Free Markets, Free People

National Security

Quote Of The Day – Debt Edition

Has anyone ever considered the fact that so much debt and borrowing is a national security problem?

“From 1789 through 2008, the U.S. government borrowed a total of $5.8 trillion. In 2009, the federal budget deficit exceeded $1.4 trillion. The administration now expects the 2010 deficit to break that record, topping $1.6 trillion. And in 2011, it would only fall to about $1.3 trillion. Thus, in just three years, the debt will have jumped an astonishing $4.2 trillion.” – James Capretta, a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center

Those to whom we own money – especially as much as we do – hold some pretty powerful leverage. The Chinese military has been stomping around all week urging their government to use it. They want China to sell some US bonds to deliver a little “economic punch” to get our attention, apparently.

“Bush made me do it” won’t work when piling up this much debt.  The GOP’s ready-made economic and national security issue is found within the quote.  That assumes they don’t just placidly go along with the mammoth increase in the debt.  And that’s never a safe assumption.

~McQ

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An Arrogancy of Jurisdiction

Suppose I told you that there is an organization which claims to have worldwide jurisdiction (literally, “where the law speaks”) over all matters of criminal law and justice, regardless of who a person is? No I’m not referring to the ICC, but instead to the Obama administration.

The Obama administration is considering a criminal trial in Washington for the Guantanamo Bay detainee suspected of masterminding the bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people, a plan that would bring one of the world’s most notorious terrorism suspects just steps from the U.S. Capitol, The Associated Press has learned.

Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, was allegedly Osama bin Laden’s point man in Indonesia and, until his capture in August 2003, was believed to be the main link between al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, the terror group blamed for the 2002 bombing on the island of Bali.

It’s not readily apparent what charges would be brought against Hambali, but a real question exists as to exactly what power our civil judicial system would have over him. In order to pass judgment on anyone, a court must have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, which essentially means that he has some nexus with the place where his trial takes place. With respect to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, there is at least a good argument that his alleged activities with respect to the 9/11 attacks and the World Trade Center bombings creates a connection with the court of record in New York City. In contrast, Hambali does not, as far as anyone has alleged, have any connection whatsoever with the District of Columbia, nor with anywhere else in the United States. So on what basis can a DC court claim to have any power over his person?

Yet that’s just what the Obama administration proposes to do. It is considering trying Hambali in a federal civil court, supposedly for his terrorist actions (which are legion, to be sure) elsewhere in the world. Most famously, Hambali is thought to be the mastermind behind the devastating bombings in Bali back in 2002. But Bali is in Indonesia, not the United States. Indeed, Jemaah Islamiya, of which Hambali is known to be the operations coordinator and chief liason to al Qaeda regarding its Southeast Asia conquests, has not been alleged to be involved in any actions in America or her protectorates. All of which should lead to the inexorable conclusion that our federal courts have no jurisdiction over Hambali.

Perhaps no real harm would come from a court reaching such a decision. It wouldn’t lead to a release of the prisoner, necessarily, since the question of guilt or innocence would never be addressed. But what if, instead, a ruling is made that there is personal jurisdiction over Hambali? Stranger things have happened — witness the vast expansion of judicial power created in Boumediene v. Bush, where the Supreme Court found that its jurisdiction for habeas corpus purposes extended to any person within America’s exclusive control. Should a DC court find it does have personal jurisdiction over a person who has no connection to America except for being captured by her soldiers, that would be paramount to declaring American law and jurisprudence the law of every land. In other words, we would be claiming that our laws “speak” everywhere and for everyone, whether you like it or not.

If you are inclined to believe that holding enemy combatants at GITMO directly aids al Qaeda’s recruitment efforts, how do you think the terrorist organization and her adherents will take to our claim that they, and everyone else in the world, are subject to our civil laws? How will the rest of the world view such an arrogant statement? Beyond satisfying some petty political aims, by taking such a misguided step as this the Obama administration is not doing the U.S. any favors, and is likely damaging our interests.

Inside Our OODA Loop

Something that’s been bouncing around inside my head the past couple of days is that it really seems like al Qaeda (and terrorists in general) have gotten inside our OODA Loop.

