Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama's Leadership In The World


John Kerry SpeechOn Thursday night, in a speech that was widely perceived as an open audition for the job of secretary of state in a second Obama term, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) delivered the Democrats' official response: the Republicans have got it backwards.

It has become the unofficial catchphrase of the Republicans' foreign policy critique of President Barack Obama: "American Exceptionalism." To the Republican nominees, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, it represents everything wrong with Obama's approach to international affairs -- he doesn't care for it, and they would finally restore it.

"Our opponents like to talk about 'American Exceptionalism,' but all they do is talk," said Kerry, in the Democratic National Convention's featured address on foreign policy. "The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that -- almost without exception -- they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place."

Drawing a parallel with the economic crises that Obama inherited when he came into office, Kerry argued that Obama also inherited a spate of foreign policy struggles, which were the inevitable consequence of eight years of Republican "exceptionalism."

"Just measure the disarray and disaster he inherited," Kerry said early in his speech. "A war of choice in Iraq had become a war without end, and a war of necessity in Afghanistan had become a war of neglect. Our alliances were shredded. Our moral authority was in tatters. America was isolated in the world."

Faced with these challenges, Kerry argued, it took Obama's distinctive approach to the world -- a more collective and deliberate style that came to be known, derisively to some, as "leading from behind" -- to restore true exceptionalism, and "make America lead like America again."

It was a strongly delivered and occasionally quippy speech, and Kerry devoted about as much time in it building up Obama's foreign policy credits as he did tearing down Romney's.

Describing Romney as "someone who just hasn't learned the lessons of the last decade," Kerry said that the Republican nominees were "the most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades."

"Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska," Kerry said in one of several colorful punchlines. "Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV."

In characterizing Romney as a wishy-washy figure on foreign policy -- "extreme and expedient," he called him at one point -- Kerry sought to portray the Republican nominee as a repeat of all the worst qualities of former President George W. Bush, as perceived by Democrats: simultaneously too ambitious and casually blundering.

"We've all learned Mitt Romney doesn't know much about foreign policy," Kerry said. "But he has all these 'neocon advisors' who know all the wrong things about foreign policy."

He later added, in a reference to Romney's gaffe-filled foreign policy tour this past July, "It wasn't a goodwill mission -- it was a blooper reel."

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