and give them that message. Everyone else will hear, and adjust. Also, find ways to bolster America’s enemies.

And for the coup de grace, you saddle the nation with enough debt to weaken our economic standing and cause the world to lose faith in the almighty dollar as its currency standard. That action will make it much more difficult for the US to stand for open markets and economic freedom, to maintain the military that has been the key to establishing and to projecting an image of strength, all of which are key to keeping the peace. A superpower that looks weak is no longer feared by its enemies, respected by neutrals or valued by its allies. Pretty soon it’s no longer a superpower.

I’m not saying that the current administration set out on a path to destroy America’s place in the world. It’s obvious now that President Obama is at least very skeptical of American history and strength and thinks little of American exceptionalism. Ditto many of his lefty supporters. He did promise to spread the wealth around, and that his policies would cause economic pain, and that we would get fundamental transformation. Most of us have less wealth to spread around these days, but he’s certainly delivering on the latter two. But to assume he and his cohort set out to undermine the US position in the world assumes a level of competence that, frankly, I don’t see in them. Intent, perhaps, but not the know-how. Much of the above, especially concerning the Libya misadventure, is more easily explained by a combination of stupidity and arrogance, than by malice and conspiratorial omniscience. And it’s no great shock that an ideologue who had never run a lemonade stand can’t handle the most difficult job in the world. Nearly everyone in the 48% who didn’t vote for him expected as much.

But could the Obama administration have done a better job of knocking America down a peg, had that been their project from the get-go? It’s hard to see how they could have.