Politics & Policy

Sizing America Up

(Pool Image/Getty)
In today’s foreign-relations climate, even a Jimmy Carter would seem like a godsend.

A weak, lame-duck Barack Obama, who has now eroded a once exuberant Democratic party, will be even weaker in the next two years.

If Democratic senators who had been his stalwart supporters — voting with him over 97 percent of the time — campaigned on not wanting any connection with Obama, one can imagine what our enemies abroad think of him. If Obama adopted policies of neo-appeasement when he enjoyed a 65 percent approval rating in 2009, one can imagine his approach when his positives dip below 40 percent. But there is no need for imagination when Ali Younesi, the senior adviser to the Iranian president, bluntly dismisses Obama as “the weakest of U.S. presidents” and sums up his six years in office as “humiliating.”

What is dangerous about Younesi’s cruel dismissal of Obama is not that an Iranian high official despises an American president, but that such venom follows an extraordinary effort by Barack Obama to reach out to Tehran. Obama ran in 2008 on a promise to hold face-to-face talks with the Iranian theocracy. He kept mum in the spring of 2009 when a million anti-Khomeini Iranians hit the streets. He leaked occasional unhappiness at any Israeli idea of preempting the Iranian nuclear program. He ignored his own serial “deadlines,” demanding that Iran stop further uranium enrichment. He lifted the comprehensive sanctions to stop enrichment. And he is now stealthily courting Iran as a de facto ally in the American war against the Islamic State.

Given Obama’s ending of the special relationship with Israel (has a high Obama-administration official ever dubbed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Vladimir Putin, or Kim Jong-un “a chickens—” or trashed any of them in an open-mike putdown?), there is little likelihood that any state will move to preempt the Iranians’ effort to develop a bomb (for the politically obsessed Obama there would be no political upside any longer, given that after today there will be no more general elections during his tenure).

Accordingly, it is more than likely that in the next two years Iran will become a nuclear power. That fact will immediately change the Middle East. Iran’s getting a bomb will ensure that Iraq and Lebanon become its clients, encourage radical Shiite movements in the Gulf, and push Gulf monarchies and other Sunni “moderates” into even more openly supporting radical terrorist Sunni groups, as they pool resources to obtain their own nuclear deterrent.

By deliberately having a high administration official leak disparaging slurs against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — from slandering the war veteran as “a chickens—” to claiming that he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome (in the spirit of the president’s earlier joke about the Special Olympics) — the Obama administration is green-lighting more Palestinian adventurism in the Middle East. Just as our special relationship with Recep Erdogan encouraged Turkey to whip up hostility, so too the constant harangue against Israel will convince militants that another intifada or rocket barrage against Israel is tacitly not opposed by the Obama administration. After all, if two high officials can, without consequences, smear Netanyahu to a useful journalist, why would not radical Palestinians believe that with a wink and a nod the Obama administration is supporting their “cause” against a supposedly cowardly and autistic Israel?

By cutting defense expenditures to a projected level below 3 percent of GDP, while demonstrating his lack of interest in NATO, Obama has all but ended the alliance. When Americans spend less than 3 percent on defense, then the Europeans will assume that they can regress to 1 percent.

Our special relationship with Recep Erdogan’s Islamist Turkey has been all one-way. Turkey no longer extends its bases for joint American-Turkish contingencies, but it has invoked Article IV of the NATO charter three of the four times it has been used. Any war that Turkey might find itself in, whether real or rhetorical, against Greece, Greek Cyprus, Armenia, the Kurds, or Israel would find most Americans sympathizing with Turkey’s enemies. No American would wish to die on behalf of an Islamist Turkey crushing weaker and mostly pro-Western peoples.

Privately, NATO members must hope that if Vladimir Putin moves against the Baltic States, none of the bullied will cite Article V. If they did, the call probably would not be honored, at least to any great degree, which would lead to the formal end of NATO. Indeed, NATO’s future is more in Putin’s hands than in Obama’s.

