To lead the course of human events

My favorite passage from Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday came near the conclusion:

“Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership.  They want more: more of our moral support, more of our security cooperation, more of our trade, and more of our assistance in building free societies and thriving economies.  So many people across the world still look to America as the best hope of humankind.  So many people still have faith in America.  We must show them that we still have faith in ourselves – that we have the will and the wisdom to revive our stagnant economy, to roll back our unsustainable debt, to reform our government, to reverse the catastrophic cuts now threatening our national defense, to renew the sources of our great power, and to lead the course of human events.”

I didn’t just like it because he said “human events,” although I will admit that made my ears perk up a bit.

That passage sums up the heart of Romney’s foreign policy message, and it’s a huge difference with the way Barack Obama has conducted our affairs.  Obama never gives you any sense that he thinks America should be leading the course of human events.  He’s not all that crazy about the results of our prior leadership, having devoted much of his big Cairo speech in 2009 to apologizing for American conduct and Western civilization.

Everything Obama says to foreign audiences projects a sense of American weakness, hesitancy, and self-criticism.  His endless nattering about That Damned Video during the late Middle Eastern turmoil is an example.  The President of the United States and his Secretary of State should not spend one microsecond endorsing the outrage of barbarians against an expression of free speech, or pleading with unruly mobs to remember that the U.S. government was not directly involved in producing an “offensive” film.  Not a single inch of ground should be conceded to the enemies of free speech.  That’s either setting us up for tragedy, or setting them up for deep disappointment.

Somehow Obama thought he could “restore” respect for America by pleading for it.  We were a lot more respected under the “unilateral cowboy” he succeeded.  Plenty of George Bush’s policies can be subjected to criticism, but nobody on Earth had a reason to doubt he was one hundred percent on the American team.  He saw our intellectual, moral, and economic legacy as a gift to the world, not something to be defensive and apologetic about.  The Western left has come to view that kind of confidence as a species of ignorant chauvinism.  The rest of the world sees it as confidence, and notes its absence.

Romney referenced a sense among some Americans that global leadership is a burden we should set aside, or perhaps have become incapable of carrying.  “I believe that if America does not lead, others will – others who do not share our interests and our values – and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us,” Romney countered.  “America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.  I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America’s great influence – wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively – to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better – not perfect, but better.”

Every war in history began with a peace treaty.  Somewhere in those blessed years between conflicts, decisions were made that gave aggressors a taste of opportunity.  As Romney noted, the unflagging maintenance of a strong military is important to peace through deterrence… but it’s not just military strength we should be concerned about.  We can’t afford to doubt our own founding principles, including intellectual and economic liberty.  A republic of free citizens must enjoy a high level of general prosperity to maintain its military strength, because it’s too easy to vote against arms and training in the absence of an immediate threat.

And much of America’s global influence flows from our great compassion, which requires economic strength to sustain its expression.  How can we help the world when we can’t help ourselves?  One of Obama’s most grating talking points is his frequent call for “nation building at home.”  Well, America is not a Third World nation in need of “nation building” – and if we’re doing that on Main Street USA, how can we afford to build anything in the desperate quarters of the Earth, where our assistance is vitally needed?

We do the world no favors by offering the ideals of America in a timid fashion… or by offering freedom as a suggestion we clearly are not enthusiastic about following ourselves.