January 30, 2013
The New American Weakness
A few recent posts by Richard Fernandez on his Belmont Club blog remind me of how weak America is perceived under Barack Obama and how bad things are likely to get.
What eludes his defenders is that overall military strength is irrelevant. Talk of how we supposedly spend more on our military than everyone else combined (which I talk about here) misses the point. What nations and non-state actors consider is whether we will respond at all, and if we do what we will do. Power is irrelevant if you don't use it.
Consider this if you don't believe me:
Hackers have taken over the website of the sentencing commission of the Department of Justice and gleefully distributed confidential material found on it. Now they have posted it to servers and will release the encryption keys unless the administration yields to its demands.
Iran, a third rate power, contemptuously assuming a tone that once only America could use, has just announced it "would consider any attack on Syria an attack on itself". It is daring Washington to try to overthrow Syria, daring Obama to take it on almost as if it suspects he will never attempt it.
North Korea, not content with threatening to target the US with its ballistic missiles, is now threatening South Korea. If young Kim fears Obama he is not showing it.
The US government has gone months without catching a single individual linked to the attack on its North African diplomatic installations. ...
President Obama is anxious to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, eager to end campaign he once called the war of necessity whether victorious or not. Indeed the word "victory" has been expunged from his lexicon. His aides have already hinted that the war against al-Qaeda is now essentially over whoever won....
It is a vacuum everywhere. The US government is being treated like a toothless, contemptible thing. It is easy to see why. The US government has been bankrupt for a long time. Obama's home state of Illinois has had its credit rating trashed to the worst in the country.
Of course there's a vacuum: "Leading from behind" is designed to create one, whether it's authors know it or not. And it is the actions of the Obama Administration that have let to our being treated as toothless and contemptible.
What Fernandez didn't mention is that a neo-terrorist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, has taken over the most populous nation in the Middle East. No one knows where it will all lead, but at least for now the bad guys are in charge. And in a move almost designed to show that we approve of the new regime, the Obama Administration is giving - free of charge - F-16s and Abrams main battle tanks to the new government.
Think the situation in the Middle East can't get worse? Saudi Arabia could be the next domino to fall to the Islamists. As described in the link, the country is a "house of cards" full of radicals and governed by a gerontocracy that makes the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union look like a bunch of teenagers. Money oil, and radicals. What could go wrong?
The U.S. could live without Saudi oil, but Europe, China, India, and Japan couldn't. Imagine a cut off of that oil and the chaos that would create. We could have multiple military interventions that would make the Eight-Nation Alliance that went into China during the Boxer Rebellion look like child's play.
I always thought that if we stuck it out in Iraq we'd come out ahead, and I think that events will show I was right. Fernandez elaborates on why:
An American force in Iraq could indirectly cast its shadow on Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. But a decision was made to reverse the position entirely; to put America's ground force in Afghanistan where it was landlocked by Pakistan, Russia, and Iran. From surrounding them America went to being surrounded.
As for successor regimes, well that's the point isn't it? Obama pulled out without ensuring a successor regime in Iraq. He didn't even think he needed one for Libya. And as for Afghanistan, talks are under way with the successor regime. It is the Taliban. What is the successor regime for Syria and who will ensure it?
Japan and Germany were occupied for 10 years following the Second World War until a successor regime was good and emplaced. This was the standard method for stabilizing a country for all of the Cold War -- until Obama decided he could up stakes and try something new.
Maliki could have been our Shi'ite. And if we didn't like it we could have changed him with the means at hand. But where are the means. I would be pro-Teheran if I were Maliki. What consequences need I fear? Iran is right across the border and America is -- where?
We're nowhere, that's where. Oh technically we're in the region, but everyone knows we have no will do do anything.
I don't have time to find the links but I know I said time and time again on this blog that an American force in Iraq, coupled with an even halfway friendly country, would be a huge influence for the better in the region. And I also know I said a zillion times that it takes years to get it all put in place and get it right and that you'll stumble several times along the way... but like Japan and Germany it would be worth it.
Where it it all headed? Mark Steyn is right when he says we're not going to collapse all at once, or be conquered in some grand battle, but rather we're on a long slow slide to bankruptcy, decline and irrelevancy. Fernandez puts it this way:
It's heading, perceptibly now toward a total system failure. What happens when health care premiums triple as they are reported to be heading that way? At some point there are too many irons in the fire and some of them melt.
There's no closure. Everything is fake, even the singing of the national anthem. There's an initiative a week and nothing comes of the initiatives of the last week. Reality has imitated art. The pillars are now truly styrofoam and the greek god addressing the assembled heroes may just standing in front of a cardboard temple.
This is horrible. Of course things won't fall apart quite so abruptly. There's a lot of ruin in a country. But how much longer can it go on?
Sure, as Fernandez goes on to say, no one is going to invade the U.S. and occupy us, but that's not the point. Rather, the perception of American weakness will make everything we try to do more costly. People/nations will stop listening to us or paying attention to our carriers. The dollar will become just one more currency, which will hurt American businesses and thus our economy. And the world will become a more dangerous place.
And Obama, with his soon-to-be secretary of defense Chuck Hagel, will no doubt cut defense even more. What could go wrong?
But all of this is ok to American liberals, because we have unlimited abortion, free contraception, universal healthcare, and gay marriage! And now we're going to get rid of the scary looking guns!
