The Obama Administration’s utter strategic confusion, particularly in foreign affairs, was nowhere more exhibited than in Sec. of Defense Ashton B. Carter’s recent statements at the Reagan Defense Forum. Irony was added to insult when Carter equated the Obama policies with those of Pres. Ronald Reagan.
How quickly it is forgotten that Reagan’s forthright stand against Soviet totalitarianism and Communist China’s tyranny was not only an object of derision by his critics at the time, but also by those like Carter who claim they are more sophisticated in their attitudes toward an acknowledged enemy. Luckily, for all the reasons we know, logical and illogical, Reagan won the hearts of the American people, their ballots, and he succeeded reversing earlier policies contributing to the final implosion of the Soviet Union and the death of Communism.
It is remarkable that in his remarks, Carter should identify exactly those elements of the Reagan strategy which are missing in the Obama Administration’s approach. For example, he says, quite accurately, that “[T]he Reagan era saw a generational revitalization of American defense strength.” But, in fact, the Obama Administration is retreating in the face of what he correctly labels: “Russia appears intent to play spoiler by flouting these principles and the international community. Meanwhile, China is a rising power, and growing more ambitious in its objectives and capabilities.”
Carter uses the usual artifice of saying he cannot discuss measures which the Obama Administration is taking to oppose what he calls “xxx most disturbing, Moscow’s nuclear saber-rattling raises questions about Russia’s leaders’ commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to the brandishing of nuclear weapons.”
But repeatedly the Obama Administration has challenged both Russia and China – whether in Syria or East Asia – and then retreated on announced positions. At the same time, while it is true that the American military is by far the strongest in the world, produced with budgetary commitments larger than the other major other world’s military combined, the Obama Administration is seeking to reduce that commitment.
It is, of course, true that the American public is weary. Two long and inconclusive wars in the Middle East have sapped the will to lead a worldwide alliance for peace and stability. But the role of leadership is not to adhere to momentary popular trends, but to undertake and sell politically the long term strategies and tactics necessary to maintain this country’s defenses, the first among all the roles of the commander-in-chief
Pres. Barak Obama campaigned on an ideology that the U.S. was overcommitted abroad, that American.policy had made too many mistakes in the past, that withdrawal was the most important element in his international strategy. He has followed that course. But whether in Cuba, in Ukraine and the Baltic States, or in the East and South China Sea, it is now abundantly clear that this effort to pull back on American power has not produced a lessening of pressure from our opponents or a more peaceful world.
In the final months of his presidency, Obama has been forced to change, reluctantly and incrementally, these policies. In the Middle East, the Administration is being forced to accelerate a modest effort to destroy Daesh [ISIS or ISIL], a barbarous attempt to create a worldwide aggressive Islamic caliphate. In the South China Sea, the preservation of a basic American goal from the beginning of the Republic, freedom of the seas, has been reluctantly upheld by challenging Beijing claims. But in neither case, have these measures had a forthright Reaganesque thrust. Nor will they, therefore, contrary to Carter’s plea for a more nuanced understanding of the complicated world situation [was it ever otherwise?], succeed.
* This commentary titled: Overintellectualizing by Underintellectuals was published on Nov. 9, 2015, on yeoldecrabb.com