Mark Helprin, author, journalist, and military-affairs instructor, was being interviewed by Frank Gaffney, hawkish defense expert, when Helprin summed up in one sentence what I hear so many people say to me in coffee shops and after church and at the park and in the grocery store: “Everything that made us what we once were is under attack.”
Part of the attack is cultural, with radicals running our colleges, anti-competitive nonsense peddled in our elementary schools and playgrounds, filth dominating the entertainment industry, traditional faith sneered at (and increasingly disfavored by public policy), and the idea of American exceptionalism (along with appreciation for its constituent parts) denied from the Oval Office itself.
And our president — “a particularly virulent manifestation of this kind of ideology,” said Helprin — is leading the assault. Barack Obama acts lawlessly, makes choices alien to the American tradition, denigrates achievement, tramples religious liberty, encourages our borders to be massively and illegally overrun, and burdens us with unfathomable public debt. And, of particular and rightful interest to Gaffney and Helprin — even though too little of the public thinks it important — Obama has aggressively overseen what Gaffney called “the hollowing out of the United States military.”
Reductions in force, cancellations of weapons programs, and mistreatment of our armed personnel and veterans: All have been adjoined to a foreign policy that A) is usually feckless and B) on those few occasions when it is energetic, aggressively undermines traditional American interests and allies.
All of which has resulted, as we read recent headlines, in what might best be described (apologies to P. J. O’Rourke) as “all the trouble in the world.”
So, while our internal fabric is fraying, our national interests and our safety are suddenly under serious assault everywhere we look. Barack Obama threw away our victory in Iraq, for example, and most Americans do not yet realize just how serious a disaster is unfolding. With two major Iraqi cities having fallen not just to “insurgents” but to outright terrorists, there is serious risk that the government might fall to what one writer accurately called “the best-funded, best-equipped terror group in history.” What could ensue is not just massive instability in the region, but a witches’ brew of horrendous outcomes ranging from increased Iranian power to a regime of al-Qaeda allies who directly threaten Israel and harbor murderers planning terrorism against the United States.
Meanwhile, although most of the American media has moved on from concern with Vladimir Putin’s provocations in Ukraine, the horrors continue there, too. This, after Obama assured Putin’s diplomatic valet back in 2012 that he could provide “more flexibility” to Russia after he was reelected.
The Taliban rejoices about its “victory” in exchanging an American deserter for five vicious terrorists. Syria is a mess, with a terrorist-sponsoring, chemical-weapons-using dictator fighting against al-Qaeda allies while whatever “moderate” forces that once had hopes there are now nowhere to be seen. (“Red line,” indeed.) Afghanistan is rapidly being abandoned to the same fate as Iraq. Iran keeps developing nuclear capacity, and nuclear-armed Pakistan remains a haven for terrorists as well.
Al-Qaeda affiliates are ascendant in the African continent, including in a Libya left destabilized in part because a confused Obama dithered while Moammar Qaddafi’s regime hung by a thread. That Obama dithered even more, and maybe just slept, while an ambassador and three other Americans were killed there, and then led an administration-wide effort to lie about it and illegally withhold documents about it, provides a horrific coda to his original bumbling during the anti-Qaddafi uprising.
Egypt and Turkey, American allies for decades, now teeter on the edge of various forms of chaos. The Palestinians form a “unity government” without renouncing Hamas’s desire for what amounts to a new Jewish genocide — and Obama actually approves of the Hamas–Fatah accord!
And the problems aren’t confined to the “usual” trouble spots such as the Middle East and southwest Asia. Without much notice, Venezuela is also a total mess. American relations with Brazil and Mexico are problematic as well. Finally, across the Pacific, Obama certainly hasn’t done any better than any other president at handling North Korea, while China aggressively militarizes and rattles its saber.
The litany could continue. Not only is the Obama administration not taking the lead for American interests, and not only is it failing utterly at “leading from behind,” but the reality is even worse: Everywhere we look, the United States is getting kicked in the behind — and, perversely, sometimes Obama seems to relish it.
All of which means we may soon be backed into a corner, one from which we need a strong military in order to escape. (Senator Rand Paul, ye of the aggressively ignorant defense and diplomatic views, take note.)
But the United States Navy can boast only a decades-low 281 active ships, 37 fewer than we had before 9/11 and a whopping 313 fewer than the Reagan-era peak. Worse, the American capacity to ramp back up quickly, if needed, has seriously eroded. As Helprin told Gaffney: “Here’s the key factor: . . . We have, now, six major shipyards capable of building ships of the line, first-class warships. China has a hundred major shipyards [Helprin’s vocal emphasis]. . . . China has that capacity [to overwhelm the rest of the world in ship production], and we have abandoned ours — deliberately.”
Thus, America’s traditional strengths are terribly imperiled abroad while not just eroding, but being chipped away at, from within. Everything that made us what we once were is under attack. People feel it. They see it. They understand it. They fear it. And, in hushed tones, they talk about it.
This is the ongoing legacy of Barack Obama. The question is, as long as he is president, how do we stop it from happening?
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. Follow him on Twitter: @QuinHillyer.