Dithering Won't Keep the Peace
President Obama is driving a badly maintained car with defective brakes, no steering wheel and a stuck accelerator; he can't see the cliff up ahead because it's night and the headlights are broken too. He is in trouble. So are the rest of us, even the back seat passengers along for the ride.
Such a situation is not new. Well before the First World War began, the royal families of England, Belgium, Russia and Germany had strong familial relationships and had long exchanged intimate correspondence. Each was privy to the thoughts of each and the various ministers of state had similar information. (A highly readable account of the familial and other relationships is presented in Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August.) King Edward VII of England died in 1910 and his state funeral was attended by kings, heirs apparent, queens and lower dignitaries representing seventy nations. First among them was Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, wearing the uniform of a British field marshal and riding to the right of Britain's new king, George V. He was also the honorary colonel of the 1st Royal Dragoon, grandson of Queen Victoria ("the grandmother of Europe") and sixth in succession to the British throne. With such unity, what could possibly go wrong in those simple and easily understood times?
Kaiser Wilhelm had long despised King Edward -- "his mother's brother whom he could neither bully nor impress, whose fat figure cast a shadow between Germany and the sun [...]. 'You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!'" Above all else, Kaiser William craved great international respect and power for himself and for Germany -- and their rightful place in the sun. That did not augur well for the rest of Europe or for Britain.
The Schlieffen Plan for German conquest, beginning with the invasion of fastidiously neutral Belgium, had been completed in 1906. It was continuously and meticulously updated by his successors. Germany's intentions for the invasion of Belgium as the first move in its quest for domination had hardly been kept secret. The plans were ignored or glossed over, as would be Germany's intentions, in the years leading up to the world war.
Germany apparently did not much credit the prevailing notion that due to the rise of international business and general prosperity, likely to be destroyed by war, there would be no war at all. The First World War began in 1914, with the long-planned German invasion of Belgium, and ended in 1918 with Germany's defeat. Despite the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, Germany began to violate the treaty left and right by rearming. Civilian flying clubs were formed to evade the prohibitions on air force development; ships of tonnage expressly prohibited by the treaty were built by Germany while Britain reduced her tonnage in compliance with it.
In 1933, sixteen years after the end of World War I and six years before the start of World War II, the Oxford Union resolved "that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." According to Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm, "it was easy to laugh off such an episode in England, but in Germany, in Russia, in Italy, in Japan, the idea of a decadent, degenerate Britain took deep root and swayed many calculations."
Churchill notes that by 1934, German air power exceeded that of Britain and was growing more rapidly. In 1935, Germany announced the advent of compulsory military service. In April of 1935, the members of the League of Nations came out foursquare against treaty violations but made no threat of force should further such violations occur. They occurred frequently. The Treaty of Versailles was in tatters. That mattered little to a still largely pacifist nation, unwilling and unprepared to take the minimal risks then necessary to avoid far greater risks later.
The German plans were ignored or glossed over because they were too horrible to contemplate and did not fit with the prevailing pacifist mood. Then as now, confidence that all would somehow work out for the best was misplaced. In September of 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced to great acclaim that he had achieved "peace in our time" through concessions to Germany. He had not achieved peace; he had given Germany yet another year to continue preparing for her adventures, which were to be far more devastating and deadly than had been the First World War. Was Germany a "democracy" in 1938? If Clintonian language may be permitted, a lot depends on what is meant by "democracy."
Churchill had been a leading proponent of stopping Hitler before massive devastation would be required. As he noted in The Gathering storm:
We must regard as deeply blameworthy before history … [all British parties] during this fatal period. Delight in smooth-sounding platitudes, refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the State, genuine love of peace and pathetic belief that love can be its sole foundation . . . the strong and violent pacifism which at this time dominated the Labour-Socialist Party, the utter devotion of the Liberals to sentiment apart from reality . . . constituted a picture of British fatuity and fecklessness which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt, and, though free from wickedness or evil design, played a definite part in unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which even so far as they have unfolded, are already beyond comparison in human experience (emphasis added).
If he ever bothered to read about them, President Obama must think no more highly of Churchill's warnings than he did of the Churchill bust he returned to the English soon after he ascended to the Oval Office.
As the world explodes today in such places as the Arab lands -- problems in Algeria began recently -- and as the fuses are being set for explosions in Venezuela, North Korea, China and elsewhere, the United States is preparing to cut military spending while simultaneously introducing "social justice" reforms in the military and preparing to spend funds to get our troops ready to accept those reforms without excessively impairing combat effectiveness. Having already been given an anticipatory Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama evidently sees no need even to consider preserving the peace in the best way thus far found -- being alert while keeping the country strong and ready to defend peace and itself.
