The Road to Hell

Max Boot notices that although "President Obama’s State of the Union included the following pledge: 'Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.' What the speech didn’t include was any mention of the defense budget, which makes the above pledge ring hollow."

Kevin Baron at Defense One puts it another way. "President Barack Obama closed out his State of the Union address by attempting to define a new post-war standard that limits U.S. military intervention in global conflicts around the world but shows no sign of letting up chasing global terrorism." It is, in Baron's article a vision of "no more war but plenty of fighting."

War is no more. The lawyers have simply defined it out of existence. After all, if you don't go to Congress for authorization, where's the war? It is a condition of what used to be called strategic mindlessness. But this time it's a bug, not a feature.

It's not just Max Boot and Kevin Baron who've noticed that the cat has gone away. The rats know it too. Pyongyang is up to its old tricks. "North Korea has followed through on its threat to advance its nuclear weapons program, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday, while a research institute pointed to signs the communist country is preparing to launch bigger rockets."

In written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said North Korea has expanded the size of the uranium enrichment facility at the Nyongbyon nuclear complex and restarted a reactor that was used for plutonium production before it was shut down in 2007.

Damascus is also showing signs of backsliding. "Syria has given up less than five percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday."

The deliveries, in two shipments this month to the northern Syrian port of Latakia totaled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1433 metric tons of toxic agents reported by Damascus to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's not enough and there is no sign of more," one source briefed on the situation said.

Maybe Assad and Kim have lied. They've been known to do that. In the past the US would send over a carrier to remind them of their pledges. But alas, carriers are a scarce commodity these days and here's why: no money. "News reports indicate the U.S. Navy could eliminate one of its 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers starting in 2015. And according to one prominent naval writer, that single cut should be the beginning of a slow process of completely axing the giant ships from the American fleet."

“The nation must plan a graceful transition that stops building carriers, plans a path for those already built to see them through their service life and creates new means of operational effectiveness in the future,” Capt. Henry Hendrix, an historian and strategist, wrote in a 2013 study for the Center for a New American Security think tank.

The main reason is simple: money. Unless budgets increase, carriers somehow get cheaper or the Pentagon makes deep cuts elsewhere, the Navy cannot afford to maintain today’s 10-flattop force—to say nothing of the 11 carriers it’s required by law to have over the long term.

Even if its not the beginning of the end the Navy is now in what Breaking Defense described as a "carrier crunch".  Running what it has harder than before.

As demand rose, the Navy just kept extending planned deployments from the official seven-month standard to eight months or more.

“We’re averaging eight to 10 months” now, Adm. Bill Gortney told the Surface Navy Association two weeks ago, “and that’s not sustainable over the long haul.”

“The intent was to have a seven-month deployment in a 32-month cycle,” said Clark, the ex-Navy official. “Pretty much every carrier deployment has been eight months plus [and] we were deploying a lot of carriers twice in their 32-month cycle.”

That creates the perception that America is weak.

Recently the Turkish foreign minister suggested that al-Qaeda had secretly switched sides to Assad, a development which suggests the militant group now believes the Opthalmologist of Damascus will be the winner in Syria. "Last week Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu accused the Syrian regime and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) of being “in a partnership backstage,” a vaguely worded assertion that seems intentionally couched so that it can be read to imply an explicit partnership or an implicit alignment of interests."

Al-Qaeda may be crazy, but they're not stupid. They want to be on the winning side. And so apparently does Afghan president Karzai. The Daily Beast suggests that this American ally is behaving increasingly like a foe. "The escalating brazenness off Karzai’s anti-American rhetoric is indicative of the deterioration of US-Afghan relations since President Obama took office. US officials have leaked stories that Karzai is a drug addict and drug lord, his family is in bed with the Taliban, he is in the pay of the Iranian government and the CIA, and he has rigged elections. It is well known that top US officials, including Richard Holbrooke, were active in campaigning against Karzai in the 2009 presidential election."

Karzai 1: State Department:0.

But the administration assures us that all is well, whatever the appearances to the contrary. With reference to the effort to disarm Iran the Christian Science Monitor notes the administration is no longer using the word "dismantle" in that connection. "Tactical retreat? Obama dodges 'dismantlement' in State of the Union Iran comments".  Tactical retreat it might be, but an extraordinary constellation of US allies says it looks like the administration is bugging out. In response John Kerry said that "nothing could be further from the truth".

Senior officials in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel all have complained about what they view as an American retrenchment after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some leaders already beginning to chart policies more independent of Washington than in the past.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry sought to ease those concerns Friday, insisting in a foreign policy address during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that "it is a myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down.... Nothing could be further from the truth."

Still not everyone is convinced the administration is just readjusting the lines. Four former American ambassadors to the Ukraine signed a joint statement in the New York Times were very blunt. "Ukraine is on the verge of spinning out of control. A pro-European protest that began more than two months ago in Kiev's central square has flared into broad, angry opposition to the authoritarian policies of President Viktor F. Yanukovych. If the United States and European Union wish to encourage a peaceful resolution, they must use their leverage now. Otherwise the situation could degenerate further, to the point where the West will be no more than a spectator."

"No more than a spectator": a sad comedown for the administration of Barack Obama, who won that the Nobel Peace prize back in 2009, . If it's any comfort to the administration Norwegian legislators have just nominated Edward Snowden from the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, so maybe there's something of a curse inscribed on it. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

The administration has nominated 2014 as the "year of action". More likely it will be the Year of Consequences.  It would be wrong to think that president Obama is being stymied by the Republicans.  It is the feedback from reality he has to fear.


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