As extrapolated from the last 20 minutes of Charlie Wilson's War and this Reason column, Obama has failed to introduced the appealing alternative of economic and social freedom to the people living under oppressive regimes. Destroying the enemy and using US resources to rebuild infrastructure were huge parts of defeating Communist Dictatorships, but building a belief in the concept of individual liberty is a crucial third component. Without it, fights against ideologies will not be completely successful.
American is uniquely positioned to do perform the third component. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in "Decline Is a Choice", American primacy - hegemony - is a necessary component for any sense of world security:
It's a simple premise, and one that follows Reason's argument that the important lessons of the Cold War, and 1989 in particular, are incompletely remembered. America must be able to step into a conflict with the understanding that America's government, social freedom, and economic freedom are the best thing the world has seen since Pax Romana. The presence, or projection, of American force can go as far as actually using American force. That projection or use of force backs up American ideals, which are the motivation for interfering in foreign affairs.
The very expectation that these concessions would yield results is puzzling. Thus, for example, the president is proposing radical reductions in nuclear weapons and presided over a Security Council meeting passing a resolution whose goal is universal nuclear disarmament, on the theory that unless the existing nuclear powers reduce their weaponry, they can never have the moral standing to demand that other states not go nuclear.
But whatever the merits of unilateral or even bilateral U.S.-Russian disarmament, the notion that it will lead to reciprocal gestures from the likes of Iran and North Korea is simply childish. They are seeking the bomb for reasons of power, prestige, intimidation, blackmail, and regime preservation. They don't give a whit about the level of nuclear arms among the great powers. Indeed, both Iran and North Korea launched their nuclear weapons ambitions in the 1980s and the 1990s--precisely when the United States and Russia were radically reducing their arsenals....
There is a reason that we are the only hegemon in modern history to have not immediately catalyzed the creation of a massive counter-hegemonic alliance--as occurred, for example, against Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany. There is a reason so many countries of the Pacific Rim and the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Latin America welcome our presence as balancer of power and guarantor of their freedom.
And that reason is simple: We are as benign a hegemon as the world has ever seen.
Either out of moral obligation (Rwanda, Bosnia, etc) or security reasons (Iraq, Afghanistan), the preservation of American ideals is at the forefront of the use of American force. This is not to say that American force backs up the arbitrary imposition of American government, culture or values on foreign territories. People clamor for involvement in Darfur not to spread American ideals. They clamor for involvement because what has happened in Darfur is incompatible with American ideals. The abuses and darkness in circumstances like Kosovo are so egregious that, even though they do not directly affect America's interests, not to intervene would undermine American credibility. Essentially, as Krauthammer puts it, America is exceptional because its ideals are the best the world has to offer, and America polices the world without expecting anything in return but its own safety.
However, some people read the word hegemon and stop there. Krauthammer did not intend it to be read in the pejorative sense, but the NYT was quick to find people who read Krauthammer has bloodthirsty and war-mongering:
Joe Klein, Time: Barack Obama would probably argue — as would most foreign policy centrists — that the goal of his foreign policy would be to make the United States dominant in a more effective way: at the center of multilateral efforts to bring international miscreants under control. He goes on to list a number of ways this works: military coalitions, UN sanctions, etc. Except that the coalition disappeared in Afghanistan when people forget about the security threat posed by the people who ran that country, enabling and harboring terrorists. For effectiveness of UN sanctions, look at Hussein's cooperation throughout the 90s and early 2000s - there was none - and look at Iran's nuclear development program. Sanctions are temporarily effective at best.
More Klein: [Krauthammer] wants us to be more brutal, more like other historically powerful countries, more like the Russians in Afghanistan or the British in Mesopotamia. This is totally dishonest. Krauthammer never advocates using arbitrary force. He promotes relying more on the projection of force to intimidate repressive leaders into reforms. He also couples that with the idea that America has to bring ideas to fight against ideologies. The ideas that will appeal to people living under repressive regimes come from American ideals of individual liberty.
Klein jumps on Krauthammer for referring to Iraq as a prize being squandered by Obama, calling Krauthammer imperialistic. Krauthammer referred to Iraq as a prize to underscore the preciousness of what came out of a hellish situation. What could have been a total loss after three years of American blood and resources turned into a potentially viable, stable regime after 2007. This is a prize - totally unexpected, completely precious. Prize does not equal trophy. Iraq is certainly not a trophy, nor a shining example of well-thought military intervention. But in it's current condition, at the nascent stages of stability, it is a prize to the world.
The NYT then goes on to extensively quote a rebuttal from Yglesias at Think Progress, who further (deliberately) misreads Krauthammer. They read American hegemony as equivalent to American arrogance. They talk about it like modern liberals are the only ones who can see the negatives to American hegemony: the resources and lives America spends because of it. They act as if conservatives speak of this plan with no reluctance. Of course there is reluctance. There are other things at home that could be accomplished rather than expending energy around the globe. But the price of that is having to rely on hostile government to be considerate of a global balance that doesn't exist, and having a multipolar power structure where no country wants to expend their resources to solve the problem. Multipolarity exists in the form of the UN, and it doesn't work.
Krauthammer's hegemony isn't an imperialistic vision. It's really just a continuation of countering oppressive regimes who threaten American security with force and freedom, and the intervention in circumstances (genocide) where a lack of involvement (America doesn't just jump in for fun; it jumps in because it's the only one that will) is incompatible with American ideals.
It's understanding that unstable regimes (Iran and Russia) will act irrationally, out of self-interest, and without regard for other countries' interests because they don't see the world harmony that Barack Obama envisions. They don't share that vision because they still believe in domination of people and resources. The US never has believed in those things. They have believed in self-determination for sovereign countries (Woodrow Wilson), individual liberty for all people (Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush), and international security (Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Clinton, Bush).
The basic premise of the Reason column and Krauthammer's piece is that American force (projected or used) coupled with the rational ideas (economic freedom, social freedom) America can offer as an alternative to barbaric ideologues is a recipe that America used for most of the 20th century in a bipolar world and should continue to use in a unipolar world. Until another country (likely Australia or a Western European democracy) is ready to step up and share the power and ideals of America, there is no reason that America should give up the role of hegemon. The world would be a darker place for it.