Obama’s deadly plague of strategic incompetence.
The William Blake poem from which this column takes its title lamented the effects of syphilis on London’s population—but the lifted line also describes the wasting disease of strategic incompetence with which the Obama administration has infected our foreign policy. The primary difference seems to be that Georgian Londoners at least had some fun early in the process, while this administration’s performance has been excruciating from the start.
Is there a single world leader remaining who respects President Obama? Certainly, none fear him. He established himself as a strategic pushover more swiftly than any president in history—even allowing for the near-record times clocked by Presidents Carter and Clinton (to be fair, Clinton at least had the slickness to wheedle the occasional advantage from his foreign counterparts). Right up to the final days of the Bush administration, rogue states stepped lightly, casting a careful eye at Washington over their hunched shoulders. Today, the world’s worst actors are playing Dictators Gone Wild.
With the ratification late last year of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the administration hit its lowest point thus far, giving the Russians everything they wanted, while getting nothing in return that Moscow wasn’t happy to discard. Obama got to wave a signed treaty, declaring it a diplomatic triumph. For his part, Russia’s new czar, Vladimir Putin, gained recognition for his two-bit dictatorship as a superpower equal to the US. Instead of measuring our arsenal against the sum of global dangers, No-Nukes Obama reduced it to the size of Russia’s, pretending that China and the growing number of nuclear rogue states don’t exist as additional threats—and even letting Russia keep 1,500 tactical nuclear weapons for which we no longer have equivalents. Obama also gave away dual-use systems that would be essential in a conflict with Beijing. This particular strip-tease was all strip on our side, all tease on Putin’s, a mortifying example of unilateral disarmament by a president who still despises the military. Mere days after the Senate foolishly ratified this treaty and Obama signed it, Putin—howling with delight—mooned Obama by imposing a fresh prison term on political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Some re-set.
As for China, one fears that Obama’s upcoming head-of-state meeting will reach new heights of appeasement. While claiming that he’s concerned about American job losses, this president will do nothing to halt Beijing’s myriad trade abuses. He will not take a stand against currency manipulation that’s bankrupted countless US manufacturers and swelled our jobless rolls. He will not take a stand against Chinese industrial (and military) espionage. He will not take a stand against extensive Chinese dumping of goods on our market. He will not take a stand against Chinese piracy of intellectual property. And he certainly won’t stand up for Chinese dissidents, Christians or grass-roots reformers. The Chinese will toss him a few stale fortune cookies—and our president will return home delighted, holding in his hand a piece of paper that looks suspiciously like a Chinese menu.
But China’s a big player, and Russia does still have a strategic arsenal. A president does have to handle them gingerly. The humiliating thing is that even the likes of Hugo Chavez have pegged Obama as a narcissistic weakling. With this administration adamantly unwilling to criticize abusive leftwing regimes in Latin America, we now have the looming destruction of Nicaragua’s democracy; family-mafia rule in Argentina; an incompetent demagogue ravaging (what little is left to ravage in) Bolivia; and Chavez running his murderous dictatorship with Cuban intelligence personnel, while flirting with Iran’s offer to provide him with missiles that can strike US soil. There will be no replay of the Cuban Missile Crisis, either, because Obama would not send our Navy to prevent a missile transfer—it might be against the law. Oh, and Chavez just contracted for $5-billion in arms—a record for Latin America—from Russia: Yet another re-set benefit, one supposes.
Even Sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t take Obama seriously. The bloodstained chieftain of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has given up his pretense of power-sharing, while China bribes the continent’s power-brokers to let Beijing rape the continent of its minerals and rob its people of even primitive justice. And when Muslims slaughtered Christians in Nigeria on Christmas Eve, the White House had no comment (which, of course, is better than yet another repetition of the mantra that “Islam is a religion of peace”).
Then there’s the greater Middle East, which Obama expected to win over with his groveling, dishonest, destructive Cairo speech praising Islam, attacking Israel, and re-writing American history. Muslims were, indeed, flattered that an American president would kiss the soles of their feet. But they also knew that Obama was full of ca-ca. Lack of a Harvard or University of Chicago degree does not mean hundreds of millions of Muslims are stupid. They knew Obama didn’t know what he was talking about. They know the historical score. They even know the real deal regarding Israel, although they dare not admit it publicly. Obama offered them strategic baby-talk. And they nailed him as a strategic baby.
What grand results has Obama obtained across the Middle East with his gushing praise for a religion in moral retrograde and his refusal to couple the words “Islamist” and “terrorist?” Iran is more aggressive than it’s been in decades—and pursuing nuclear weapons. Iranian influence in Iraq and interference in Afghanistan have burgeoned. Sanctions complicate the lives of the average Iranian, but the country’s leaders are doing just fine, thanks. And Iran’s surrogates have grown bolder again, with Hezbollah launching a political coup in Lebanon and terrorists in Gaza quietly building their arsenal.