The new triangulation with Putin by once staunchly pro-Western nations in Eastern Europe is a reminder that friendship with Putin is preferable to neglect from Obama. The Eastern Europeans provide a blueprint of what to expect of our Pacific allies. An increasingly aggressive China will take the role of Putin, assuming that such a window of opportunity for profitable aggrandizement may not open again. Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and perhaps even Australia and New Zealand will keep asking Washington for reassurances that they remain safely within the U.S. defense perimeter and that their seas and airspace will remain sacrosanct. If these reassurances are not given, they will quietly consider either going nuclear or making the necessary concessions to China to salvage a Potemkin autonomy.

The complete pullout from Iraq in 2011, with the subsequent empowerment of the Islamic State, is a model for Afghanistan in 2015. The Taliban is currently as quiet as the Islamic State was in 2010, patiently waiting to overwhelm the country and dish out the customary savage reprisals. Such a reckoning will cement the notion that partnering with the U.S. is about the most dangerous thing that a Middle Eastern country can do.

#page#The deer-in-the-headlights Obama reactions to the Ebola crisis and the so-called lone-wolf Islamist terrorists remind the world that a particular sort of political correctness overrides American realism about even our national security. When the U.S. government seems less concerned with protecting its own citizens and more worried about losing its politically correct multicultural fides, then most of our enemies assume, even if wrongly, that they are not going to face an angry, unpredictable, and devastating response to their aggression.

Trivialities can become iconic: Obama once shut down U.S. travel into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, but did not curtail U.S. connecting flights to and from Liberia — the common denominator not being security worries as much as multicultural politics. Just as the Obama administration was confused about the Islamic State (from “jayvee” to “manageable problem” to existential threat), confused about the Free Syrian Army (from “amateurs” to the foundation of our ground strategy against the Islamic State), confused about post-American Iraq (“secure,” “stable,” “greatest achievement”), and confused about Ebola (little chance of infection in the U.S., no need to restrict flights, need to restrict arrivals to targeted airports, no quarantines, some quarantines, etc.), so too our enemies will believe that we are confused about their intent and actions.

The danger from Islamist terror in the next two years is not that Obama might not reply strongly to it (he might well, given a Republican Congress and overwhelming public sentiment), but that he has clumsily given indications (the apology tour, the mythographies about Islam, the loud remonstrations with Israel, the surreal euphemisms about jihadist violence, the inane commentary about Islamism from CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the outreach to Hamas, etc.) that he envisions “root causes” that prompt understandable violence. Such impressions, again whether legitimate or not, will only encourage more terrorist attempts in the upcoming two years, which will ultimately demand risky responses, in a fashion that transcends Obama’s preference for drone executions.

Six years of open borders, coupled with fraudulent statistics about enforcement, have changed the American Southwest. For all practical purposes, there is no longer a secure southern border or a definable notion of U.S. citizenship. For the sake of adding to the pool of future Obama constituents, we are losing the very notion of an autonomous United States with a sacrosanct legal system and national sovereignty. If Mexico were shorn of its romance, then its behavior would be seen more as that of a belligerent than as that of a friend. Its policy toward the United States is patently anti-American: ship across the border its own impoverished peoples against U.S laws, thereby winning billions of dollars in remittances, transferring billions of dollars in social-services costs from Mexico to the U.S., creating a powerful pro-Mexican expatriate constituency inside the U.S., and avoiding needed social reform at home by exporting potential dissidents. Unless we end illegal immigration, adopt meritocratic, ethnically blind, and more limited legal immigration, and return to assimilationist practices, a new buffer state neither quite Mexican nor quite American will replace much of the present landscape of the Southwest.

Finally, an additional $7 trillion of national debt, continued $600 billion–plus budget deficits after tax hikes and sequestration, huge increases in entitlements and government regulations, and the failed stimuli of zero interest rates, big deficits, and government expansion all suggest to enemies that at some point soon the U.S. will not have the wherewithal to defend its interests even if it wished to. Or is it worse than that? The move to European social democracy by intent ensures that there will be fewer dollars for defense, as in Europe — and that, in the eyes of the Obama administration, is a good thing, consistent with an overriding therapeutic view of human nature. Hard powers like the Chinese, Iranians, jihadists, and Russians all welcome the new U.S. preference for EU-like soft power.

After the election we will be entering one of the most dangerous phases of U.S. foreign relations since the late 1970s.The problem is not just that there are no Ronald Reagans around, but that even a Jimmy Carter would now seem like a godsend.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.

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