Pres. Barack Obama’s veto message of the Military Authorization Bill mentioned the controversial closure of Guantanomo’s terrorist facilities and the failure to achieve reform of systems acquisition and other issues. But critics charge it was largely an attempt to blackmail the Republicans in Congress into supporting his non-military expenditures which have come under fire from budget cutters.
Whatever the final outcome of this particularly bureaucratic hassle, nowhere in the swamp of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy snafu is the contradictions of policy so apparent as in Washington’s relation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization What has been the world’s most successful alliance is now in jeopardy, in part, of course, from new and difficult strategic and tactical circumstances of a rapidly fluctuating Europe and world geopolitical imbalance.
But an important part of the present disarray lies in the fundamental contradictions in Pres. Barak Obama’s basic approach to the whole international scene. Obama’s worldview consisted of a grossly oversimplified concept of American foreign overextension, particularly through its military, and a remedy existed in drastic and dramatic cutbacks in U.S. commitments – such as in Iraq – would be met with a similar response from antagonistic elements abroad. That simply has not proved out, neither with the forces of Islamic chaos and terrorism in the Middle East nor with Vladimir Putin’s drive to restore former Soviet glory as a superpower.
Rushing to meet Putin’s thrust in Ukraine, NATO alliance headquarters senior military now see it may have neglected its Mediterranean flank, a vulnerability they say and others see as laid bare by Russia’s muscular intervention in Syria.
Obama’s reluctant turnaround on meeting what he publicly underestimated as the threat of Daesh [ISIS, ISIL] in Syria and Iraq has been slow and ineffective. In fact, Daesh is rapidly attempting to lead terrorists throughout the Arab and Islamic world, however discordant the various Islamic terrorists evade unity..
After more than a year, the U.S. response has been only reluctantly meeting any of the challenges which the Obama worldview earlier refused to accept. As he said in his quintessential 2009 Cairo speech, Obama believed he could reverse antagonisms between Islam and the West. But it is now clear that the traditional radical strains of the Moslem faith are in the ascendancy throughout the Islamic world. A modest if totally inadequate bombing campaign against Daesh not only has failed to destroy it but even to halt its tactical victories in the region and, more frightening, curb its growing appeal to like-minded elements around the world. The flow of volunteers to it from the West as well as from other Moslem countries is a bitter testimony to this trend.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has publicly recognized its own strategic failings. He has announced Treaty delegates at a Dec. 1 meeting will take up the new strategic implications for the Alliance’s southern flank brought on by the Russian plunge into Syria. Increased surveillance and reconnaissance activities, deployments of NATO troops in advisory roles to crisis-hit countries across North Africa and the Middle East, and reinforced permanent NATO military deployments in the Mediterranean region are all on the agenda. Stoltenberg said, not surprisingly, that there were now “many threats to the South of the alliance” that had to be urgently met. Stoltenberg’s statement came as Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest war games in a decade was taking place in Spain.
Admiral John Richardson, the new U.S. chief of naval operations, had already acknowledged the new strategic situation by announcing he was considering sending more ships including submarines to deter what is generally considered in NATO circles, Moscow’s adventurism. Given the growing demands on the U.S. fleet, however much its gains in technology and firepower, make such deployments increasingly difficult.
But “[F]reedom of navigation [in the Mediterranean] is fundamentally important to NATO,” as General Adrian Bradshaw, NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander has said. “As we observe the deployment of more sophisticated [Russian] capabilities with considerable reach it becomes more and more important that we refresh our deterrence.” NATO advisers are already in Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia to bolster the alliance’s regional influence were ready to be sent to Libya as soon as a unity government was formed there.
The question now hanging over all these strategic and tactical concepts is whether the U.S. has the will, and will undertake a reversal of its drastic reduction in military force, to meet these challenges. They find their most dramatic exposition in the new demands made on NATO, but they have competitive demands in the growing aggressive actions of the Chinese in the Asian theaters. And the obvious questions are whether our European allies are prepared to meet the new challenge and whether the Obama Administration moves even more dramatically to reexamine its priorities.
* This commentary is posted on SWS website yeoldecrabb.com