Two years ago, with an eye to the 2012 GOP primaries, Mitt Romney unveiled the latest version of himself in a book titled No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. He then hit the road on a national book-promotion tour, proclaiming the book's message of militant, muscle-flexing patriotism.
The "no apology" in the title is a dig at President Barack Obama, whom he accuses of "apologizing" for his country to other nations. Romney acknowledges that the U.S. has made mistakes in foreign policy, but he seems to think it's disloyal to admit this abroad. Moreover, "we have nothing to apologize for when the balance sheet of our contributions is weighed against whatever mistakes we have made."
In fact, says Romney, "there can be no rational denial of the reality that America is decidedly a good nation. Therefore it is good for America to be strong." In a speech delivered to The Citadel last October, Romney insisted that the 21st century, like much of the 20th, "must be an American Century" in which "America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."
Romney was evoking the greatness of the "greatest generation," those Americans who did so much to defeat the fascist powers in World War II and contain the Soviet Union afterward. He says our global military role is just as great and important today as it was then, and so must be our military power.
The gist of Romney's inflated rhetoric is that no patriotic American should question his account of our country's greatness and its mission in the 21st century. His Citadel speech ended with the injunction: "Believe in America." In effect, he dares anyone to say they don't believe in America (as he defines it).
We should feel free to disbelieve. American citizens have no civic or moral obligation to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative in our history. We don't need to share Romney's boosterish faith in the moral superiority of the U.S.A.
Is patriotism a virtue? Yes, if it means a desire to contribute to the good of one's country. But if patriotism includes willful ignorance of our history, and readiness to impose our will on other countries through military power, then it is a vice. It is jingoism. And that is what Romney is peddling.
He wants America to be "unapologetic" in asserting its divinely ordained role as guardian of freedom on Earth. It should ignore any objections from lesser powers. As he says in No Apology, "The objective of the United States of America is strength, not popularity."
In other words, if the people of a country were to freely reject our leadership, Romney wants us to be strong enough to force them to follow our lead. In Godfather fashion, we'll make them an offer they can't refuse.
Romney tells us that America deserves to be in charge of the planet because it has always been on the side of freedom, all the way back to its revolution against British tyranny in the 18th century.
This is a smug fantasy. In fact, the United States began as a slave state, and expanded "from sea to shining sea" by genocide and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. It acquired its southwestern territories from Mexico in 1848 in what President Ulysses S. Grant called "one of the most unjust [wars] ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation" (Memoirs, 1885).
Romney's new "American century" began with two long and disastrous wars of choice. Instead of selectively targeting al-Qaida for its 9/11 act of terror, the U.S. chose to invade Afghanistan, overthrow its government and attempt to impose a new national identity on it. This fool's errand will end in 2014 with the Taliban back in power.
The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 on the basis of false intelligence claims about weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida. It engaged in torture contrary to its own laws and international treaties it had signed.
The conclusion to be drawn is not that the U.S. is worse than other powerful nations. There is plenty to be proud of in American history (e.g. its revolution and its great achievements in science, technology and music).
But self-deception and jingoism should not be part of the case for national greatness.