For those who don’t know, you can find a really good description of the OODA Loop here and a good summary here. Briefly it’s the decision cycle (“observe, orient, decide, act”) of those engaged in some sort of struggle or competition. The faster and more accurate one’s decision cycle, the more quickly he can disorient and defeat his opponent. By forcing your opponent into a defensive posture, where your moves are not readily or easily discerned, you can outmaneuver and even control what your opponent does — hence, you are inside his OODA Loop. So when I say that the terrorists have gotten inside our OODA Loop, I mean that we are fighting them from predictable, even enemy-dictated stances that make it easier for them to survive and continue fighting.

To some extent, of course, that’s almost entirely what terrorism is designed to do: i.e. affect our decision-making process in such a way as to turn the populace against the government. The terrorists attack soft targets, and the government responds by restraining the freedom of its own citizens, maybe even going overboard. In fact, in countries where a considerable amount of freedom is the norm, most if not all such government restrictions will seem like they are going overboard, because only the terrorists really know how and when they are going to attack next (recall the famous IRA admonishment to Margaret Thatcher: you have to be lucky every day; we just have to be lucky once). The people eventually get tired of the restraints and overbearing policies of the government and either demand a stop to the war against the terrorists or join the terrorists’ cause. Indeed, the whole concept behind Petraeus’ counterinsurgency was an attempt to reorganize our OODA Loop in a way that was not affected by the terrorists’ actions. The idea was to win over the populace to the coalition side by taking the fight to the terrorists and protecting the citizens. When it comes to fighting terrorism on as a nation, however, we don’t seem to have any similar strategy, and that appears to be helping al Qaeda, et al.

That’s not to say that the terrorists will ever truly defeat America and the West, because that’s not ever going to be possible. Militarily, whether speaking in terms of strategy, tactics, policy or just sheer power, they are simply no match for us on any level. Even so, they have become somewhat adept at pushing our buttons in a way that makes us turn on one another, thus weakening our resolve. Keep in mind too that they don’t have to “win” in this struggle, they just have to tie. If we leave Iraq and/or Afghanistan before those nations are able to effectively capable of governing themselves in a peaceful manner, including the ability to keep terrorists at bay, then they will count that as a victory and we will face an emboldened enemy. If we react in predictably defensive ways to every terrorist act, and let them dictate how our government rules her citizens, then we hand them all the controls they need to thrive. And when we do that coupled with a near-pathological fear of offending a protected class of persons, even when we have some really well-founded reasons for distrusting a certain, easily identifiable class of persons, we practically write a script for the terrorists to help us implode.

Just consider how we treat foreign nationals who wish to come to America. On the one hand we keep productive, job-producing citizens out, while allowing watch-listed BVD-bombers easy access:

The question on the visa is critical. No one has a right to a visa to the US. If we have credible information that someone constitutes a threat — and a father’s testimony should be considered at least credible enough to hoist a red flag or two — then the visa should be canceled until more investigation can take place. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we’re kicking out Anatolie Vartosu for being too successful in America while keeping Adbulmutallab’s visa in place because we’re just not sure he’s a radical jihadi. It’s as ridiculous as doing strip-searches on Grandma while allowing a Nigerian on a watch list to pass through two sets of security without a patdown.

The whole point the watch-list and no-fly lists, not to mention the ridiculously random and complicated TSA security measures in general, was to prevent another 9-11 from happening. Yet the only people whom seem to be at all hampered by these government restrictions are those who have no intention of blowing up airplanes.

So in response to the attempted terror attack over Christmas, TSA will apparently adopt a new policy prohibiting passengers from moving during the last hour of a flight. Also, no pillows or blankets during that last hour.

In addition to keeping with its usually [sic] tradition of making policy on a reactionary [sic] basis, this one wouldn’t even have done anything to prevent the attempt over the weekend. The guy was in his seat when he tried to light the explosive device. And the passenger who confronted him got out of his seat to do it.

[…]

TSA … equates hassle with safety. For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.

If you’re really cynical, you could make a good argument that they’re really only interested in the appearance of safety. They’ve simply concluded that the more difficult they make your flight, the safer you’ll feel. Never mind if any of the theatrics actually work.

That’s one way of explaining how the cycle of terrorist act/government restriction/citizen agitation works. Or, you could say that al Qaeda is inside our OODA Loop. And we can’t seem to find an effective way to remove them.

Well, that’s not entirely correct. The best way we’ve found of dealing with terrorists is by taking the fight to them, and forcing them to fight for their own ground. When we did that, we severely disrupted their ability to form and execute new plans, and made it increasingly difficult for state-supporters to remain hidden or passive. Of course, our government still took the ridiculous, theatrical approach to safety at home anyway, so the system isn’t fool-proof. Essentially it’s Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy writ large in a place that’s not sanguine about a military presence, but where plenty of us will whine and moan if the theater doesn’t put the show on anyway (while remembering to annoying everyone equally, even if our business cards declare us to be soldiers for Allah). We put them on the defensive, and that’s right w.here they belong now.

