Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | October 25, 2010

Peace in Our Time

Americans are naturally focused on the upcoming election and the effect Obama is having on our polity and economy.  But the effect he is having on our national security may be an even longer-term consequence, because there isn’t much we can do about his foreign policy between now and January 2013. The Senate can stymie some of his worst agenda items, like the New START treaty, but its advise-and-consent role is inadequate to the important task of constructing and executing a positive policy – one with initiative and ingenuity.  For that, we rely both constitutionally and traditionally on the president.

There are a number of disquieting developments in national security over the past year, and some just over the past few weeks.  In the Far East, for example, China and Russia piled on Japan near-simultaneously this month, in two long-running disputes over local island chains (the Senkaku Islands to Japan’s south and the Kuril Islands to the north).  The proximate issue between Beijing and Tokyo – a Chinese fishing vessel that entered disputed waters and collided with the Japanese coast guard not once but twice – has tentatively been settled. But China has suspended deliveries of rare earths to Japan, a significant blow to Japanese industry given that China exports more than 90% of the rare earths sold internationally. Russia, for her part, displayed the most high-handed and uncompromising posture on the Kuril Islands since the Soviet era, a move her leaders would not have tried even two years ago with one of America’s closest allies.

In our hemisphere, Russia is proclaiming unabashedly her intention to assist Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela in developing a nuclear program.   A Chinese company, Huawei, is being allowed to begin supplying smartphones to the fourth-largest US service provider, T-Mobile, although T-Mobile is a government contractor and such agreements have always been prohibited in the past.  Huawei also proposes to partner with a US start-up company in performing the 4G upgrade on Sprint Nextel’s 35,000 US transmission towers – a level of infrastructure involvement that has been unthinkable up to now because of obvious IT security concerns. But it may pass the Obama administration’s smell test:  it appears that China’s purchase of an interest in shale-oil fields in Texas will do so, and Russia’s tender for a uranium mining operation in Wyoming is receiving serious consideration from the Geithner Treasury Department.

The question is not what we think natural resources development is about.  (Free-flowing investment and so forth.) The question – when China and Russia are involved – is how China and Russia treat this facet of economic statecraft.  And the answer is:  like a war between rival crime bosses.  There is more than a whiff here of Obama being prepared to sell the US off in pieces to the predatory Asian giants.  If we can shut down their worst methods any time we want, by summarily ejecting them if necessary, the question is still why we would let the need to do so arise in the first place.  Putting America in the middle of an ugly showdown over such unacceptable intrusions on sovereignty seems like a very bad idea.  Yet these Chinese and Russian inroads in the US infrastructure have erupted in a crop in the last few weeks, almost as if a switch was flipped at some point.

In other issues, Obama’s overt partisanship in brokering Israeli-Palestinian talks has been widely discussed, but John Bolton pointed out a deal-breaking prospect in a Wall Street Journal editorial this weekend:  that the US administration could effectively sink Israel’s security position by abstaining from a UN Security Council vote on the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. This possibility – unimaginable even with a president like Jimmy Carter – has an unfortunate ring of imaginability to it for Barack “Vote ‘Present’” Obama.  Israel has already recognized the perils of relying on Obama’s America, and has been busy this year renewing defense-cooperation ties with China and inaugurating them with Russia.

In this, Israel is simply doing what America’s other Western allies have been occupying themselves with.  In an otherwise discouraging survey of our security situation, it might seem that surely our alliance with the Europeans, our cultural forebears and brothers in arms throughout the Cold War and now in the War on Terror, is maintaining a steady state.  But it’s not.  Obama has dealt two great blows to America’s credibility as the strategic linchpin of NATO, with his cancellation of the missile defense sites in Eastern Europe and his precipitate agreement on the New START treaty, which severely limits our options for a national missile defense and gives Russia an out from the treaty any time she doesn’t like what we’re doing.  France and Germany, in particular, have responded by holding a security summit of their own with Russia – a meeting last week in Deauville, France that has been widely interpreted as preparation for the NATO summit in Lisbon 19-21 November, to which Russia has been invited, for the first time, as a participant.

As with so many developments on Obama’s watch, the psyche almost can’t register the significance of these events.  The expiration of the original START treaty, for example, means that the regime of strategic weapons verification has ceased, and nothing has taken its place.  There is no on-site verification of Russian compliance with START-type protocols right now, nor is there a prospect of a similarly rigorous methodology being re-implemented.  Even the never-clarified discrepancies in Russian compliance with the old treaty are simply being ignored and written off.  New START is little more than a very big gamble that Russia can be trusted.

