#NoApologyBookClub America’s Strength is Good for the World

(This is the second #NoApologyBoockClub post. The first post is here.)

No Apology is subtitled “The Case for American Greatness”* and Mitt Romney does make the case persuasively.
Here we will cover the first  two chapters of the book which are about America’s place in the world and our foreign policy. (Thanks to Anna Belle for suggesting we break the book into 3 parts – Foreign Policy, Domestic Policy, and how the two meet on the issue of Globalization. Since FP is so content intensive, I am doing two posts on it. This is the first.)

These first two chapters are The Pursuit of the Difficult and Why Nations Decline.

The Pursuit of the Difficult

“I hate to weed,” is how this book opens. Apparently weeding the garden was one of young Mitt’s chores, and whenever he complained about it, his dad would reply “Mitt, the pursuit of the difficult makes men strong.” Romney then writes about how he has found this to be true – in his family’s history as refugees from Mexico, in businesses like American Motor Company and Staples, and in our nation’s history, from the Revolution, WWII, and the Cold War.

Just like individual’s, companies, and human enterprises of every kind, nations that are undaunted by the challenges they face become stronger. Those that shrink from difficult tasks become weaker.

America will remain the leading nation in the world only if we overcome our challenges. We will be strong, free, prosperous, and safe….What’s chilling to consider is that if America is not the superpower, others will take our place. What nation or nations would rise, and what would be the consequences for our safety, freedom, and prosperity?

Romney points out that there are four competing strategies for world leadership; in her excellent review, Anna Belle sums them up as follows:

One is the American vision, which is founded on free markets and political freedoms. Another is the Chinese vision, which is also based on free markets, but with a decidedly authoritarian view of individual freedoms. The third is the resurrection of Russian supremacy, i.e. an oligarchic model based on energy domination, with again, that authoritarian approach to individuality. Finally, the fourth is the jihadist vision, led by Iran, that is founded on a notion of religious supremacy and an attempt at cultural hegemony for the specific reason that the current cultural domination of America and the West is immoral.

He says our vision should remain the supreme vision because it is the only one that offers, protects, and promotes more opportunity and expression in the world. He makes the case for how these two things–economic and political freedoms–actually reinforce each other and create a state wherein humanity can thrive and grow.

In Romney’s words:

There are four strategies for world leadership that are in competition. Only one is founded on freedom. Only one.

President Obama’s foreign policy is “a rupture with some of the key assumptions that have undergirded more than six decades of American foreign policy.” At the end of World War II, with the world in shambles, President Truman “set out to create a new international order with America in the permanent lead, as the protector and defender of a particular world order.” The new order had three pillars: active involvement in world affairs, promotion of American and Western ideals (democracy, free enterprise, human rights), and a collective security umbrella for America & her allies. The UN , the IMF, the WB, GATT (WTO), NAto, etc, were all created towards these goals. All of Truman’s successors, (“Jimmy Carter being the closest to an exception”), upheld these traditions and believed America should lead the free world.

Romney, I think, is completely appalled by “President Obama’s American Apology Tour.” He lists the ways that Obama, even by March 2010, had alienated America’s allies and won the praise of America’s enemies, and the pattern that shows Obama does not believe that America is unique – it is just one nation among many.  He draws the contrast by saying “I reject the idea that America must decline” – the implication is that Obama’s leadership is leading our nation into decline.

Why Nations Decline

I thought this chapter was fascinating. Romney argues that there are common causes for the decline of great empires: the Ottoman empire, Spain & Portugal, Imperial China, the British empire, even the Dutch. One of these is isolation – a policy of shutting out foreign invention, learning, and economic isolation. “Their retreat from the marketplace of ideas and their retreat from the marketplace of goods inevitably led to their retreat from the pinnacle of leadership.”

Another factor in decline is a refusal to act – they refuse to see the threat, so they have no reason to act  to avert it. Part of this is human nature – to forestall panic, we naturally minimize dangers. Another is a form of mental inertia – we feel like things will always continue as they are. Aiding in this are the members of the powerful who benefit from maintaining the status quo, and the short-term self-interests of some common citizens (obamaphone!). There is also the failure of independent opinion leaders – educators, writers, scientists, and the media – to say what needs to be heard.

But some nations are actually  able to overcome these factor and reverse decline. Why? Romney identifies four catalysts or conditions: a shocking wake-up call, the presence of a great leader, national consensus, and finally deep and broad-based national strength. I am fascinated by how these factors he lists back in early 2010 seem almost predictive of Nov 2012.

(Part 2 will discuss threats around us and the foreign policy vision we need.)

George & Mitt Romney (1957 Michigan)


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23 Responses to #NoApologyBookClub America’s Strength is Good for the World

  1. DandyTiger says:

    First to answer the poll. Agree with reservations. My hope would be a stronger EU or others to be partners in that leadership position. But without that, we’re it.

