Ruminations, April 20, 2014
Kicking the foreign policy can down the road
*** “Kicking the can down the road” is a common expression in American politics. It implies that a decisive action on an issue has been postponed leaving future generations to deal with it. Recently, however, it has become apparent that not only has our foreign policy been “kicked down the road,” it is foreign adversaries who are doing it.
Of course many foreigners (including allies) don’t think this is unusual. For years, they have been labeling our leadership as “naïve.” But, like the boy who cried wolf, they have been doing it so often that we Americans tend to ignore them. But maybe – just maybe – this time the wolf is at the door.
The cost of a strong military. In part, this appearance of naivety is our own doing. Our first obligation as a nation is to preserve the nation through adequate strength. This implies a strong military and the will to use it. This serves well not only in times of war but also as a deterrent to those who would test us. But then, a strong military doesn’t come cheap; we need the financial resources to support a strong military – and that’s where we have failed – not by accident but through naivety, assuming that our diplomacy will carry the day without a strong military behind it.
Our current ratio of debt to GDP is over 100 percent. That means that if we taxed the entire country at 100 percent and the Federal government spent nothing, we would still be in debt. It’s a sobering thought especially if we need to spend more on defense for our survival. Also, remember that about one-third of our debt is foreign held.
Apparently, the current thinking is based on our positive history: we have been deficit spending for years and nothing bad has happened so we can continue; and, nobody can beat us militarily so what’s to worry?
Was Bush more decisive than Obama? Whereas President George W. Bush was a president of no idle threats, President Barack Obama is not taken seriously. When Bush said “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours,” 48 hours later the U.S. attacked. When Obama said “…a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation,” nothing happened – not for 48 hours but for two years there have been no consequences. This message was not missed by the rest of the world – including Vladimir Putin.
When Obama said “there will be consequences if people step over the line” in Ukraine there have been virtually no consequences. As a leader of the free world, Obama leaves something to be desired. His unwillingness to use force or the threat of force has left him as a leader without followers. Europe might listen more closely to Obama if he could offset their worry over their import of Russian gas and oil; had Obama approved the Keystone pipeline, this would be a serious step in the right direction – but he hasn’t. Had Obama been able to lead his party on expanding trade with Europe, last week’s trade talks between German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov would have amounted to nothing.
In a 2008 situation similar to Ukraine, Russia sent troops into the Georgian republic. Although Georgia was not a member of NATO, Bush responded within days: U.S. military transport planes brought Georgian troops back from Iraq, U.S. ships moved into the Black Sea and humanitarian and medical supplies was flown in on military transports (Obama sent Ukraine food supplies on commercial planes because military transports might be interpreted as a provocation). In spite of the fact that U.S. troops were tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey said that the U.S. would not rule out the use of American force to assist Georgia. Further, Poland and the United States agreed to establish a missile defense system based in Poland. The Russian invasion stopped. According to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State at that time, “Russia was denied its ultimate goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government, an admission made to me by the Russian foreign minister.”
Ukraine. But let’s remember that in 1994, Ukraine had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. They agreed to give it up based on an agreement signed by the United States, Great Britain and Russia to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia, in seizing Crimea, has violated this agreement. In response, last week, the Pentagon announced a cut in nuclear forces – four years ahead of the schedule set in 2010 New Start treaty with Russia. Russia, meanwhile, kicks up their nuclear capabilities and kicks their end of the New Start treaty down the road.
In an article by Anne Applebaum in the April 16th edition of the Washington Post, she talks about a new version of asymmetric warfare being employed by Russia (for the full article, go to
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anne-applebaum-a-fearful-new-worl...). She says that the Ukrainian invasion is being led “by men from Russian military intelligence and special forces … communicating with ‘activists’ by telephone. … There is no “shock and awe” bombing campaign, just systematic, organized attacks on police stations, city councils, airports” with the goal of “…destabilizing Ukraine’s shaky provisional government, perhaps forcing an economic crash [or provoking]... a civil war.” Are we ready for this?
What’s Obama’s solution? Sending meals-ready-to-eat to Ukraine’s army and pulling the passports of two dozen Russians.
U.S. foreign policy in the rest of the world. Well, maybe Romney was right. Russia’s a problem. But the rest of the world’s in good shape vis-à-vis U.S. foreign policy is it not?
• In Poland, where Obama canceled the missile defense system in deference to Russia and where 59 percent of Poles believe that Russia is a threat to their national security, they wonder about the reliability of the United States.
• In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has been openly critical of Obama’s Middle East foreign policy, fearing that it will lead to nuclear weapons in both Syria and Iran. They have begun to make overtures to Pakistan, hoping that that nuclear power will protect them better than the United States would.
• Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said “We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States… but their image is one of feebleness [and] it doesn’t pay in the world…and the United States is the one that will suffer.” He further stated that he believed that Obama planned to kick the can (Iran) down the road to his successor.
• As China becomes more aggressive, Japan has begun a military buildup – its first since World War II – because it fears a weak, timid and indecisive U.S.
• China has unilaterally established as air-defense zone, which appears to threaten Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. The U.S. has no response to this.
• After a hard-fought virtual victory in Iraq, Obama has pulled out U.S. troops and has done nothing to prevent the re-infiltration of al Qaeda.
• In Afghanistan, Obama seems to be planning another exit as per Iraq. Will he let the country fall back into chaos and be a home for radical terrorists?
It seems that we are being kicked down several roads simultaneously. What’s wrong with Obama? He’s not stupid. He knows that foreign policy is not bean bag. He knows that countries act out of their own self interest and respect power. Does he have a secret foreign policy that he’s telling no one about? Let’s hope so because it’s no fun being kicked down the road.
Quote without comment
Columnist Peggy Noonan writing in the Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2014: “Not being George W. Bush is not a foreign policy. Not invading countries is not a foreign policy. Wishing to demonstrate your sophistication by announcing you are unencumbered by the false historical narratives of the past is not a foreign policy. Assuming the world will be nice if we're not militarist is not a foreign policy.
What is our foreign policy? Disliking global warming?”