Whatever one thinks of the current Libyan entanglement, the overarching question is really much bigger, and makes the issue of Libya pale by comparison. A small but vocal and growing minority of conservative opinion leaders and politicians really do seem to be staking out an overall foreign-policy position along the lines long called for Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), which says that Obama has not retrenched internationally far enough, has not cut defense spending deeply enough, and has not withdrawn from Afghanistan quickly enough. ~Colin Dueck

Dueck’s summary needs some work. Obama has not meaningfully “retrenched” at all. So far, military spending has gone up every year that Obama has been in office. Here is an analysis of the administration’s budget request for FY 2011:

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the total national defense budget request for FY 2011 is at the highest level since World War II. Even if only the base defense budget is considered, the FY 2011 budget request exceeds the previous peak in defense spending in FY 1985 of $538 billion (in FY 2011 dollars) [bold mine-DL].

There is now a chance that there might be some reduction in military spending, but it will be a reduction from a very high level. Obama has announced a future withdrawal from Afghanistan, but to date he has been responsible for greatly increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. There is no way to confuse what Obama has been doing with what Pawlenty described as “decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal.” For that matter, it is also wrong to identify opponents of the wars in Libya and Afghanistan as advocates of decline.

As I said in the column, Pawlenty’s framing is dishonest:

The dishonest framing of the issues has turned a debate over legitimate competing policies into a stark clash between two radically different roles for America in the world, and Pawlenty would have us believe that only those who wish for American decline can favor non-intervention in Libya, or timely withdrawal from Afghanistan. The less popular and more indefensible an ongoing war is, the more hawks rely on wielding this rhetorical bludgeon to try to marginalize and dismiss their opponents.

As Dueck says, it’s true that most conservative Republicans are instinctively hawkish, and they are “sensitive to any implication of American decline.” That’s why many hegemonists insist on misleading them by claiming that reducing military spending from post-WWII highs and concluding the longest war in American history have something to do with absolute American decline. It’s also why some hegemonists attempt to scare Americans with the fantasy of a world dominated by China or Russia. Supposed anti-declinists want us to believe that U.S. “leadership” as they define it is the only thing standing between the world and chaos, but this is a sign of desperation and the bankruptcy of the policies they defend.

Many more Americans are beginning to appreciate that their way does not offer security or prosperity, but only the waste of national resources and finally exhaustion. Ron Paul has been telling them this truth for decades. Tim Pawlenty is still trying to mislead them into believing that such wasteful policies are essential. If I were Dueck, I wouldn’t assume that Pawlenty’s aggressive, reckless vision is the one that Republicans or Americans generally will favor any longer. That doesn’t mean that Republicans will embrace Ron Paul’s vision in every respect, but more of them are moving in the right direction.