  2. DandyTiger says:

    Nice review. The refusal to see a threat sounds like Obama and the ME. He’s pretending he’s so wonderful that they’re on our side now. So he’s a complete failure in the ME.

    That doesn’t mean Mitt has the right ideas with the ME either of course. But understanding that it’s an ongoing bad situation is better than pretending.

    It would be nice to see some foreign policy people appointed that have a clue and can start to deal with the real issues, problems, and how best to deal with that area. Our foreign policy track record in that area has been, well, I’ll be kind, a total clusterf&*k.

    • votermom says:

      Yeah, definitely the ME chaos. He wrote the book before the Arab Spring & before Bin Laden was killed. His examples in No Apology of things public finds hard to believe will come true:
      – gas going to cost $4 a gallon*
      – stock market value cut in half
      – excessive spending and borrowing will severely jeopardize our kids future
      *remember when that was just a dire prediction?

  3. votermom says:

    I have to admit while writing this post I giggled at “I hate to weed” because I imagined ChoomBO’s response: “I love weed!”

    And then Mitt called ChoomBO a “rupture”. I think that’s Mormon for “a-hole”

  4. Good post, VM. One of the aspects of the book that I am so enjoying is his ability to use plain language to inform on very complex issues, and his knowledge and use of history to reinforce his points.

    His point about closed societies leading to their ultimate destruction as cultural leaders was recently discussed in an interesting article in the NYT, with, of course their typical spin: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/opinion/sunday/the-self-destruction-of-the-1-percent.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

    That article discusses how Venice fell from grace after it closed it’s opportunity-based structure, but it puts it in the context of the American 1%. I tend to agree (with caveats) about the 1% being a kind of closing of opportunity in the States, but it was difficult to take that lesson from the NYT, where so many of their employees and certainly the owners are part of that 1%. It’s like when Bloomberg publishes some populist article. I just roll my eyes.

    Thing is, Romney actually believes in truly free markets, and is no fan of corporate welfare, which is the main problem with the much of the wealthy in this country. They are so often to be found suckling at the biggest government teets. I think he’s gonna ween them.

  5. yttik says:

    There are many people who feel as if America’s foreign policy is responsible for all the evils in the world. As if innocent people were just minding their own business when the US started selling weapons to the bad guys, hoping to start a war so we could come in and steal all the resources or something. I used to be one of those people who subscribed to this belief, 100% with no gray areas. America is to blame for all foreign conflicts in the world. We’re also greedy, power hungry, and like to colonize.

    I guess over time my views have evolved. I think our refusal to do anything in Rwanda and the resulting tragedy was the start of my evolution. It sounds silly now, but at one point in time I really thought only America was capable of doing great evil in the world. If there’s a genocide somewhere, America must have had a hand in it. The more I’ve studied history, the more I’ve come to realize that this was extremely biased and unrealistic thinking. That sometimes choosing peace at all costs, costs a lot of lives. That if you don’t want to see bloodshed, sometimes you’ve got to be willing to step in.

    I remember petitioning Bill Clinton to help the women of Afganistan. They were telling us the Taliban was taking over, pushing them into burkas, and this didn’t bode well for anybody, including America. They were right. And we didn’t listen. I remember when Bush Sr walked away from Iraq and thousands of Kurds were slaughtered. I remember the Serbs and the Bosnians, and how now just recently, tens of thousands of Syrians have died.

    These are complex issues that are only made worse by the kind of rigid thinking that insists “America right or wrong” or “America is always wrong.” Neither ideology takes into account the complexities involved or allows for rational decision making.

    • votermom says:

      From the book, p33 (emphasis mine):

      “We have made mistakes and committed grave offenses over the centuries. Too often we have failed to live up to our own ideals. But to say that is to say that we live in this fallen world rather than a perfect one, a world composed not of angels but of flawed and imperfect beings. And, crucially, our past faults and errors have long been acknowledged and do not deserve the repetition that suggests either we have been reluctant to remedy them or that we are inclined to repeat them. What we should say and repeat is this: No nation has shed more blood for noble causes than the United States. Its beneficence and benevolence are unmatched by any nation on earth, and by any nation in history.”

    • myiq2xu says:

      hoping to start a war so we could come in and steal all the resources or something

      All the oil in Saudi Arabia would have been worthless without western industrial capitalism. The fact that we needed those resources made the Saud family filthy rich.

  6. myiq2xu says:


    If you haven’t read this you should. There is some gratuitous CDS but lots of interesting stuff. Not sure how much is true.


  7. Pingback: #NoApologyBookClub Power : Soft, Hard, Theirs, Ours « The Crawdad Hole

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