But France and Germany aren’t willing to subsist under an umbrella of trust brokered on Obama’s terms.  As this piece posted at the European Council on Foreign Relations website puts it – very much as if it’s conventional wisdom – the US “has ceased to be a full-time European power”; under Obama, our effective interest in the security of Europe has dropped like a stone.  Nor do we seem any longer to perceive any serious security needs in the “Atlantic theater” – in spite of the military attention Russia has been giving this potential line of confrontation.  The two most significant command organizations put on the chopping block by Defense Secretary Gates this year – Joint Forces Command and the US Second Fleet – are the principal commands through which we interface with NATO for the core mission of Atlantic security.  Add this to Obama’s cancellation of the missile defense sites in Poland and Czech Republic, and you have a record of unmistakable disinterest in our NATO defense infrastructure.

It should not surprise us, therefore, that NATO’s sense of coherence and mission under US leadership is beginning to unravel.  We should make no mistake:  these are historic developments.  France and Germany wanting a security summit with Russia before a NATO summit – and particularly a NATO summit at which missile defense is expected to be a principal topic – is what our vice president would (if he had any sense) call a big effing deal.  It means a lot: it means France and Germany don’t trust the existing situation, and they don’t trust the US leadership.  This is it:  the process of America’s core alliance falling apart is effectively underway.

One of the most important items discussed between Sarkozy, Merkel, and Medvedev was, precisely, missile defense.  The NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has already said no European missile defense is realistic without Russian participation – a natural development given that Obama abandoned the previous plan as a concession to Russia.  Clearly, as long as Obama is in the Oval Office, a missile defense for Europe will indeed have to meet with Russian approval.  France and Germany hope Russia will consider active participation in a collective missile defense scheme.

And this would be one thing if the effort were being led and brokered by the US.  With the US in the driver’s seat, Russian participation could conceivably be to our advantage as well as Moscow’s.  But we aren’t; this isn’t a US effort.  The prospect we face instead is Russia exercising a veto over any theater-wide missile defense for NATO, and using that veto as a perpetual bargaining chip.

Russia doesn’t expect to be the target of a missile-borne menace from Iran – and neither does Turkey, which is engaged in heel-dragging on the installation of a missile defense radar on her soil.  In fact, Turkey would rather not do anything to overtly suggest an antagonistic posture toward Iran.  Russia and Turkey have already, ahead of next month’s summit, expressed reservations about the NATO missile defense concept to be discussed there, and Russia has a laundry list of her own separate security concerns to advance, as an alternative agenda for the assembly to focus on.

In the absence of US leadership, Russia’s role in European missile defense will be that of spoiler.  While Iran slogs toward the goal of holding her designated enemies at risk with nuclear weapons, Russia and Turkey between them can preserve their privileged positions as intermediaries with Iran by producing an endless series of delays and excuses – properly negotiated and stamped with the “smart power” seal – to bog down Europe’s pursuit of a missile defense system.

This is something Obama is allowing to happen.  Much of the impetus for Western Europe’s turn to Russia has originated with his effective decision not to prioritize our NATO infrastructure for European security.  It is banal to point out that the world has changed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union; of course it has, but no civilization has ever avoided war and catastrophe by marveling, resistless, over changes to its security situation.  There are multiple options for strengthening NATO and preparing it for transformative evolution, but Obama has shown no initiative in this regard at all.  He has instead emitted a series of signals that have driven some of our key allies to accelerate their independent search for new security arrangements.

The particulars are different today, but in terms of their importance to global geopolitics, the events of the last two years are identical in quality to the ominous developments of the 1930s.  The nations exercising nominal leadership of the world’s post-Cold War consensus are simply relinquishing their responsibility and turning inward.

It matters tremendously that China and Russia feel free to gang up on Japan.  It matters that France and Germany perceive a need for a separate security relationship with Russia.  It matters that there’s a real possibility Obama will collude in a UN end-run around Israel.  It matters that proposals by the world’s most economically predatory nations to buy controlling interests in American natural resources are being given serious consideration by the current administration, and that China seems to be poised to gain unprecedented access to the US IT infrastructure.

It is under these conditions that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lately conducted his triumphal visit to Lebanon and symbolically planted the flag of Iranian Islamist revolution in the Levant (and over Jerusalem).  Ahmadinejad wouldn’t have tried this during Bush’s tenure – nor would Bush have allowed Lebanon’s vulnerable government, which is heavily dependent on US patronage, to collude in the event. The whole world is exhibiting an increasing sense of the freedom – and for some, the need – to act as if there is no United States.  At no time in our history has that condition been good for our security.