Victor David Hanson predicts that we will see the Obama administration start heading that way in the near term, and perhaps it already has. I hope that’s right. Because taking our foot off the gas is not getting the job done. It just lets the enemy get back to steering our bus in the direction they want. Back inside our OODA Loop.

China Buying Oil Leases Off American Shore?

That’s the word from Mark Tapscott at the Washington Examiner:

Gas prices here in the U.S. are creeping back up towards the $3-per-gallon mark even as news breaks today that China’s state-owned energy firm just closed a deal to buy interests in four development leases on the American Outer Continental Shelf (OTS) in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deal, which requires approval of the U.S. government, is between Norway’s Statoil and China National Off-Shore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). This is the same CNOOC that would have bought Unocal four years ago for $18.5 billion but for pressure from Congress, according to The New York Times, quoting an energy industry trade publication.

Because it must be approved by the U.S. government, the Statoil/CNOOC deal puts President Obama and Ken Salazar, his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which controls OTS leasing, in a difficult position.

Really? Why does it put the government in a “difficult position”? Oh, you mean the apparent willingness to sell these leases to foreign entities vs. opening them up to domestic American exploration?

The deal also focuses renewed attention on Salazar’s slow-walking of a new plan for approving energy exploration and development in the OTS, which includes approximately 1.7 billion acres, and, according to Interior, holds up to 86 billion barrels of recoverable oil and more than 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The administration is moving much too slowly to open more of the OTS to development for domestic U.S. uses, according to Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute …

But it apparently isn’t moving too slowly to open up the OTS to foreign competitors.

In the meantime:

If the administration approves the deal, it will be more vulnerable to charges that the White House is being careless with U.S. national security issues in the energy sector, and that it is putting the interests of a foreign power before those of U.S. energy consumers.

If Obama and Salazar reject the deal, it will likely complicate relations with China, the emerging Asian superpower that defense experts predict will be able at will to challenge U.S. legitimate national security interests around the globe in the near future.

Oil isn’t going away anytime soon and its use is critical during any transition to alternate energy sources (which, for the most part are vaporware). Additionally, the charge that the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with US national security will resonate if the public becomes aware that domestic producers have been barred from OTC production but foreign producers are given access.

So the dilemma facing the administration is one of its own ideological making. Its “slow walking” of the plan for domestic producers to explore the OTC is a decision it made to thwart the desires of a majority of the nation to secure those assets for the US’s use. And now it’s going to hand them over to China?

That will not play well in at all in middle America.

~McQ

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Say “No” To Secret Treaties – Especially This One (update)

Corey Doctorow at Boing Boing has gotten a leaked copy of what is characterized as a “secret treaty” – secret because of so-called “national security” implications (secrecy, as we were told during the last election, is the first refuge of tyrants). In fact, it is a copyright treaty alleged to be a part of the Anti-Counterfitting Trade Agreement. Doctorow distills the treaty’s salient points as he understands them:

* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.

* That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.

* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM).

I’m assuming “DRM” stands for Digital Rights Management.

Read each of those points carefully. If accurate these measures would effectively shut down much of the internet and certainly, at a minimum, change the way political blogs function. And there is no question, given the onus being put on ISPs by this treaty to police copyright infringement, that they would err on the side of caution.

This is being negotiated right now in Seoul, Korea by the administration (and, as this Canadian blogger points out, these provisions are being pushed by the US) which so derisively trashed the “Patriot Act” during the presidential campaign. As Doctorow points out, it’s draconian provisions leave ISPs with little choice but to take down anything about which there is even a hint of doubt.  “Chilling effect” doesn’t even begin to describe the effect of such a treaty on free speech.

As for the transparency promised by this administration, this, among a mountain of things since it has taken office, apparently doesn’t fit that category.  Being negotiated away in secret is  your ability to access the internet and speak out if there’s even a hint (proof is not necessary) that copyrighted material is included in your piece.

Sound reasonable?  Or are you still a bit of a traditionalist and want to see legal due process and the presumption of innocence remain as the first line defense of your rights? If you enjoy the ‘net as it stands now, you need to speak out against this obvious attempt to control speech.  Treaties, even secret ones, still have to be ratified by the Senate.  The way to stop this one is to make it not so secret and demand that the Senate vote it down.

