In her polemical novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand imagines a world in which the most productive citizens–business magnates, mostly, creators of wealth and generators of progress–go on strike. Tired of being blamed for the world’s ills by parasitic liberals in the press, academia, popular culture and government, they quit. The result is chaos and disaster. John Galt is the mysterious figure who inspires the revolt of the wealth creators.
On first impression, one would say that Barack (“You didn’t build that”) Obama is the anti-John Galt. A classic demagogue, he is one of the liberal horde who inveigh against the successful while adding insult to injury by soliciting campaign contributions from them.
But shift the focus to international affairs: here, the United States has been Atlas, carrying the world on its shoulders since 1945. For more than 60 years, the U.S. imposed a pax Americana, deterring aggressors, guaranteeing the security of other nations, providing the umbrella of stability necessary for the global economy to thrive. Many countries have achieved previously undreamed-of levels of prosperity by participating in the global economy under the protection of the American military. Has our role been a thankless one? To a considerable degree, yes. Just as the producers in Atlas Shrugged were portrayed as villains by the Left, the U.S. has often the target of the world’s many grievances, usually unfairly.
Now, Barack Obama has decreed that the American Atlas should shrug. Weary of its burdens and tired of being blamed for the world’s problems, America is withdrawing from its global leadership role. And the result, as in Atlas Shrugged, is disaster. Everywhere one looks, there is turmoil and violence. Russia is resurgent; China threatens Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines; Iraq’s Christians are being wiped out; Iran’s nuclear weapons program proceeds apace; the Sunni Gulf states seek new alliances; the Taliban is retaking Afghanistan; American diplomatic personnel are withdrawn from Libya as that country descends into chaos; al Qaeda extends its influence in Africa. The list goes on and on. The United States has gone Galt–everywhere except Gaza, where we are playing a discreditable role in support of a terrorist regime–and the forces of evil and disorder are on the march.
Of course, the analogy ultimately breaks down. In Atlas Shrugged, the world’s producers go on strike in order to show that the Left is wrong. Barack Obama has withdrawn the United States from its leadership role, not in order to demonstrate that the Left’s critiques are wrong, but because he believes them to be right. Unlike the producers in Atlas Shrugged, Obama means for the U.S. to “go Galt” permanently.
But things are not turning out as the Left expected. Those who thought (like Obama) that America is the source of most of the world’s ills, and if only we would keep to ourselves problems would disappear, are being refuted by every day’s newspaper headlines. So perhaps in the end, America’s going Galt in foreign policy will prove to be temporary, as the result of Obama’s experiment will be much like the dystopia that Ayn Rand foresaw many years ago.