300 million Americans can’t go out and exercise diplomacy where our president is failing to.  But on 2 November, we can send a message that America isn’t going to continue down a feckless path toward geopolitical chaos. Our real option now is to send, as best we can, the signal that any havoc other nations can’t finish wreaking in the next two years, they would be well advised not to start on.  That is an unattractive option, but it is better than none.  It helps that other peoples tend to remember history better than we do.

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s The Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions..  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. It will be extremely difficult to rebuild the policies, credibility and trust that Obama has been dismantling. It won’t simply be a question of returning to 2008. Even under a conservative, American-centric President, with a Congress to match, we will have to be selective–some alliances can be restored, others (like NATO) might be gone forever (or simply worthless, coninued out of habit), some will have to be cultivated on new terms. I don’t see any signs that the American people will support policies that involve extended commitments overseas–there’s no patience for military engagements that will involve continued casualities just in order to make sure things don’t get worse somewhere–we even see that lack of patience in the isolationism in some Tea Party candidates. We will either have a much leaner, and a good deal meaner (to our enemies) foreign policy, or things will continue to disintegrate.

  2. What is Obama’s mindset that permits all this fecklessness? The most cynical explanation is that he actually *wants* to diminish the standing of America in the world. It’s hard to believe that President could want this though. Is it a case where Obama is indifferent to America’s standing in the world? Even that’s hard to believe.

    Is he such an empty suit that he has no concept of the ramifications of his actions (or lack thereof)? I actually think he IS an empty suit, but surely there’s someone there to tell him about the foreign policy birds and bees (Bob Gates??).

    I still can’t quite put my finger on Obama. I don’t like what I see though. I fear that adam is right and it’ll take a very long time to fix the damage that Obama is doing to America – if it can be fixed at all.

  3. Let’s everybody try to control our optimism. Sheesh.

    OC’S survey is far too extensive and ugly to contemplate without some … er … distress and unfortunately, given the many domestic imperatives to which she alludes its hard to identify any prospective candidate who will have the energy (and perhaps even the comprehension and interest) to address all these issues effectively (that is assuming that Barry doesn’t get reelected which is no given).

    Adam refers to the recalcitrance of the people on this issues and and their appetite for the substantial increase in military spending which will be needed is certainly in doubt, all the more so in the (likely) absence of a vigorous argument for such.

    @Ritche Emmons: All of the above.

  4. The optimism for me lies in the possibility that once (if) we pull ourselves together, we might be able to remove a lot of dross–do we still need troops in Europe? Can’t S. Korea handle itself vis a vis the Norks? A kind of item by item assessment of our alliances and pseudo-alliances, with a strict cost-benefit analysis in mind, might lead to some productive results–are we still allies with Turkey? Saudi Arabia? A lot of these relationships seem to me to be driven by inertia–no President wants to be the one who “lost” country x or y. What about our foreign policy institutions–the State Department, the CIA, etc.–surely these require a thorough reassessment, to be carried out, say, by a Secretary of State Bolton.

  5. cavalier, you may well be right in that it’s “all of the above” (despite the slight contradiction of wanting American decline and indifference to it). If in 30 years, thanks to Obamacare and American fecklessness and retreat from the outside world, America is reduced to nothing more than a larger version of Belgium, will an 80 yr old Barack sit in his rocker and be gleeful about his instrumental role in this development? If so, it’s extremely hard to have anything but contempt for the man.

    I’ll try to find a silver lining in some of the disturbing developments that J.E. mentions above. It’s pretty much assumed that because of American security guarantees for Europe since WWII, the Europeans have cut their own defenses and have spent lavishly on their welfare states. This has been damaging as the European nanny state has instilled decadence into the psyche of the citizenry, which has manifested itself in the unrest we’ve seen in Greece and France when even moderate austerity measures are proposed. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a turn around of sorts and have Europe start to depend on themselves a little more for defense and spend less on the economically and culturally poisonous welfare state. One can hope.

  6. Naturally, I yield to no one in my optimism about this and all situations. We can certainly recognize the post-Cold War stasis as sclerotic, and ourselves (including Europe and Japan) as unlikely to do anything major about it without some prodding. It’s not necessarily a catastrophe that things will have to change.

