Politics & Policy

Obama’s Undiplomacy

President Obama delivers remarks in Cartagena, Colombia.
Community-organizing skills don’t cut it on the world stage.

Most of the criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy concerns the failure of “reset diplomacy,” the inability to deal with Iran or North Korea, or the sense that we are ignoring allies and appeasing enemies.

All true. But under the radar, there are several developments that are far more disturbing than we seem to realize.

Take the RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone that went down in Iran in December 2011. The U.S. chose neither to attempt to retrieve it nor to bomb the wreckage. Why? Who knows? But it seems that, as in the case of the administration’s silence when Iranians hit the streets in protest during the spring of 2009, Obama was worried about provoking an Iranian response. Although Iran brags that it will reverse-engineer the drone, it is not likely to actually do so. However, it will very probably sell off key components to the Chinese and the Russians, who will duplicate it or at least find far more effective ways to neutralize its use.

#ad#Most recently, during a Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, Barack Obama weighed in on the Falklands in a fashion that was both offensive and ignorant: “And in terms of the Maldives or the Falklands, whatever your preferred term, our position on this is that we are going to remain neutral. We have good relations with both Argentina and Great Britain, and we are looking forward to them being able to continue to dialogue on this issue. But this is not something that we typically intervene in.”

Almost everything in that statement was false or dangerous. Aside from the 57-state-type error of Maldives for Malvinas, the U.S. does not look forward to “dialogue” on the issue, but rather avoids it like the plague. And in the past, we were not neutral but eventually intervened with massive clandestine support for Great Britain, a NATO ally. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had previously used the term Malvinas, which is a sort of Argentine equivalent of “the Zionist entity” — a bankrupt construct loaded with cultural and political significance. Obama should know that the more he uses that term (or trills some sort of M-word for an archipelago somewhere on the map), the more likely it is that there will be an Argentine effort to replicate the 1982 attack, especially as the Peronist Kirchner regime seeks foreign scapegoats (cf. the recent nationalization of the Spanish oil firm Repsol’s stake in an Argentine company), and the British loudly reduce their military forces. Fears of massive American logistical and intelligence support for Great Britain alone keep the Argentinians guessing, and by extension not trying something as stupid as replaying the 1982 invasion.

The problem is not just that Obama has no knowledge of geography, but that he has none either about history or diplomacy. The Falklands, a windswept, lightly populated group of islands with a history of sparse European settlement, never fit the so-called colonialist model of oppression of indigenous peoples. The isolated and barren islands were always disputed by European powers, and are as much British as Guam is American. More importantly, Britain has fought side by side with the U.S. — after a past century of solidarity — in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet Obama insidiously is eroding that relationship by a gratuitous and uninformed effort at politically correct multiculturalism.

Then there is the talk of unilaterally downsizing our strategic arsenal, perhaps even to 1950s levels of 300 to 500 deployable nuclear weapons. In utopia that sounds noble, but with North Korea now nuclear, and Iran about to be, the number of rogue states that do not play by the rules of the nuclear club is growing, not shrinking. If we were to downsize our arsenal so radically, America would be on par with lesser powers like China, India, and Pakistan, which do not have global deterrent responsibilities. Obama seems indifferent to the fact that sophisticated Free World countries that could make nuclear weapons as they do Hondas or BMWs — Japan, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and most of Western Europe — depend on the vast size of the U.S. nuclear umbrella for their own strategic security.

#page#In theory, 1,500 to 2,000 instantly deployable nuclear weapons might seem overkill; in fact, their numbers assure our allies that we have ample power to allot a strategic deterrent to each of their needs, even at times of simultaneous regional crises. Draw down to a level of 300 to 500 nuclear weapons, and the comparative profile of a Pakistan or an Iran will rise, our allies will eventually ponder going nuclear, and the global influence of the U.S. will wane. Such disarmament pipedreams are no longer the stuff of college essays, but a life-and-death matter affecting billions of people around the globe.

The administration has also quite publicly announced a shift in U.S. strategic attention to the Pacific, apparently on the premise of a rising China and a quiescent Europe and Mediterranean. Aside from the fact that Europe’s southern coast lies at the intersection of three continents, and is critical for operations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, now is not the time for our first “Pacific” president to announce a drawdown in our European forces.

#ad#Historical pressures, well apart from Putinism in Russia, are coming to the fore on the continent — pressures that were long suppressed by the aberrations of World War II, the Cold War, the division of Germany, and the rise of the EU. The so-called “German problem” — the tendency of Germany quite naturally at some point to translate its innate dynamic economic prowess into political, cultural, and above all military superiority — did not vanish simply because a postmodern EU announced that it had transcended human nature and its membership would no longer be susceptible to ancient Thucydidean nationalist passions like honor, fear, or self-interest.

If you have doubts on that, just review current German and southern-European newspapers, where commentary sounds more likely to belong in 1938 than in 2012. The catastrophe of the EU has not been avoided by ad hoc bandaging — it is still on the near horizon. Now is the time to reassure Germany that a strong American-led NATO eliminates any need for German rearmament, and that historical oddities (why is France nuclear, while a far stronger Germany is not?) are not odd at all. In short, as the EU unravels, and anti-Germany hysteria waxes among its debtors, while ancient German resentments build, it would be insane to abdicate the postwar transatlantic leadership we have provided for nearly 70 years.

There is a pattern here in all these recent missteps, one of hesitancy, moral confusion, and naïveté. To the extent that Obama knows history, it is a boilerplate one of European and American culpability. To the extent that he is interested in human nature, he holds a therapeutic belief that rhetoric and good intentions, not preparedness, resolve, and deterrence, impress rivals. To the extent that he understands geopolitics, it is of the juvenile multicultural sort, in which hostile nuclear powers, traditional enemies, and troublesome neutrals are either not much worse than or morally equivalent to long-standing allies and friends.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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