07/16/2014 10:25 am ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Period of Adjustment

It's true: we don't have a rough-rider President à la Theodore Roosevelt. It's also true that we do have a President who does special operations (Osama bin Laden), unlike his hapless predecessor, Jimmy Carter (Desert One).

What we are seeing now, as the sticker of weakness clings to President Obama, is that we are no longer the sole superpower looming over the world. We have squandered that role with unnecessary wars (Vietnam, Iraq) and an unnecessarily prolonged one (Afghanistan).

What some perceive as a new era of weakness is rather, to borrow the title of a Tennessee Williams play, a period of adjustment, in which we are becoming a power among others. Certainly a military power superior to all the others, but no longer in a position, nor with the disposition, to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the world.

We would do well to hark back to the formula of the then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams during the period of what is known in American history as the "era of good feelings", when the unity of the country was uppermost in the policies of President James Monroe. In a lengthy speech on July 4, 1821, Adams asserted that "[America] does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy".

In an article in the Financial Times of July 11entitled, "America's retreat from its watchdog role was overdue", Thomas Ganiatsos notes the "monumental material and human cost" of being "the pre-eminent military champion for the preservation of western values" since the end of the Second World War. Calling it a "disastrous record", he adds, "Was it worth it, and is it not surprising that many of my fellow Americans -- not just the libertarian right -- rejoice that this chapter in world history is finally coming to a close?"