There was probably very little that President Obama could do in the days of violence immediately leading up to the Egyptian coup/presidential resignation and there is even less now. He can and will continue only to dither; the crisis has been wasted. However, the situation in Egypt did not hatch unheralded overnight; they do so infrequently. Action or even strong words supportive of the protesters in Iran, rather than neglect, conflicting mumblings and indecision might well have made the situation in Egypt easier to deal with. Ditto had the situation in Honduras been handled in an adult manner not very long ago. North Korea? Hu is dealing with that now? With a nearly flawless record of undirected dithering, future crises will be even less possible to manage. Conflicting and later countermanded statements were noticed early on by the mainstream media -- and by folks overseas as well; they pay attention. A clear path, rather than a muddy and muddled maze, for U.S. foreign policy should have emerged; it did not because under President Obama it could not.
More interested in salvaging the declining prospects of his domestic initiatives than in foreign affairs, President Obama's minions
fret that new instability in the Middle East could distract from the jobs and innovation message that the president started pushing in his State of the Union address; dim hopes for a breakthrough in the peace process; and, most worrisome of all, stall the economy if the revolutionary tsunami spreads to other Arabian states, driving up the price of oil.
“It’s just a very tough line to straddle,” a senior administration official said. “If [Mubarak] guts this out and stays, we’re going to continue to need him and work with him, and he might not appreciate that we pushed. Bottom line, Egypt’s destiny is Egypt’s to decide, and we’ll work with whoever emerges or is left standing.”
Moreover, administration officials confess that they are uncertain who should replace him.
“There’s no horse to bet on,” said a Democrat with intimate knowledge of the conversations. “There’s no opposition leader to get behind.”
And that's from a generally pro-Obama blog.
President Obama himself appears -- and probably not only to the politically aware in the United States -- to have little interest in foreign affairs beyond the opportunities they provide for trite phrases poorly concealing hypocrisy -- Iran, Honduras, Israel and now Egypt. Does President Obama really want President Mubarak to go, stay, do both, do neither, or something else? Probably something like that. Does he have any conception of what would be good for Egypt or the United States? It was observed in The Daily Beast as to Egypt that
the Obama White House hasn't helped matters by shifting policy ground almost daily, causing confusion, and thereby squandering America's credibility and limited but precious influence. President Obama has got to learn the fundamental rule of dealing with careening crises: State your basic principles and then shut up publicly! (Meaning, just boringly repeat your mantra daily.)
That's all well and good; however, a useful statement of "basic principles" requires that they exist and have valid bases in fact; dithering and vacillating as the winds blow are inadequate as basic principles. It did not help when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a widely televised House Intelligence Committee hearing on February 10 that the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” What was the Brotherhood's reaction to this? Iran's? They were likely disabled briefly by fits of laughter. Perhaps they recovered quickly enough to learn of the later "clarification" of Mr. Clapper's remarks. Throughout the crisis, the entire Obama administration was flummoxed as the situation was spinning out of control -- not that they at any time had it in control.
Secretary Clinton, meanwhile,
stressed the need for stronger U.S. diplomacy in global hot spots, saying Wednesday the recent developments in Egypt and the Middle East demonstrate the critical need for America's global leadership.
Speaking to an audience of nearly every American ambassador, Clinton referred to the unrest gripping the Arab world in emphasizing the importance of U.S. "civilian power." She said U.S. diplomacy needed to be more nimble, innovative and accountable than ever before.
Obama was Bush’s antithesis and defined himself as resetting everything that Bush had envisioned, clueless that that meant in Pavlovian fashion opposing all the good that Bush had done as well. He canceled support for Egyptian dissidents. He all but gave a green light for the theocrats to crush the Iranian dissidents. He was harder on Israel than on Syria. He was far more interested in either apologizing for the United States, trashing the Iraq war, or offering fairy stories about the Islamic roots of Western civilization than simply expressing support for consensual government in the Middle East.
President Obama "is a devotee of multiculturalism. He subscribes to the doctrine that all cultures are equal (except of course ours, which has so much for which to apologize)." Perhaps unfortunately, multiculturalism is not a major tenet of the Religion of Peace; apostates must die. If only Congressman West and his ilk would embrace multiculturalism and stop saying disrespectful things about the Religion of Peace everything would quickly get better. Then we could reset relations, as has been done so (un)successfully with Russia, and have a new START. Egypt may have its own weapons of mass destruction and be working on plutonium and uranium processing. How much would a treaty with Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood cost and how would it work out?