Egypt staged a phony election that would have embarrassed the Cold-War-era Soviets and responded weakly and reluctantly to attacks on Coptic Christians. Tunisia is wracked with riots as I write. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) haunts a vast region from Algiers to Timbuktu. And Somalia is a chamber of horrors, whose top exports are terrorists and pirates—both of whom this administration insists should be dealt with in civil courts on American soil.
Yemen has become yet another terrorist refuge, and (contrary to administration propaganda) the cross-border military effort launched by the worried Saudis last year was a Keystone Cops debacle—all the billions in US weaponry purchased by the kingdom is worthless when it’s operated by cowardly fools too lazy to train and too disinterested to fight. Iraq, at Iran’s behest, wants our last troops gone. And our “NATO ally” Turkey is becoming an Islamist state, chummier by far with Tehran than with Washington (when Ankara’s not staging provocations against Israel). Of course, the administration denies all of this, portraying our pathetic president’s every failure as a triumph (he really should sit down with North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il—they might get along wonderfully, given the delusional qualities they share and their mutual love of personality cults).
Speaking of North Korea…we haven’t heard Obama speak of North Korea. Others get to do the dirty-work on that, since the president has no idea what to do. While the White House wrung its hands, it took South Korea’s president to man up and tell the North Koreans: No more—or it’s war. The North Koreans blustered, but backed down.
Last but not least, there’s AfPak. It would be unfair to say that the administration’s strategy is failing, because the administration still doesn’t have a strategy—just a disconnected bunch of efforts that cost a great deal and produce little or nothing. We’re told that we’re making progress, even as the Taliban skip their usual winter break to maintain the pressure on our troops and on the Afghan civilians the Kabul government can’t protect.. Nurtured by our Pakistani friends, the Taliban is more pervasive than it’s been since the autumn of 2001—and this administration doesn’t know what to do.
The gleefully corrupt Karzai administration continues to ignore its fundamental responsibilities to its own people, while engaging in cronyism to a degree that would have shamed Tammany Hall. Our Afghan allies won’t fight, won’t govern, and won’t work. Ten years into this, we’ve made far less progress than the Soviets did in their time (and we know how that one ended). To top it all, we insist we’re not nation-building, while 90% of what we do is nation-building. But you can’t nation-build where there’s no nation.
And then there are our Pakistani “allies,” who are raking in another $6-billion from us for protecting our enemies. Pakistan’s military and security services shelter the Afghan Taliban’s leadership (the Quetta Shura) and, I believe, shield al Qaeda’s top operatives. Meanwhile, the state’s decomposing, as radical Muslims murder the country’s last politicians committed to human rights and the rule of law. With a willful ignorance of history and human affairs, our State Department assures us that fanaticism isn’t that big a threat, really, because the extremists don’t perform well in elections. But Hitler didn’t come to power with a majority of the popular vote. And “Bolshevik” may mean “majority party,” but the Bolsheviks never had one. Rogue states aren’t run by electoral majorities, but by minorities armed and determined.
We never run out of excuses for Islamabad, even as Pakistan sponsors terrorist attacks against India, knowing we’ll keep New Delhi from retaliating--a practice that make the US an accomplice to terror. We insist we have friends on the Indus, but even the politicians upon whom we lavished praise over the years played the anti-American card for their own advantage—as do Pakistan’s irresponsible journalists (can’t wait to see how they fare under a nuclear-armed terror regime). In Pakistan, we’re trying to bribe a state with 175-million anti-American Muslims to help us defeat Muslim terrorists the state intends to use to its own advantage. If this is a brilliant strategy on the part of the administration, it’s too deep a game for me to understand.
Almost forgot the narco-insurgency in Mexico (there’s just so much hostile ground to cover these days): In a stunning blunder, Secretary of State Clinton described the situation accurately for one brief moment—before retreating back into the fantasy that the civil war in Mexico doesn’t really exist and wouldn’t affect us if it did—let’s focus on the beach chairs and margaritas. Well, on a day-to-day basis, Mexico is the most important foreign state to the US—strategically, economically, socially and criminally. But, hey, just have another tequila and pretend the border’s secure.
Has this administration—so full of self-praise—achieved a single foreign-policy win that means anything?
Well, yes. It won a significant victory over Israel--the only rule-of-law democracy in the Middle East—by convincing the Palestinians that we were ready to betray our only true allies in the region and encouraging them to pull back from any hint of rational compromise. Single-handedly, President Obama created a diplomatic Intifada that set back the peace process by at least a decade.
See? I’m willing to give full credit where it’s due.
Ralph Peters is an author and retired Army officer with experience in 70 countries on 6 continents. His new novel, “The Officers’ Club,” set in the post-Vietnam military, goes on sale on Tuesday, January 18th.