    But it will be a catastrophe for America if Americans think we can give up the features of the stasis that we have maintained with our forward-based troops and our Navy. We can’t. America has to be the ruler of the seas and chokepoints, or we — and our current allies — will be subject to the extortion of the regional powers that are. “Oil” is not the issue here: it’s one of several issues that are subsumed in the value to global comity of the Pax Americana.

    When nations find their access to trade and resources restricted by a dominant power, they start organizing into blocs, extorting each other, and squabbling over vulnerable territory. America has obviated those patterns for ourselves and our allies for decades. But if we stop the obviating, the patterns will start again. I don’t know how to get it through people’s heads (not yours, of course; readers of TOC are very insightful) that there can be no such thing as a positive stasis unless America is enforcing it. We stop enforcing, there WILL be regional dominance, there WILL be resource-and-trade empires that exclude some and extort others, and there WILL be war.

    Russia and China prove on a daily basis that resource-and-trade empires are exactly what they are striving for. We’d have to be idiots not to see that. Unfortunately, the thing about Europe rearming and cowboying up, in the absence of reliable US behavior, is that Europe has no ability to counter the moves of Russia and China. Europe can try to play the two off against each other, but as a bloc it has no effective will, and individually, its nations are no longer truly global powers.

    Americans should think twice about how badly we want a rearmed and purposeful Europe anyway. With the exception of the Civil War, all of our biggest security problems up through 1945 were the product of European power contests spilling over into our hemisphere. Modern technlogy will only mean they spill faster if they get started again.

    I agree with adam and RE that there are things we’ve needed to rethink and there may be lines we need to redraw. But what Obama is letting us in for is being rethought and redrawn AGAINST. Germany never needed to become Russia’s best buddy, but German geography is such that Berlin is going to see the need to do that before the other European nations do, if America starts looking like we’re caught in an inert do-loop. The process has already begun.

    Most Americans alive today don’t remember what it was like — that it was untenable and had to be addressed — when Europe and the Far East were hostile to us instead of allied to us. Russia and China are pushing, in their separate ways, to make that happen again. The new dynamic won’t have the technological features of the old: it will be worse. We need to stop this process in its tracks at the Strait of Malacca and Suez Canal and turn it back in our favor again.

    • I can agree with everything you say, but still wonder how would we be able to reconstruct our global assets once we lose them–in other words, your argument is for hanging on to them while we still can, and I hope your argument prevails; but I believe we’d better start considering, if not worst, worse case scenarios, and the possibility we’d have to set priorities and rebuild starting at some point in the next 5-10 years. Which elements and agencies within our political system could we count on to lead the way?

    • Which is precisely why defense cuts are penny wise and a couple of hundred pounds foolish. A less secure, less stable international environment and trade system are almost certain to result in a loss of national wealth that on an annual basis is likely to exceed the perhaps $80 perhaps $100 perhaps a little more in defense spending that would be needed to maintain a military capable of preserving such an environment. And yet I read that we need, for example, a 375 ship Navy to accomplish the task. The number is widely circulated and I don’t know whether its extravagant or not. What I do know is that on the current trajectory we are heading bellow 250 and that is bound to be wildly insufficient.

      Assuming the most positive conceivable political configuration in 2013 (an R POTUS, 55+ R Senators, a solid majority in the House and even SoS Bolton), I can’t imaging that the POTUS would have the will, even if he/she were so inclined, to expand political capital on explaining the rudimentary logic of this to the public. He/she will have to push through badly need entitlement and tax reform and fight off the accusations of “destroying Social Security” while paying for weapons to carry out a “unilateral”, aggressive and indeed psychotic “Neocon”, “imperial” foreign policy.

      • “while paying for weapons to carry out a “unilateral”, aggressive and indeed psychotic “Neocon”, “imperial” foreign policy.”

        This really gets at the point–we shouldn’t underestimate, especially now that it seems so long ago, how thoroughly demonized and discredited with a large portion of the public Bush’s foreign policy was by the end–even the Bush Administration had fallen back into the pathetic diplo-realist policies of their predecessors by the end. Most Americans are no doubt disgusted with Obama’s disregard of our dignity, honor and interests, but a shift to an agressive, proactive foreign policy (such as giving warnings when specific lines are overstepped and then acting on those warnings) would be seen as very “provocative,” and would be viewed with great suspicion. And the isolationist strain of Tea Party politics aggravates the difficulties. A new President who really wants to turn things around will have to proceed carefully and choose his battles wisely–and, of course, conduct those battles well. Only a few indisputable victories will turn public opinion in a new direction.

      • The foolishness of letting things deteriorate security-wise while social-program debt piles up is clarified by the stark points you outline.

