Recently, through no fault of the correspondent but unfortunately through context-removing snips by an editor, I was misquoted in the Wall Street Journal. Various conservatives then grabbed my comment to try and score a gotcha point against President Obama and his team.
The quote by me that appeared in this Wall Street Journal article (and was used as the title in some online cases though not in the newspaper itself) was:
The mystique of America’s superpower status has been shattered.
This has been a phrase I have used many times to refer to the many limits the US has exposed militarily, economically, morally, and institutionally over the years. The George W. Bush administration, particularly because of the Iraq invasion, exposed most of these limits. The current account deficit skyrocketing from just below 2% of GDP under Clinton to nearly 7% was another mystique shaker during that administration.
Obama started with a bad hand when he came into office and he’s doing a lot to turn America’s low stock of power into some gains.
The quote above sounds as if I was saying that “Egypt” was shattering the mystique of America’s superpower status, and that is far from the truth and not what I conveyed. The reason that I raised the issue is that fifteen or so days into the standoff with Mubarak, it was interesting to note how Egypt’s President was standing strong despite the headwinds coming at him.
Ten or fifteen years ago, I don’t believe that this would have been the case — and to some degree the perception of US power is a factor. That’s not President Obama’s fault. A whopping trade deficit, wobbly economy, the exporting of poisonous financial products to the rest of the world, military overextension — all well in place before Obama got the keys to the White House is what has undermined the perception of American power — not Egypt.
So, I don’t fault Fox News, Peter Feaver, or Barry Rubin from jumping on the quote as it ran, but this is a signal to them that it would be inappropriate to further use my phrasing in their critiques of the Obama White House.
If instead they want to go after the administrations of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, feel free. Search on this blog under “superpower” and “mystique” and one will find a lot of references that may help them and their readers see both how botched America’s national security and economic portfolios became under Bush — and how steep a hill Obama has had to climb these last couple of years.
Lastly, from my vantage point, what has unfolded in Egypt — even though there were some zigs and zags and that affairs inside that country were in the Egyptian public’s hands and not up to the US — has enhanced Barack Obama’s stock of power.
I think Mubarak thought he was going to survive the uprisings and shrug off Obama and the international community. After all, he has seen Netanyahu get away (thus far) with a number of wins in wrestling matches with the Obama White House.
But in the end, Mubarak was shoved aside by a military that recognized that the key principles that Egypt’s citizens were calling for — and which Obama was highlighting — were OK to support and that the army’s future depended on supporting at least for the time being this people power movement.
This nudge-from-behind and focus-on-principles-up-front approach — which worked — gets Obama some uptick in his power pack. Now the trick is to get some momentum on other problems where America can move the needle.
– Steve Clemons