Despite my conviction that the Obama administration has been generally unsuccessful, I have some respect for its apparent judgment that the United States should step back from its previous level of involvement all over the world. It does appear that the George W. Bush administration made a mistake getting into nation-building in the Middle East, and certainly in disbanding Iraq’s 400,000 soldiers and police and leaving them unemployed but in full possession of their arms and munitions. The resulting bloodbath was entirely foreseeable and was ultimately measured in the lives of thousands of American soldiers. The crusade for democracy that was simultaneously conducted in the name of assuring peaceful, popularly chosen governments gave us Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, which, notwithstanding the assurances of the New York Times that the assassins of Anwar Sadat are moderate social reformers, has sacked the military leadership and is effectively scrapping the peace agreement with Israel.
One thing that is needed — and it is disappointing that there has been so little activity in this area, given this administration’s unrequited enthusiasm for international organizations — is a universal definition of a failed state, both for the purposes of humanitarian assistance to such states and to prevent and stop the exportation of terrorism from them. That was essentially what needed to be done with Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in fact in the earlier provocations at Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — terrorist strikes to which the Clinton administration underreacted, effectively inviting escalation to the 9/11 outrages.
The United States has finally abandoned the Monroe Doctrine, which in its most robust formulation, under Theodore Roosevelt and a couple of his successors, claimed the U.S. had authority to intervene militarily anywhere it pleased in the Americas except Canada and the European Antilles and Guyana, for any reason it improvised. This is just as well, as the same Doctrine promised non-interference by the U.S. in Europe, and the U.S has been interfering on that continent continuously, generally by invitation, for 70 years; and the Monroe Doctrine was unable to keep the USSR completely out of the Americas after the rise of the Castros in 1959.
It is much wiser to allow these leftist regimes in South America to run their courses and become textbook cases of how to mismanage countries while trampling the rights of the inhabitants. There is no justification for the U.S. to become demonstrative about the Castro regime’s dependence on the sex-slavery business as an adjunct to tourism; or to counteract the inanities of President Evo Morales in Bolivia, who long claimed that McDonald’s outlets in his country were CIA stations; or to expose the oppressive buffooneries of Chàvez in Venezuela, or even the tired little Communist Sandinista junta playing post office in Nicaragua. As long as there is no threat to America’s security, there is no reason for the United States to be concerned. If Argentina’s President Kirchner, a very pallid mutation of Evita, wants to steal the people’s pensions and debase the currency while turning the national statistical agency into a fountain of lies, it is no concern of the United States (which does not now need any lessons on how to debase a currency). Now that most of the Latin Americans are fixated on economic growth, and most of them are enjoying it, it is time to return to the Roosevelt policy of the good neighbor; and apart from the regrettable fiasco in Honduras, where the Obama-Clinton administration appeared on the side of a far-left putsch against the democratic wishes of the country, it has done so.
In Western Europe, there is now no threat, as Russia could not possibly imagine an attack on it, conventional or nuclear, and would have to repossess a great deal of lost real estate before it even got its rickety forces to the Polish border. Unfortunately, President Obama appears to have accepted the spurious Russian claim of a right to a first-strike capability, solely as a fillip to Vladimir Putin’s overindulged ego, and he has watered down the proposed anti-missile defense system from being sited in Poland and the Czech Republic to sea-borne defenses in the Mediterranean, i.e., against Iran alone and not Russia. This is all part of the fiasco of the infamous “reset,” and it is incomprehensible what the president thinks he is doing in continuing to appease the troglodyte in the Kremlin. George W.’s preoccupation with “Vladimir’s rosary” and his religiosity generally was tiresome enough. But we used to worry about presidential candidates having their finger on the nuclear button; now this president can’t get his hand off the reset button even though it doesn’t seem to be connected to anything. In his lack of interest in Europe, Obama even referred to “Polish death camps,” meaning those erected there by the Nazis after Germany had brutally invaded and occupied Poland. It wasn’t a goodwill-builder in the land of Pulaski and Kościuszko.
