It took almost three years of Jimmy Carter’s dangerously naive worldview before the world rushed in. By “rushed in,” I mean the Soviet Union rushed into Afghanistan, Iranian radicals rushed into the US Embassy in Tehran, and Cuban-backed communists rushed into every Central and South American country they could. These aggressions resulted from a world perception that Jimmy Carter was unwilling to use America’s arsenal for good. Additionally, following Vietnam and observing American culture, the world surmised that:
a. the US government could not be trusted to live up to defense commitments, and
b. the American people had gone weak.
In 1980, the USA showed spine by electing Ronald Reagan and a Republican Senate. Reagan reversed Carter’s internationalist and conciliatory approach to the world, establishing America as the world’s law and order. That assertion ultimately ended the Cold War by ending the Soviet Union.
In 1991, the United States asserted its ability to turn back aggression by lesser powers when it drove Iraq out of Kuwait in a week. President Bush made the terrible mistake of backing down instead of wiping out Saddam, but the mission was otherwise successful.
For the remainder of the 1990s, Americans were too pre-occupied with making more (paper) profits and buying larger houses. We thought that the world would run itself. When terrorists bombed the World Trade Center, the USS Cole, and US Embassies in Africa, we yawned.
Our ambivalence toward Islamic terrorism during this period emboldened al Qaeda to up the ante by using civilian airliners as weapons on September 11, 2001. The subsequent war on terror, though, exposed many American tendencies that earlier gave rise to the problems seen in the 1970s. We became tired of the war and of sacrifice. Many Americans—including many who began as full-throated champions of war in 2003—turned against it. Barack Obama’s entire foreign policy platform of 2008 came down to three planks: 1) get out of Iraq, 2) finish up Afghanistan, and 3) close Gitmo.
Once in office, Obama tried to implement those policies. But reality made his task difficult. His promise to close the terrorist detention camp in Guantanamo Bay has yet to be realized. His promise to be out of Iraq in 16 months may still be viable, but he hasn’t told us when those 16 months start. In Afghanistan, he took almost a year to make what should have been a 5-minute decision.
But our President has kept his promise to submit to the will of almost every foreign leader. He has bowed to kings and sheiks. One imagines he would kiss Kim Jong Il’s ring were the two ever in the same room. Barack Obama seems to enjoy shrinking before foreign leaders.
Obama has diminished American prestige, influence, and security.
Walter Russell Mead, writing in Foreign Policy earlier this year, asked a series of questions about the results of Obama’s policies:
It is not only Americans who will challenge the new American foreign policy. Will Russia and Iran respond to Obama's conciliatory approach with reciprocal concessions -- or, emboldened by what they interpret as American weakness and faltering willpower, will they keep pushing forward? Will the president's outreach to the moderate majority of Muslims around the world open an era of better understanding, or will the violent minority launch new attacks that undercut the president's standing at home? Will the president's inability to deliver all the Israeli concessions Arabs would like erode his credibility and contribute to even deeper levels of cynicism and alienation across the Middle East? Can the president execute an orderly reduction in the U.S. military stake in Iraq and Afghanistan without having hostile forces fill the power vacuum? Will Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez be so impressed with American restraint under Obama that he moderates his own course and ceases to make anti Yanquismo a pillar of his domestic and international policy? Will other countries heed the president's call to assume more international responsibility as the United States reduces its commitments -- or will they fail to fulfill their obligations as stakeholders in the international system?
While only time will tell, indicators are starting to point to a Carteresque end to the Obama era.
Mead points out that Obama continued to bow to Iran even as Iran’s regime tortured and raped protesters who asked only for American-style liberty. Obama has tried, repeatedly, to close Gitmo, but he has no answer to the question, “then what?”
In fact, that question seems to be the one he can never answer. Both his domestic and foreign policy lack a conclusion—at least one he’s willing to make public. His Katrina-like response to the Gulf oil spill, his vascilation over the surge in Afghanistan, his love-hate relationships with North Korea and Iran, his odd behavior toward Israel, and even his war against state governments all point to a man who never knew why he wanted to be president.
The bad news for Obama is that, while people sometimes underestimate strengths, they never miss spotting American weakness. Three events demonstrate that the world perceives Obama—and, thus, the United States—as weak and devoid of a strategy.
Kim Jong Il apparently ordered the North Korean Navy to open fire upon a South Korean warship. The theory goes that Kim needed to show some manliness to ensure his son gets the throne when the elder dies.
North Korea would not have committed an overt act of war against South Korea unless Kim Jong Il was 99 percent certain that Obama would constrain South Korea from retaliation.
Kim was right.
The US took weeks to make a statement. When the US government released its assessment, it do so through the Department of Defense, not State. And our retaliation? Joint naval exercise with South Korea—as if we don’t do that every summer, anyway.
North Korea now knows two things about Obama: 1) his response to provocation will be late, and 2) his response will be weak.
China has taken note, refusing to condemn North Korea. There reports that China will use its veto in the UN General Assembly to block any action against their fellow communists.
Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has played Obama the way Zamfir plays the pan-flute. After Obama famously announced he would happily sit down with Ahmadinejad without pre-conditions to talk like civilized men, Ahmadinejad ordered the rape and torture of political enemies, reiterated his intention to nuke Israel, double his country’s illegal uranium enrichment program, and cut the tags off of hundreds of mattresses.
It now appears that the Taliban or al Qaeda has upped the ante to WMDs against US forces in Afghanistan. Gateway Pundit reports that four or five American soldiers are being treated for respiratory illnesses brought on by chemical warfare agents. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense released a report detailing use of white phosphorous by Taliban fighters.
The Risk to America
The Obama administration is unraveling faster than anyone could have expected, and in ways that place the United States and the world in a dangerous position.
The world economy is on the brink of total collapse after two years of a miserable economy. Massive government debt has replaced massive private debt and threatens to explode all over the globe.
With a weak and indecisive American president who seems willing to let dictators run roughshod over the planet, the world will begin to look elsewhere for the safety and protection of strength and leadership.
But more important than American prestige, is the safety of American people. Barack Obama’s international apology tours have sent a signal that his country is fair game. By siding with illegal invaders over the state of Arizona, Obama has signaled that border defense is no longer Washington’s responsiblity. By kowtowing to brutal dictators, Obama has signaled an end to linkage between foreign policy of the US and internal policies of other nations.
Like it or not, we are stuck with Barack Obama until January 20, 2013. While we take satisfaction in defeating his domestic agenda of collectivizing the US economy and controlling the American people, we do not celebrate his collapse on the world stage. Obama’s inarticulate foreign policy, his absent strategy, and his bewildering apologies for American exceptionalism leave us all in a dangerous place.
It is up to us, the people, now, to assert America’s place in the world. We can to that best by insisting that Barack Obama set his socialistic domestic agenda aside and deal with the world that is about to crash his little, selfish party.