UPDATE: Reason’s Jesse Walker:

As the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement enters its sixth round of secret negotiations, rumors are emerging about the provisions under discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the reports it has heard here; if the leaks are true, the treaty will be filled with measures that, in EFF’s words, “have nothing to do with addressing counterfeit products, but are all about imposing a set of copyright industry demands on the global Internet.”

See Michael’s discussion about “corporatism”.  It’s like slipping an amendment to build a museum to Ted Kennedy into a defense appropriations bill – hide the desired but unpopular special interest legislation in a more popular and necessary bill.

~McQ

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Enabling Missile Technology To Go To China – Again

One of the reasons Democrats are pounded on their seeming lack of interest in National Security are things like this:

President Obama recently shifted authority for approving sales to China of missile and space technology from the White House to the Commerce Department — a move critics say will loosen export controls and potentially benefit Chinese missile development.

The president issued a little-noticed “presidential determination” Sept. 29 that delegated authority for determining whether missile and space exports should be approved for China to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Now the folks at Commerce say, hey, don’t worry, we’ll make sure they don’t get the good stuff:

Commerce officials say the shift will not cause controls to be loosened in regards to the export of missile and space technology.

Eugene Cottilli, a spokesman for Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, said under new policy the U.S. government will rigorously monitor all sensitive exports to China.

Except this is exactly the same set up which, under the Clinton administration, enabled China’s missile and rocket program to make its own “great leap forward”.

Let’s summarize – previous setup under Commerce:  rocket and missile technology manages to find its way to China.   Setup is changed to where the entity charged with national security must approve such sales:  technology transfer stops.

So why, then, would you abandon something that works and re-erect the setup that didn’t?

Well, one could logically conclude, among other things, that you’re not real serious about national security – that’s why.

~McQ

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Putin, Iran, Nuke Talks And First Strikes

Vladimir “Pooty Poot” Putin, with the opportunity to either back the words of Russia’s president that sometimes sanctions are just necessary or the Foreign Minister’s words of yesterday, chose to back the FM’s:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned major powers on Wednesday against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme was “premature”.

Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia’s paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.

“There is no need to frighten the Iranians,” Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

“We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in a fiasco, then we will see.”

“And if now, before making any steps (towards holding talks) we start announcing some sanctions, then we won’t be creating favourable conditions for them (talks) to end positively. This is why it is premature to talk about this now.”

There’s more afoot here than just stiffing the US, although that seems to have become a bit of a game for the Russians lately. Iran is very important in the Russian scheme to have hegemony over its “near abroad”. It is interested in Iran, not because of its oil, but mostly because of its natural gas. Russia is the major supplier of NG to Europe. Iran is another potential source. Russia sees an advantage in exercising nominal control over Iran’s supply of NG by maintaining friendly relations. That control allows them to use the supply of NG as leverage.  Power and money talk – “reset” buttons don’t.

Another little change in Russia’s approach to the world today is their possible change in their nuclear arms strategy:

Russia is weighing changes to its military doctrine that would allow for a “preventive” nuclear strike against its enemies — even those armed only with conventional weapons. The news comes just as American diplomats are trying to get Russia to cut down its nuclear stockpile, and put the squeeze on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Not exactly the position you’d like to see them take if you have a goal of reducing nuclear stockpiles. And note that Russia not only reserves the right to make a preemptive nuclear strike, but reserves that right to use nuclear weapons against a foe that is armed with conventional weapons only.

As for those talks, this seems to be the Russian negotiating position:

In the interview, he takes a swipe at the United States and NATO, saying that the alliance “continues to press for the admission of new members to NATO, the military activities of the bloc are intensifying, and U.S. strategic forces are conducting intensive exercises to improve the management of strategic nuclear weapons.”

In other words, Moscow is holding to a hard line, precisely at a time when Washington is trying to play nice. The administration wants the Kremlin’s help — to pressure Iran, to revive the arms-control process — but the bear still needs to brandish nukes.

Cutting through the clutter, it seems their initial demands will have little to do with nukes and everything to do with what they deem encroachments into their sphere of influence. That may lead to some talks about nuke stockpiles, but it appears those may end up aimed mostly at US reductions and not so much those of the Russians (who may claim to have unilaterally gotten rid of many nukes because they couldn’t afford to keep them up during the transition from the USSR to its present state).

