What do the Ukraine riots, Iranian belligerence and China's new air defense zone have in common?
Nations exercise power within spheres of influence. As the American sphere of influence shrinks to nothing; Iran, China and Russia are using the opportunity to expand their own spheres of influence.
In Obama’s world the expansion of America’s sphere of influence is done through a non-threatening charm offensive to win over enemy countries. In the real world, charm offensives and soft power extend your influence into areas where you lack the ability to project more conventional forms of power.
That is why China employs soft power in America, but deploys the old fashioned kind of crude military power in the South China Sea, why Russia uses soft power in America, but a cruder form of trade blackmail in the Ukraine and why Iran may have pulled off its charm offensive at the nuclear talks with phony moderation, but its charm offensive in the Persian Gulf is backed by the overt threat of force.
Unlike most American leaders, Obama hasn’t used soft power to supplement or extend conventional power; instead he has traded one for the other. Trading real power for soft power is something that even Bill Clinton didn’t do and even Jimmy Carter only did within certain practical limitations.
Making the American sphere of influence dependent on Obama’s personal charm made as little sense in geopolitical terms as racking up a 20 trillion dollar debt and expecting to pay it off with smiles would in economic terms. Instead the American sphere of influence simply collapsed. It would have collapsed even harder and faster if there had been anyone else to pick up the slack. But Russia and China are not yet ready to dominate the world and the Caliphate is still only a twinkle in a Syrian Jihadist’s eye.
America holds presidential elections every four years and the rest of the world still thinks that there is a prospect of someone competent taking the helm of the ship of state. If that doesn’t happen; eight years of Hillary could make the current implosion of national power into a permanent state of affairs bringing the age of the Pax Americana to a close.
Liberal foreign policy experts like to think of soft power as a peaceful antidote to all those aircraft carriers and nuclear warheads. That’s only true when soft power humanizes those carriers and warheads. Not when the carriers and warheads are tossed aside for the sake of soft power.
The collapse of the American sphere of influence has touched off numerous conflicts. America’s enemies are becoming pushier in their own backyards and that is stirring up dangerous potential conflicts.
Obama’s interim nuclear deal with Iran has given the terror state the confidence it needed to begin intimidating its Gulf neighbors all over again. The Gulf oil states that depended on the projection of American military power were left naked when Obama acceded to Iran’s nuclear bid. Everyone around the Persian Gulf read the agreement as an admission that the area is no longer within the American sphere of influence and is now falling into the Iranian sphere of influence.
Obama’s concessions to Russia have had the same effect in the east. The “flexibility” that he transmitted to Vladimir was another strategic withdrawal of American power and influence from a crucial region and the transfer of that power and influence to Russia.
With his Asia pivot, Obama seems determined to make an oddball last stand. But his losses in the Middle East and Eastern Europe have significantly undermined the credibility of American staying power.
The People’s Republic of China would not be pushing around America’s allies this brazenly if it though that the American sphere of influence was still viable. Every time Obama has been pushed though, he has backed off. And so China has every reason to believe that Obama will also retreat in Asia if it pushes him hard enough and makes it clear that the alternative to recognizing its territorial claims is open war.
The People’s Republic of China is probably right. If Obama wouldn’t stand up to Russia or Iran; what reason is there to believe that he and Hanoi John Kerry will stand up to China?
Substituting soft power for real power tempts your opponents to test your mettle. The staring contest in the South China Sea may end in a war that a military weakened by drastic cuts is unready for. Like WW2; such a conflict would be a further demonstration of the known dangers of combining heavy doses of appeasement with belated resistance.
In Obama’s world, events abroad are a reflection of policies in Washington. China, Russia and Iran react to his moves rather than having motives and agendas of their own. This follows the left’s misreading of every major international event as a response to American foreign policy. Good events reflect a good foreign policy. Bad events reflect a bad foreign policy. This masochistic solipsism is at times indistinguishable from isolationism.
As are its consequences.
If America is responsible for everything; then it’s safest for it do nothing. Instead of viewing world politics as a dynamic system; the world becomes a purely reactive place. American power is treated as omnipotent and destructive. America can do everything, but should avoid doing anything except reassuring everyone that it has the best of intentions which it will prove it by doing nothing.
That is why Obama thinks that he can change the world by making a speech. He can, but only when the true significance of the speech is another diminution of American power. Obama isn’t actively changing the world. He’s passively changing the world by strategically withdrawing American power.
His soft power isn’t an act of power. It’s an omission of power. Obama is trading away American influence for goodwill and coming away with neither influence nor goodwill.
It’s not Obama’s world. It isn’t even America’s world anymore. There is no surer path to war than a power vacuum. And in the hopes of making peace; he has made war inevitable.
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