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{Empty title} | The Nation

In contrast to Mr. Scheer’s concern that Obama will not be able to equal Reagan in creating a political revolution because of antiwar sentiment in the Obama progressive base, I think Obama actually has a chance to eclipse the Reagan revolution, and Afghanistan could be a convenient starting point.

When I was a young student at UC Berkeley, I had the privilege of studying with one of the architects of the Reagan revolution, and it was clear that there were many prongs to this pendulum-swinging effort that focused more on ideology and philosophy. There was an intellectual underpinning to this revolution, in which Toqueville's concerns about the readiness of America for “real” democracy produced small “r” republicanism led by a self-interested wealthy class as the best form of “government.”

At the center of this philosophy was Ayn Rand’s Virtue of Selfishness, in which the trick was to convince the “base” that if they abandoned altruistic ideals and pursued a life course of selfish individualism, they too would be become wealthy some day and rule America.

Fast-forward to thirty years later, and we see the reckless result. The wealthy class now “owns” government and this is played out every day in the pay-to-play culture in Washington. This special-interest-oriented policy-making is what led to the Enrons and Countrywides, debt-equity swaps, and bailouts of Wall Street executives who simply got caught up in their own selfish greed and desire to become as wealthy as possible.

In foreign policy, this produced a continuation of the military-industrial complex and Big Oil as the drivers of war. It was their selfish desire to profit from war that created the conditions for invading Iraq, and the funding of defense systems with very little security value. It also required the US to be the “fulcrum actor” in the wake of the end of the cold war, as the US alone decides who is violating international law and what should be done about it.

Afghanistan provides a unique opportunity for Obama to reset foreign policy so that it is more “world-centric” than US-centric. This is based on a “progressive” philosophy that we are our neighbor’s keeper, that we do live as a responsible member in a community of nations and that international legitimacy requires that actions to deal with legitimate security threats are taken with an international approach and response.

Al Qaeda attacked America in 9/11 partly because they see America as a “dishonest” world cop. They see the money flowing to American companies based on American action around the world, and it disturbs them. It is sort of like the beat cop on the street only arresting competitors of companies whose stock they own.

Obama has an opportunity to create a legacy that far exceeds Reagan by going beyond antiwar reflexive reactions, and actually changing the dynamic and necessity for the US to continue to play the fulcrum actor role. Obama is a gifted leader and orator and has even more popularity and respect outside the US than inside the country. It is time to use this leadership position to call for the creation of a truly international rapid response force under international command, capable of responding to the various threats around the world. Such a force should be comprised of nearly every nation in the world, and its leadership should reflect such international composition and be based on world consensus on a wide range of international issues such as Afghanistan.

The time is now to move beyond the selfishness endemic to national rule, and reset foreign policy based on responsible world community. This is the “progressive” ideal--not selfish isolationism--so when are we going to embrace it?