Posted by Tom at January 30, 2013 8:44 PM
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The perfect example of this new American weakness is the rapidly deteriorating situation in North Africa. We led from behind in Libya and now the entire region is awash with weapons in the hands of radicals. They saw that the Obama Administration did nothing when our consulate in Benghazi was attacked and the Ambassador and three Americans killed so they struck again in Algeria and are rapidly spreading war across the region.
I thought the September 11th attack in Benghazi would wake people up to what is going on but the media refused to demand answers and wouldn't even report the questions we were asking.
I fear now that we are only a short time away from some very grave consequences of American weakness. Whether that has something to do with Iran, North Korea, Africa or here in the U.S. isn't clear. What is clear is that our enemies are emboldened and you can't blame it on George W. Bush.
Posted by: Mike's America at February 3, 2013 12:25 AM
I wonder how long it will be before the undeniable reaping of the whirlwind.
Posted by: Always On Watch at February 3, 2013 1:50 PM
Hello, my first posting for a while. But I still read regularly ;)
I think it is very difficult to calculate America's perceived strength or weakness in the world, so difficult that maybe it is pointless to even speculate.
Not everything that happens in the world is caused by changes in US policy. Did Bush or Obama policies cause the so-called "Arab Spring" revolutions, for example? Surely not in any direct sense. Even if you want to partially credit/blame Bush/Obama for bringing this about, and have a theory to back it up, a lot of other factors were clearly at work. In any given President's term in office you could easily cherry pick particular events and link them to a decline/increase in America's perceived strength/virtue/credibility. But correlation is not the same as causation.
Secondly, whose perceptions are we talking about here? Many US conservatives obviously perceive American decline, however measured - and they blame Obama for it. But that doesn't prove that militant Islamists, or the Iranian or Chinese governments, share your perception. Unless you have a direct quote from these guys saying: "it's because of Obama that we feel emboldened to do X and Y", or at least some kind of evidence that casts light on their motives, then what is this but empty speculation? Or worse: a projection of your perception of Obama onto them, as a flimsy attempt to explain their behaviour?
Also: any thoughts on Burma? The Obama administration has clearly taken quite a gamble in engaging with the dictatorial regime there. It is too early to say whether it will pay off or not, though so far it seems quite promising. At this early stage (without the benefit of hindsight) would you care to say whether you approve of their policy or not?
Posted by: Mylne Karimov at February 4, 2013 5:02 AM
Thanks for stopping by. A few quick thoughts
Certainly much happens outside of U.S. influence. But we do have greater influence than any other single entity, and I think we ought to use it where we can to advance American interests and bring about a greater good.
We didn't cause the so-called Arab Spring (not turning into a nightmare) but we could have had more influence over it's course than we do now, and we could have had this influence mostly by... trying.
Obama has been weak all over the globe, and there are really a finite number of examples of countries that threaten us and/or our influence to choose from anyway. Egypt, the Israel-Palestinian situation, Iran, China, Russia, those are our threats and/or competitors and Obama has demonstrated nothing but weakness with each of them.
Burma is at the periphery of American interests, and what happens there doesn't affect us very much. As such I haven't really followed administration policy with regard to that country. If Obama has done well there fine, but it would be far more helpful if he would show some leadership with regard to the Middle East, China, and Russia. It's easy to "do something" when the stakes are nil.
Posted by: The Redhunter at February 5, 2013 8:51 PM
Thanks for your reply Tom. I don't think you really engaged with my point that "perception" is subjective. Even in the US there is wide disagreement - conservatives perceive Obama as weak, many democrats perceive him as restoring US credibility and moral authority, and some (like Glebn Greenwald) perceive him as continuing an unaccountable Bush-era counter-terrorism strategy. My point is not to say which is correct; just to point put that perception is subjective. It's easy to speculate - but hard to know - how America's enemies perceive Obama, or whether it impacts on their decisions significantly.
Re: Burma, I think that if you take China seriously as a strategic threat, then there is definitely something at stake there. Burma has historically been one of China's key allies, providing access to the Indian Ocean for oil. If containment of China's rise is a US foreign policy goal, then engaging with Burma to change it from a pro-China dictatorship to a pro-Western democracy could bring huge strategic dividends..
Posted by: Mulberry Karimov at February 5, 2013 10:25 PM
Well... I am well aware that peoples/nations/cultures/civilizations around the world have different perceptions of history, reality, politics, right and wrong, etc. But just as some civilizations have better and more healthy values and cultural traits than others, so it is that some perceptions are right and some are wrong. I'm aware that peoples can select a different set of facts from which to form a perception, interpret events differently, all that. To say it's all "subjective" seems to drive into moral relativism and/or saying that all perceptions are valid. Anyway that's my quick .02. Maybe I'm not quite seeing what you're driving at though.
Posted by: The Redhunter at February 11, 2013 8:37 PM
I reread this post in the wake of the North Korea nuke test. Things are moving right on schedule towards that long slow slide into darkness.
I want to just repeat the words from above that are so very true:
"There's an initiative a week and nothing comes of the initiatives of the last week. Reality has imitated art. The pillars are now truly styrofoam and the greek god addressing the assembled heroes may just standing in front of a cardboard temple."
Posted by: Mike's America at February 12, 2013 8:42 PM