So three cheers for multiculturalism, recently rejected by England's new prime minister as well as by French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel. President Obama so desperately wants the (unrequited) love of our Islamic brethren; the beauties of the Religion of Peace, the Koran and Sharia law must not be considered or questioned seriously. Many in the United States once felt that way about Communism and Nazism, despite the equally clear writings of their proponents. It's far more comforting to believe what one wants to believe than the bitter revelations of one's lying eyes -- until unpleasant and surprising reality intrudes and it becomes too late.
President Obama is remarkable for his childish behavior and in many respects he appeared to have abdicated before President Mubarak finally got around to it; or perhaps Mrs. Obama Shanghaied him and he was out supervising school bake sales or helping her prepare for her next trip to India; or anything else to avoid blame for whatever happens on his watch. That must be only fair, because he doesn't pay much attention and everything comes as a big surprise; he is the president; it could not be his fault in any way! Could it?
If the country had no need for a president, that might be OK. Even Ethelread the Unready, a weak king, didn't appear to be quite that ready to abdicate. As observed in 1066 And All That (a terrific spoof of history),
Ethelread the Unready was called the Unready because he was never ready when the invading Danes were. Rather than wait for him the Danes used to fine large sums called Danegeld, for not being ready. But though they were always ready, the Danes had very bad memories and often used to forget that they had paid the Danegeld and come back for it almost before they had sailed away. By that time Ethelread was always unready again. Finally, Ethelread was taken completely unawares by his own death and was succeeded by Canute.
Militant Islam is a major threat yet we refuse to respond to it other than by paying the modern equivalent of Danegeld, giving money, talking sweetly and trying to make friends; they must understand that and respect him for it -- and by extension us for electing him. Surely, President Obama's masterful command of his mind and of language, his well received outreach programs designed to show the Islamic world that the United States is fair and desires only what they think may be best for them, coupled with the underoverwhelming respect accorded him by friends and even by those who don't much like him or us will prevail -- in a distant and very different universe. The solution is obvious: repeal reality; it's a distraction from President Obama's agenda, the Senate would probably go along and for our leaders to be burdened with it is a travesty.
A mild and appeasing heart effusively demonstrated by apologizing for one's own errors in the past and continuing sins of one's country has not gone over very well with those who seek to put the United States "in her place" at the foot of the mountain as they themselves struggle with each other to ascend to its summit. That sort of thing didn't work very well in avoiding World Wars I and II either. As Britain eventually learned when World War II approached and then began, appeasement provides a very poor "road map" for preserving peace unless peace is defined as being stomped to submission by one's enemies.
Can we buy peace and love? Much depends what we are trying to sell and on the salesman; peace and love are not free. Does the Salesman in Chief show disdain for the product offered in exchange for peace and love? President Obama has persistently done just that. Are our customers ready for it? Some are not. Have we let them down recently? Yes, we have. How good is the warranty? Not great. We probably can neither buy nor sell if we continuously demonstrate to our friends that we prefer the well being of our mutual enemies to their and our own well being. Reveal British nuclear secrets to Russia to get a treaty? Great idea. Which of our friends might have been missed? Throwing our friends under the nearest bus when that seems likely to appease our enemies does not promote strong ties of friendship -- with our alleged friends or with our enemies; they can probably anticipate what would happen should they be so foolish as to become our friends. President Obama seems unable even to make heads or tails of who our friends might be. Has he been told of Egypt's long and friendly relationship with North Korea, with which there is a long standing commercial relationship and from which Egypt buys missiles and other armaments? Who's next under the bus? Probably not Hu. Stability seems now to be the key, regardless of all else and regardless of whether the United States becomes increasingly irrelevant in the process.
President Obama seems to think that he knows far more about our enemies and potential customers, friend and foe, than he actually knows. Even when friends and enemies come from similar cultures (e.g. Germany in the years leading up to World Wars I and II), knowing their perspectives and what they intend to do in light of them is often difficult or the information is rejected as inconsistent with hope. When very different cultures, ideologies, religions and moral values are involved it can be and usually is an almost impossible intellectual exercise; interests, loves, hates and desires can not be fully or even reasonably well understood on a misty, multicultural intellectual plane alone.
The country is in a pickle and the situation will continue to deteriorate as long as the president remains consistently inconsistent and persistently unpersistent -- as he goes off in all directions, or none, and cares about little beyond getting another term in office to pursue his largely rejected domestic agenda.