The U.S. should help Europe to develop a proper missile defense, and then it could withdraw even more thoroughly from Europe than it has already, leaving mainly a naval presence in the Mediterranean. The United States doesn’t really perform any useful role anymore in the Middle East. This administration bought into the rubbish that Israeli settlements are the key to peace, even though the Bush administration had agreed on a policy with the Sharon government that Israeli settlements would expand in the West Bank only to accommodate population growth among families already there (and then Obama and Clinton tried to deny that any such agreement had been made). Israel demonstrated, in Sinai and in Gaza, that it would uproot settlers in a peace deal, and the Arabs have proved at every turn that land for peace is a formula that results in their irrevocable takeover of land from Israel in exchange for ceasefires they can break at any time, and that Hamas and Hezbollah do not observe at all. If the Arabs accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and stopped claiming a right of return for millions of so-called Palestinians — a migration that would inundate Israel with Arabs and reduce Jews to a minority in their official and internationally agreed homeland, and then drive them out or subjugate them yet again — peace could be arranged in 24 hours.
The American pressure on Mubarak, like the on-again-off-again pressure on Qaddafi until the French and British forced the issue, and the waffling over Syria, is no policy at all, and it is not discernible as a policy to anyone in the region. If the U.S. isn’t going to take any useful initiatives while it still can, it should content itself with being an armorer of the friendly states — as it is in providing extensive hardware to Israel, Bahrain, and Kuwait — and continue to withdraw. It could perform a useful role, but it’s not. The United States could do something sensible with the Syrians, by organizing the 88 members of the Friends of Syria, a group assembled by France that is rather diffuse and uncoordinated in its ostensible purpose of assisting the opposition. The U.S. could do enough to broker the end of Syria as an Iranian conduit to the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, but it isn’t.
As for Iran, the Obama-Clinton policies have enacted Richard Nixon’s 1970 concerns of America’s becoming “a pitiful helpless giant.” Sanctions on Iran are porous and ineffectual, as such sanctions always are, and the administration intervened when Congress voted for tight sanctions unanimously, in the greatest act of bipartisan national-security policy since voting on President Roosevelt’s war message after Pearl Harbor. Engagement, the whitewashing of the fraudulent Iranian elections, the waffling about a military option against Iran’s nuclear program, and the posturing with sanctions have all been a charade. If the U.S. can’t do better, it should stop pretending to do anything. The first hint of a solution was the recent “Enhanced Security Cooperation Act” that approved the sale to Israel of advanced ordnance and increased in-flight refueling capacity.
In the Far East, the combination of Japan, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps soon even Myanmar is perfectly capable of providing a counterweight to China, even allowing for pestilential and hyperactive mischief from Russia. Apart from providing anti-missile defenses against the North Koreans and the Chinese, and perhaps maintaining some Seventh Fleet presence to uphold the 1972 Shanghai agreement about Taiwan, to the extent the Taiwanese still even desire it, there is no need for the United States to do anything.
George Washington famously admonished his countrymen to form an indissoluble Union, assure its defense, and endow it with a strong currency and responsible treasury. The first two are in good order, but the fiscal condition of the country is dangerously enfeebled. Although some reduction in military spending is justified if the U.S. really is retrenching, it is a sign of decay when military capabilities are allowed to atrophy to fund entitlements for those who are not overly afflicted, which is this administration’s policy, as it effectively ignores the mountainous deficit and the need for entitlement reform. The greatest contribution the United States could make to international security now is to restore a strong currency, and renovate itself by rebuilding its uncompetitive education system, cleansing its corrupt legal system, tackling the anomalies of medical care, and acquiring a new sense of constructive national purpose based on something more than gluttonous consumption with borrowed money, rent-a-legislator bought elections, and the ravings of a commentariat largely composed of opinionated idiots of far right and left. It should become again a country that Norman Rockwell would like to paint.