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Throughout contemporary history US foreign policy has been subject to the domestic electoral cycle. All presidential contenders have contrasted their own hawkishness with the alleged weaknesses of the incumbent. That is what Eisenhower did to Truman, Kennedy to Eisenhower, and Reagan to Carter. When the Republicans finally alight upon Obama's opponent, they will traduce the president for, at best, negligence towards America's national security, or at worst, a sinister desire to wind down the US's role as sole global hegemon. The president will become the Manchurian Candidate.

In reality, Obama is playing a hard game to beat. In addition to killing Osama bin Laden last May, and dozens of lesser terrorists each week, he has decided to emulate  Eisenhower by disengaging US combat forces from the two wars he inherited from Bush. The fact is that 56 per cent of Americans want their troops out of Afghanistan immediately. Republicans can huff and puff about "retreat" as much as they like, but this is what most voters care about, not whether Afghan girls go to school.

There has been much uninformed chatter about a US reversion to "isolationism", a relatively recent epithet rather than a coherent strategy. It means maximum diplomatic flexibility and non-interventionism rather than acting like a hermit crab. Rejection of entangling alliances, especially with the old European powers, was in the DNA of the Republic for most of the 19th century. So    was a reluctance to go forth in search of putative monsters to destroy, the vivid 1821 metaphor of John Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State I most admire. In more recent times, Republican "isolationists" were often Christian "China-firsters" who, weary of Europe's interminable strife, thought that China could become an Asian-Protestant America with limitless economic potential. The last Republican candidate with such views was Taft, though Ron Paul taps into the tradition in a more erratic fashion. 

There seems to be much anxiety about Obama's military dispositions, which in reality are part of the usual process of reculer pour mieux sauter. There is nothing unusual in Obama's desire for a more streamlined US military, a gambit Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan used to win the presidency too. It would be more worrying if he — and teams of experts — did not try to fit horses for courses in a rapidly changing world. 

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