Shy and Retiring America
A perfect storm of events is eroding the perception of American deterrence—and the world will shortly become an even scarier place. The fiscal crisis has cast doubt on the government’s ability to act forcefully, especially the president’s emasculation during the entire process. These perceptions, of course, pale in consideration to the reality of out of control spending the first three years of the Obama administration that added almost $5 trillion to the U.S. debt and is both humiliating America and questioning whether it can still pay for its enormous military. Almost every day, we are borrowing $4 billion, enough to build a new fleet aircraft carrier (and, of course, are not building aircraft carriers with such daily deficits as we did in World War II).
Instead, defense spending is seen by the administration as the preferred target for cutting, especially in comparison to entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That sometimes 18- and 19-year olds learn more in the military on a flight deck than taking 6-units of -studies courses per semester for 7 years on federal grants is near libel. No matter—defense is going to be cut and the perception that it is going to be cut will be almost as important as from where exactly the ships and planes are withdrawn.
Enemies as Friends, Friends as Enemies
But more importantly, the Obama administration, in four or five key instances, has signaled to the world that there are no advantages to being a nonjudgmental U.S. ally, and no downside to being an outspoken American enemy. Who has been more often on the receiving end of U.S. lectures—Netanyahu or Abbas? Eastern Europeans or Russia? Who has been the recipient of U.S. outreach? Iran or Israel? Syria or Egypt? It would be far better to be a totalitarian police state that practices institutionalized murder than a pro-American kleptocratic autocracy, at least as seen in the differing attitudes accorded a Tunisia in comparison to Syria and Iran. This administration has a bad habit of calibrating a regime’s authenticity and legitimacy by the degree of its expressed anti-Americanism between 2001-8.
In addition, to the extent that we use military force, it will be haphazard and questions of quitting will trump those of winning. International organizations—whether the Arab League or the United Nations—will win deference that neither the U.S. Congress nor American allies enjoy.
We see our fourth ground commander in Afghanistan, a war that was once deemed the “good” one by Obama—who ignored it for his first four months in office, then meditated for months on a surge, then escalated, and now talks of withdrawal. Obama can explain to us what victory won’t look like, but not what it might look like. In Iraq, he left the Bush-Petraeus withdrawal plan in place—ignoring his own demands as a senator that all troops should have been out by March 2008, then by the end of 2008, then by the end of 2009, and so on. But such allegiance to stabilizing Iraq is nullified by his serial denunciations that the removal of Saddam and fostering subsequent democracy—today the only real functioning Arab democracy—was a terrible mistake.
Libya is a mess—no mission, no methodology, no outcome. The rebels are who—Islamists, incompetent reformers, Westernized intellectuals, students, terrorists? Who knows? They seem only united in hating Gaddafi’s black African mercenaries and wanting to kill them all. “Leading from behind” was supposed to be a correction for admittedly costly and thankless “leading from the front” in past wars; but we can see now that when America does not lead, the Euros sputter, bicker, and now are divided and about to quit Libya.
Obama has done the almost impossible: he is losing a war to a country on the Mediterranean with less than 7 million people, and an almost perfect topography, weather, and location for NATO air operations. World War II American Liberators and B-17s on bombing runs from Sicily would have been more effective than Anglo-French jets. All that can be said for the mess is that Obama seems to have wanted to embarrass the usually parasitic, ankle-biting Europeans, and at least accomplished that—at the expense of Western military prestige. (The only thing worse than fighting a needless war against a savage weak regime is losing it to a savage weak regime.)
Is Guantanamo Open or Virtually Closed?
Obama confused the world about American anti-terrorism protocols. As a demagogic senator and candidate, he spent three years damning them as both ineffective and anti-American, and then embraced them all. But no one knows to what degree Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventative detention, wiretaps, intercepts, and Predators are still Bush-Cheney war crimes or valuable American tools that will persist. If you engage in them, are you a patriotic overseas contingency operations fighter, or a future war criminal to be brought up later on charges by Eric Holder? Will those, who once sued on behalf of Guantanamo detainees, and now in government sue to justify Predator targeted assassinations—soon once again out of government sue on behalf of Guantanamo detainees? Was KSM virtually tried in New York in the fashion that Guantanamo was virtually closed (“virtually” defined as media agreement that Obama’s wishing to do the liberal thing is better than actually doing it).