        One of the things few people see clearly is that America will not just collapse, nor will we be overrun by Huns. Even with only a 250-ship navy, we’d still be stronger than almost everyone else. Millions of Americans would still be hard-working and productive, and unwilling to simply sell themselves into slavery or diminished lifestyles, here or abroad.

        The problem with the 250-ship navy is not that it isn’t strong enough to defend us. It’s that it isn’t strong enough to maintain the peace without us having to fight for territory abroad — as reasons arise that would NOT arise if we were spending our money on defense AND NOT (very importantly) on entitlements and constituency tending.

        Think about it. As America’s debt becomes unsustainable, and if our security situation has deteriorated significantly, what is the America of 2025 really going to do? When has a nation ever collapsed politically from debt without a shooting war? When has a militarily powerful nation done so without turning to invasion and conquest?

        Betting against the perennial human patterns has always been foolish. People have thought for more than a century that modern conditions make war and conquest unthinkable, and they have been consistently wrong.

        We do need to get back on track with upgrading our forces, but I think the first order of business is to simply cut almost every single new thing Obama has decided to spend on domestically out of the budget. We need to slice 90% off the top of all grants to academic institutions and research, eliminate all subsidies for alternative fuels entirely, repeal Obamacare and simply stop enforcement and implementation in its tracks, and halt the expenditure of any funds that would go to projects or constituencies related to Obama’s union, socialist, and community-organizer supporters. That’s what the Republicans are talking about when they say reset spending to 2008 levels. Just stop committing and spending those hundreds of billions Obama has added to the deficit.

        Then we can manage our way out of the debt crisis.

  7. Naturlich. However, the task or repealing, in essence, the Obama presidency, even in the domestic sphere will take enormous skill, courage and persistence. ObamaCare is extremely unpopular, the repeal numbers are strong, the intensity is tremendous and already the some Rs are hedging their bets. I’m not saying it will be impossible and I agree that it has to be the first priority but it will be a huge and arduous task and its hard to imagine anyone having the additional energy needed to preserve a military that is not merely the most powerful in the world but one that can fulfill its responsibilities. Even if we start to pivot toward rebuilding the military it is unlikely to happen until at least much later in the decade* and it will be that much more difficult and expensive at that point.

    *The British cuts were less than feared – perhaps there was some spin as to how bad they would be to make the actual numbers easier to swallow – but not trivial and are at least in part generated by postponing the coming on line of certain assets (I think the carriers and the planes to be deployed on them).

  8. In a sense, on all fronts, the formula is simple: defeat the Left, as completely and unmistakably as possible. Drive them out of office, discredit their doctrines, humiliate their leaders, pin on them every social ill they are responsible for. Only when we need not fear the Left returning to power for an entire generation, at least, will we be free to sit down and discuss a whole range of issues, from entitlements, to restoring the Constitutional order, to our relation to Islam and, of course, the proper level of military preparedness, a system of alliances and principles for intervening abroad. The fear of being effectively demonized as a racist, fascist warmonger who wants to starve children and throw the elderly into the streets inhibits our political discourse in ways that make it impossible to address the arguments.

  9. In regards to building up defense starting with the new R Prez in 2013 – I’m reading “The Age Of Reagan” (Steven Hayward) right now. Hayward reminds us that when Reagan took office, his admin had his economic policy hit the ground running. For his foreign policy though, he needed patience so as to adhere to the political realities at the time. It turned out pretty well. It’s looking like a similar type situation may greet a new Prez in 2013. Hopefully he/she will learn from Reagan’s savvy if need be.

    adam, I’m with you in wanting to see the doctrine of liberalism to be discredited. I would like conservative leaders to vocally drive home the destructive nature of liberal ideas and disgraceful tactics used by those trying to achieve liberal ends. Even, for example, with the voting “irregularities” we’ve seen so far – say out loud “That’s liberalism for you.” Speaking of which, I can’t recall of any voting “irregularities” that have been in favor of a Republican candidate. Curious that. Anyway, for every dreadful aspect of Obamacare that arises, I think a heavy drumbeat of “That’s liberalism” will go a long way of discrediting the entire doctrine.

    On a completely unrelated note, I know that many here are sports fans (esp football). I’ve got a weekend that you’ll like. On Saturday I fly to Dallas. Saturday night I’m going to a Stars/Sabres NHL game, on Sunday afternoon I’m going to a Cowboys/Jaguars game and Sunday night I’m going to a Rangers/Giants World Series game. I’ll probably talk about this weekend for the rest of my life.

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