Reza Aslan
Dr. Reza Aslan is an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions. He is the Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside and the founder of AslanMedia.com.

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REASON 08: Obama understands the promise and perils of the new global order in a way his opponent does not.

The difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is not solely a matter of policy or priorities. The difference is about something far more fundamental and significant to the lives of every American. It is a difference of world views.

If you want to know how Mitt Romney views the world, you need not focus on the train wreck that was his recent junket to England, Israel, and Poland. True, the former governor’s first foray into foreign affairs gave Americans a glimpse of what a Romney presidency would look like to the rest of the world. The results were not encouraging. In England, Romney managed to alienate nearly the entire British people by questioning their preparedness for the Olympics. In Israel, he delivered a shockingly ignorant speech in which he blamed the massive disparity in GDP between Israel and Palestine not on forty years of Israeli military occupation but on “cultural differences.” In Poland, Romney was denounced and boycotted by the party of his host, Lech Walesa, because of his assaults on American labor unions. These foibles and many others led the political editor of London’s Daily Mail, James Chapman, to tweet: “Do we have a new Dubya on our hands?” Chapman may not realize how right he may be. Indeed, the true revelation of Romney’s world view did not come during his disastrous trip oversees. It came before he left US soil.

On the eve of his departure, Romney gave a much-anticipated speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFA), laying out for the first time his foreign policy philosophy. In that speech, Romney described his vision for America on the global stage by using a term that has become so toxic, so outmoded, so universally proven to be a dangerous, self-destructive, and intellectually bankrupt expression of the global order, that until Romney revived it in his remarks at the VFA, most Americans assumed they would never hear it again. Romney called for a new “American century.”

This phrase should sound familiar to anyone who was not living under a rock for the last decade. It is the manifesto of the thankfully defunct neoconservative think tank The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose promotion of a unipolar world dominated by America’s untrammeled military might was wholeheartedly adopted by the George W. Bush administration. The result? A catastrophic war in Iraq. An ill-conceived war on terror. The erosion of American civil liberties. The loss of American influence across the world. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost overseas, and trillions upon trillions of dollars of debt at home. That is the legacy of the new American century. And it is the legacy that Mitt Romney seems all too eager to revive, which may explain why fifteen of the twenty-two people on Romney’s foreign policy team worked for George W. Bush. Six of whom were members of PNAC.

“God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers,” Romney declared at his VFW speech, as though the last decade never happened, as though we are living in another century, as though globalization and the inescapable interdependence of nation-states is some kind of left-wing conspiracy to deny America it’s God-given right to rule over a world of subservient nations.

Barack Obama has made many mistakes in foreign policy (the failed reset with Russia comes to mind). Some of those mistakes, like his horrific handling of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, will have consequences for decades to come. But the one thing that President Obama understands at a deep, visceral level is that there is no longer any such thing as a unipolar or even a bi-polar world, and there never will be again. This is a president who recognizes that in a world in which the borders and boundaries that divide us into distinct and separate nation-states are becoming ever more porous, America can no longer dictate its will to other peoples. American might can no longer be based upon how many guns it can deploy (hard power) but on whether it can convince its enemies to lay down their guns first (soft power). American values can no longer be beholden to America’s security and economic interests, and those interests can no longer supersede the fundamental desire of all peoples everywhere to live lives of freedom, dignity, and democracy, even if it means losing our perfectly pliable dictatorial allies.

Romney calls Obama’s globalized worldview “defeatist,” even “anti-American.” It is neither. On the contrary, it is both rational and cognizant of reality. We need a president who does not base his candidacy upon nostalgia for a world that has not existed for half a century, a world in which America is the sole superpower, where our economy dictates the world economy, our culture defines the world’s culture, our values and mores are thrust upon the world whether they like it or not. We need a president who sees the world as it is, not the way he fantasizes it should be. We need Barack Obama back in the White House.

Reza Aslan
  Los Angeles, California

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