Foreign affairs took a surrealistic turn last week. The Joint Chiefs of Staff released a report admitting that nation states like Russia and China pose a greater threat than previously thought. Yet, almost concurrently, the Pentagon announced it will cut the Army by 40,000 soldiers. At this rate the Army will soon be the smallest it has been since 1940—not what you’d expect if we are, as Gen. Martin Dempsey, outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime.”
Also last week, Dempsey’s likely successor, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, told a congressional panel that Russia poses the greatest “existential” threat to the U.S. Just three years ago, his boss, President Obama, ridiculed Mitt Romney for saying much the same thing.
And Dunford wasn’t done. When asked about arming the Ukrainians to resist Russia, he said it was a “reasonable” idea. And yet the Obama administration has consistently resisted supplying lethal weaponry to the Ukrainians. Muddling matters further, White House spokesman Josh Earnest later claimed that the general was speaking only for himself and did not represent the consensus of the president’s national security team.
Hold on! If the president’s next chief military adviser is not part of the “consensus,” then what exactly is the consensus?
These are not the only glaring contradictions in the president’s national security strategy. Clearly Obama is slow-rolling our response against ISIS mainly to avoid further involvement. Rather than pursue a strong strategy that might actually win, he has chosen a weak one. This kicks the can down the road until someone else has to deal with it.
Then there’s Iran. Tehran is helping dismember Iraq. It supports terrorists that kill Americans, and it is destabilizing the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear deal, if it goes through, will give Iran the economic resources—some $100 billion—needed to double down on all these noxious activities.
Even if the deal were to slow Iran’s rush to get nuclear weapons—a highly dubious proposition—it wouldn’t stop it. In 10 or 12 years Tehran would be free to pursue its nuclear programs without international interference. Essentially the deal now being hashed out acknowledges Iran’s eventual right to nuclear weapons, all the while pretending that delaying the day of reckoning makes a difference.
It doesn’t. Under this deal Iran would someday acquire nuclear weapons. And when it does, it will be seen by the world as having been done with U.S. complicity. In addition, the Arabs in the region will have concluded that the U.S. is willing to recognize Iran as a powerful new player—perhaps even the dominant one—in the Middle East.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if we understand Obama’s motivations. Whether he’s simply delusional or values disengagement so much he’s willing to put the nation in danger, he will not change his mind. It will be up to the next president to start the long, arduous process of reversing the damage he has done.
Our armed forces will have to be rebuilt. To avoid making retreat our only option, we must restore the tools and capacities of American power. We must also resolve to settle down for a long test of power and will with Russia, China and Iran. No grand settlement can buy them off.
Moreover, we need to start thinking straight about what needs to be done to defeat ISIS. It can’t be done without substantially more U.S. commitment and forces—to believe otherwise is mere wishful thinking.
And we need to restore the strength of our alliances and reinvigorate U.S. economic involvement in the world, starting with a new push to expand real free trade and to support economic reforms across the globe.
Every presidential election presents a choice. But the stakes this time are huge. Not since the end of World War II has the nation faced a more important decision.