In the meantime, it is reported that the US will allow Russian inspectors on US sites – apparently granted with absolutely nothing in return. Again.

If you have the feeling we’re going to get rolled in any future nuclear arms talks, join the club.

~McQ

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Iranian Sanctions: Russia Makes A U-Turn

Not that some of us are at all surprised (for the umpteenth time, “Russia is not our friend”):

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”

With that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov effectively killed any US hopes found in Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev statement that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable” of three weeks ago. As was predicted by many, the unilateral withdrawal of plans to base a missile defense in eastern Europe, an obvious attempt to better relations with Russia, yielded nothing.

Russia’s support is key to getting U.N. Security Council approval of any sanctions, but the country has traditionally been cautious on confronting Iran, a key trading partner and neighbor. In recent years, however, Russia has grown increasingly concerned about indications that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons, analysts say. Iran insists that its program is aimed only at producing energy.

Lavrov told reporters that Russia wants to focus on negotiations for now — particularly the concessions made by Iran this month, after the revelation that it had built a secret nuclear facility near Qom. Under heavy international pressure, the Islamic republic agreed to admit inspectors and send much of its uranium to Russia for enrichment.

Also key to any UNSC approval of sanctions is China – and they’re not at all sold on sanctions either.

However, as noted in the paragraph above, it is Iran which is in the driver’s seat here, not the US. Iran has again outmaneuvered everyone by officially revealing its “secret” nuclear facility near Qom and agreeing to allow it to be inspected. That move has effectively given the Russians the wiggle room they need to back away from imposing sanctions.  Iran has years of experience manipulating this process and has once again had its way.

Meanwhile, as Marty Peretz says, Hillary Clinton’s team was engaged in trying to make a “cupcake out of a turd”:

Senior administration officials said that the differences are tactical rather than substantive. Both sides agreed that Iran would face sanctions if it failed to carry out its obligations, a State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Which, of course means that nothing of substance came out of the talks. Such an agreement is the same agreement they had going into the talks. In essence, Russia turned the clock back on this process. And again, a reminder that China, a country whose support would be critical if sanctions are to be imposed, is nowhere on the playing field at the moment.

Anyway, to claim that differences are “tactical rather than substantive” is to try to hand wave away the fact that Russia is not presently on board to increase sanctions anytime soon when everyone was led to believe, just three weeks ago, that it was. I think that truly does represent a “reset”, but not in the way the Obama administration had hoped.

~McQ

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Are Islamic Radicals Sensing Weakness?

It is all fine and good to have a discussion and even a debate about future strategy in Afghanistan.  But probably not 6 months after you’ve announced your former strategy.   For some reason, dithering has a tendency to be interpreted as a weakness, not a strength.  In war, weaknesses are attacked and exploited.  And that may be exactly what we’re beginning to see:

Several thousand foreign fighters have poured into Afghanistan to bolster the Taliban insurgency, the country’s defense minister said yesterday as he called for more international troops.

The remarks come as the United States debates whether to substantially increase its forces in Afghanistan or to conduct a more limited campaign focused on targeting al-Qaeda figures – most of whom are believed to be in neighboring Pakistan.

The minister’s comments hit on a key worry of the United States – that not sending enough troops to Afghanistan will open the door again to al-Qaeda. They also suggest that the Afghan government is nervous about the U.S. commitment amid talk of changing the strategy and a surge in violence in recent months.

This isn’t a Senate debate where you can take whatever time you need and if it’s not finished by the nearest recess, you put it off until you come back. Wars can’t be tabled. A war continues with or without a decision made by either side. And, in many cases in history, wars have been lost because decisions were delayed or not made in a timely manner.

The fact that foreign fighters are pouring in now has to be viewed in a particular context. You can’t snap your finger and produce “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan. They have to be recruited, transported, trained and then gotten to A’stan. So for the enemy to have these fighters showing up now would indicate, at least to me, that they have sensed some form of weakness in the American committment (and make no mistake – there is no NATO Afghanistan mission without the US) and they have been able to sell recruits on the idea that they’re about to turn everything around there and win. And note this: the Taliban won’t have any esoteric conversations about whether or not running us off is a “victory” or just “success”. They’ll trumpet to the world that they kicked our butt while they then barbarically subdue, punish and seek revenge on anyone who worked with us. They don’t care how it happens – force of arms or us just pulling out – it is still a victory. And everyone likes to be on the winning side:

“The enemy has changed. Their number has increased,” the defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, told lawmakers in a speech. He said that about 4,000 fighters, mostly from Chechnya, North Africa, and Pakistan, “have joined with them and they are involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.”

