The Cable

Obama embraces Romney advisor's theory on 'The Myth of American Decline'

President Barack Obama is personally enamored with a recent essay written by neoconservative writer Bob Kagan, an advisor to Mitt Romney, in which Kagan argues that the idea the United States is in decline is false.

"The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe," Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening. "From the coalitions we've built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we've led against hunger and disease; from the blows we've dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back."

"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," Obama said.

Just hours earlier on Tuesday, in an off-the-record meeting with leading news anchors, including ABC's George Stephanopoulos and NBC's Brian Williams, Obama drove home that argument using an article written in the New Republic by Kagan titled "The Myth of American Decline."

Obama liked Kagan's article so much that he spent more than 10 minutes talking about it in the meeting, going over its arguments paragraph by paragraph, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to The Cable.

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will also discuss Kagan's essay and Obama's love of it Thursday night with Charlie Rose on PBS.

Kagan's article examines and then sets out to debunk each of the arguments that America is in decline, which include commonly held assumptions that America's power and influence are waning due to its economic troubles, the rise of other world powers, the failure of U.S. efforts to solve big problems like the Middle East conflict, and the seeming inability of the U.S. government to tackle problems.

"Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman's latest book, that ‘that used to be us,'" Kagan writes.

But Kagan argues that the United States has gone through several similarly challenging periods in the past and has always managed to rebound and come out ahead. He writes that American decline is a risk, and a dangerous one at that, but by no means is it a foregone conclusion.

"In the end, the decision is in the hands of Americans," he writes. "Decline, as Charles Krauthammer has observed, is a choice. It is not an inevitable fate-at least not yet. Empires and great powers rise and fall, and the only question is when. But the when does matter. Whether the United States begins to decline over the next two decades or not for another two centuries will matter a great deal, both to Americans and to the nature of the world they live in."

For the White House, the Kagan article, and the forthcoming book it's based on, The World America Made, offer the perfect rebuttal to GOP accusations that Obama has willingly presided over a period of American decline or has been "leading from behind" on foreign policy.

Romney hits on this theme often, such as when he said in a December debate, "Our president thinks America is in decline. It is if he's president, it's not if I'm president."

In his foreign policy white paper, Romney states clearly that he believes that Obama has resigned himself to American decline.

"A perspective has been gaining currency, including within high councils of the Obama administration, that regards the United States as a power in decline. And not only is the United States regarded as in decline, but that decline is seen as both inexorable and a condition that can and should be managed for the global good rather than reversed," the white paper reads.

But as the economy slowly improves, that argument is harder to make, and the Obama campaign is now trying to use Romney's own assessment against him.

"Governor Romney may be rooting for slips and falls here. We're concentrating on moving this economy forward," Obama's political advisor David Axelrod said earlier this month.

The fact that it is Kagan refuting Romney's argument is especially sweet for the White House, because Kagan is a special advisor to the Romney campaign on national security and foreign policy.

Contacted by The Cable, Kagan said he was pleased Obama liked his essay and he is further pleased that Obama is not resigned to an America in decline.

"I think it's important that the president also doesn't see the nation in decline and I hope his policies reflect that and not the idea we should be accommodating American decline as a lot of people are recommending," said Kagan. "I hope he rejects that and still believes we should provide the kind of leadership we are capable of."

Kagan is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post.

Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

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