They remade the Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels, and The A-Team—why not replay the presidency of Jimmy Carter?
The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund joined the chorus last week with a piece titled The Carter-Obama Comparisons Grow: “Mr. Carter himself heightening comparisons with his own presidency,” Fund wrote, “by publishing his White House diaries this week. ‘I overburdened Congress with an array of controversial and politically costly requests,’ he [President Carter] said on Monday. The parallels to Mr. Obama’s experience are clear.”
Nowhere does the comparison seem more apt than issues regarding national security and foreign policy.
As we explained before, Obama’s defense policies seemed to channel Carter’s Pentagon from the outset: “Harold Brown, Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense, bought nothing. Instead, he promised a new generation of weapons—the stuff the military really needed. Few of those promises came true—most not until the Cold War was over. Meanwhile, during the post-Vietnam years, the military went “hollow.” Lacking sufficient resources, our fighting forces were stuck with outmoded equipment until the Reagan military build-up came along.” Under Obama, Gates has followed much the same strategy by gutting missile defense; not stopping the cancellation of the F-22 fighter; opposing additional C-17 cargo aircraft and the second engine for the F-35 fighter; and dumping the Army’s Future Combat Systems.
Obama’s approach to foreign policy sounded familiar as well:
In Year One, Carter invested all the international prestige of his presidency in diplomacy and image-making. His energy was dedicated almost exclusively to “making nice” on the world stage….It was a perpetual exercise in ‘soft power.’ America’s enemies had taken measure of the man during his first, change-filled year in office. They saw weaknesses they could exploit. In the second year, they made their move. A Soviet-backed coup in Afghanistan paved the way for Moscow’s future invasion of the country. Demonstrations against the shah wracked the Iranian regime, paving the way for revolution and the rise of the ayatollahs. Trouble erupted across Africa, from Somalia to Zaire and Zambia, some of it inspired by Soviet meddling. From there on, national security challenges and foreign policies only worsened. It helped make Carter’s stint in the White House a one-term deal.
Obama’s foreign policy had the same impulses as Carter’s—and the same limitations. Success was predicated on the cooperation of America’s adversaries. And the Obama Doctrine has reaped pretty much the same results:
When asked if he feared a U.S. military strike against his country’s nuclear program, the Iranian president scoffed at the notion. Meanwhile, after yielding to Russian complaints and canceling plans to build missile defenses against an Iranian attack, Obama signed an arms control treaty, which the Kremlin boasts, will further limit our missile defense. Yet Moscow still complains that the more limited system the Obama administration wants to field is too much. Once again, American concessions have only encouraged Moscow to be more aggressive. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House’s commitments are laced with qualifiers that encourage our nation’s friends and enemies to doubt U.S. resolve.
As Fund quotes in his article, a foreign policy expert from the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out, “Mr. Obama’s foreign policy ‘to some degree makes him dependent on people who wish neither him nor America well. This doesn’t have to end badly and I hope that it doesn’t—but it’s not an ideal position after one’s first year in power.”
Carter never recovered. “Later in his presidency, Carter tried to look tough. He proposed a modest increase in defense spending; pulled the United States out of the Moscow Olympics; and slapped an embargo on wheat exports to the Soviet Union. These actions hurt high jumpers and American farmers, but didn’t faze our enemies. It was too little, too late.”
Without question, the Obama’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Fully committing to finishing the job in Iraq and Afghanistan—not just exiting; reversing cuts in missile defense; abandoning his road to zero nuclear weapons that would likely result in more nations having more weapons; maintaining robust defense budgets; and standing up to America’s adversaries rather than courting them might give him a chance to convince the world that he is not the next Jimmy Carter.
For starters, Solutions for America, compiled by Heritage Foundation experts, identifies the most pressing problems in 23 policy areas, and recommends 128 specific policy prescriptions. Several of them deal specifically with the challenge of keeping the nation safe, free, and prosperous in the face of the threats confronting us today. The President should feel free to draw on any of these.