The longer the administration continues to dither, the easier it is for the radicals to sell their cause and claim the indecision by the administration indicates that, as they’ve always said, the US hasn’t the political will to finish much of anything that extends over a year or two.  Bush would actually be seen as the exception.

Unless and until a decision is made and made rather quickly, recruiting should be good for the radicals.

And of course, good recruiting for them means more losses among our troops. Sure we usually have a high ratio of Taliban kills to every soldier we lose, but that’s not the point. The point is indecision emboldens the enemy and that ends up killing our soldiers.

There is absolutely no reason that a decision could not be reached within a week or two. One of President Obama’s primary jobs is that Commander in Chief. It’s time he started acting like one.

~McQ

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The Post-American Presidency?

Elliot Abrams, with a sense of deja vu, reviews Carter era foreign policy as one of weakness and accommodation leading to disaster. He’s seeing some eerie similarities in the foreign policy the Obama administration seems to be fashioning.

One begins to wonder how far we will drift into a new period of generalized disaster. In Honduras, we back the Hugo Chávez acolyte and say we won’t respect November’s free elections. In Israel, we latch on to the bizarre theory that settlement growth is the key obstacle to Middle East peace and try to bludgeon a newly elected prime minister into a freeze that is politically impossible–and also useless in actually achieving a peace settlement. In Eastern Europe, we discard a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czechs and leave them convinced we do not mean to fight off Russian hegemony in the former Soviet sphere.

Manouchehr Mottaki, foreign minister of Iran, visited Washington, as noted, after such visits had been forbidden for a decade. High-ranking American officials have made six visits to Syria, even while the government of Iraq and our commanding general there complain of Syrian support for murderous jihadists. The highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades recently toured Castro’s tropical paradise. The president won’t see the Dalai Lama, however, for fear of offending the Chinese.

This, of course, isn’t a particular surprise to those who listened to what Barack Obama said during the campaign. You really can’t hold something against a person who does what he says he’s going to do. The question is why weren’t enough listening to decide the possibility of disaster in the foreign policy arena was real enough to disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land? A question for a different post, I suppose. However, the most interesting part of the Abrams piece (Abrams, btw, used to work for Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson – sort of the Joe Liberman of his era when it came to foreign policy) was his take on the Obama UN speech:

See a pattern here? The president’s U.N. General Assembly speech tied all this together, perhaps unintentionally: Talk of allies and enemies and national interests was absent. Getting something for concessions we make is contrary to the new spirit of engagement. The president, transcending all such anachronisms, poses as the representative of .  .  . the world. So why would his country treat friends better than foes, and why would we bargain for reciprocal concessions? So old fashioned, so Cold War.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton called Barack Obama the “post-American” president. Abrams analysis seems to agree with that characterization. So the question, then, isn’t “why would his country treat friends better than foes”, but “why would he put American interests before those of the world at large as he hopes to shape it?” If Bolton and Abrams are correct, he wouldn’t.   And his speech confirms that:

Instead, he told us, “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted–I believe–in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences.” (Did speechwriters substitute “discontent” for Carter’s famous “malaise”?) So we will turn away from such thinking: “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009–more than at any point in human history–the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” Acting in the narrow interests of the United States and its friends and allies is passé: “Because the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.” This must sound to Ahmadinejad–or Putin or Assad or Chávez or Castro–rather the way Carter’s call to end our “inordinate fear of communism” sounded to Brezhnev.

Of course the key to the Obama vision is much like the key to world-wide nuclear disarmament. Unless all the players agree with the vision, it’s so much hot air. And nothing that is happening in the world today gives any indication that the players named by Abrams have any inclination at all to play Obama’s game.

In fact when I think of how Chávez and the rest must be reacting to this privately, Flounder from “Animal House” comes to my mind unbidden yelling, “Oh boy, is this gonna be great”. Naivete and narcissism (Count the unprecedented number of times he refers to himself in the UN speech. He did it 23 times in 13 paragraphs in his Olympic speech) in one package and the predators licking their chops and circling the prey, each trying to decide what piece they can tear off and get away with.

Unfortunately my guess is if we pursue this post-American foreign policy, as it appears we will, we won’t have long to wait to see the disasters begin to pile up as the world’s despots exploit the situations with which they’re naively presented.

~McQ

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