Saturday, January 25, 2014

If You Want War, Prepare for Responsibly Ending It

It's not that we've pulled out of the world. It's just that it is easy to disregard us when others make decisions.

Secretary of State Kerry just doesn't get it:

"I'm perplexed by claims I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world - this myth that America is pulling back, or giving up, or standing down. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth," Kerry told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The good news is, the perception that we are absent from the world and that our power doesn't matter is purely a matter of foreign assessments of our leadership's willingness to use our power (military and non-military) to pursue our objectives.

It is good because that assessment can be changed by having new people in charge of our country. Our power still exists. We don't need to rebuild our military, for example.

It could even happen if events abroad shake our security so much that even the people in charge now have no choice but to use our power.

The bad news is that we really don't want an event so bad that it could shake even the Obama-Kerry team of foreign policy idiocy.

You know, some readers might remember that at times I said the president wasn't as bad as I feared on foreign policy. I didn't trust him, but at least on the big things he seemed to be going along with the program.

At one time, he seemed willing to go along with the Bush plan on Iraq, which was won. President Obama continued the Bush presence in Iraq without immediately withdrawing as he promised.

At one time, he seemed interested in winning in Afghanistan, agreeing to send more troops (twice) to that campaign.

Heck, Guantanamo Bay is still open and, yes, President Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The drones keep flying. And the president kept other war on terror things that supposedly shredded the constitution when Bush did them.

But the inertia of these relatively positive things has run out in the face of weakness.

Iraq is under intense pressure from Iran and al Qaeda. Afghanistan is about to be abandoned again (we did it after we helped eject the Soviets from the place, and got 9/11 for that error, remember). Al Qaeda is spreading. We saved Assad from defeat by going along with Russia's faux chemical arms deal. So Syria is poised to become a haven for jihadis and a more secure platform for Iran in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Iran is strengthened by a faux nuclear deal that sends money to Iran that they spend on propping up Assad and building nuclear weapons.

And more broadly, China was not deterred by our pivot, Russia continues to short-sheet our bed wherever they can--destabilizing Ukraine in an effort to reabsorb that nation, our European allies continue to weaken militarily, and budget cuts because of our poor financial situation hurt the military at least temporarily as it adjusts to the lower spending because it has needs built on higher spending levels.

So yeah, we're there. But our enemies don't seem to weigh our power when they calculate their odds. And that's a real problem. The world acts like we aren't there.

But I've long feared that foreign policy is only something that affects the president's domestic agenda. And that is the source of the problem:

I've figured our president is so totally focused on his domestic agenda that foreign policy and wars are only of interest depending on how he figures they'll hurt or help his domestic agenda. ...

Saying that foreign policy is a distant second in priorities for this administration might seem an odd thing to say for a president who has travelled abroad so much already.

But it makes sense if you think of the trips abroad as efforts to disengage from foes and retreat a bit by giving our foes what they want in order to buy time to pass domestic legislation.

Understand that when you retreat, it takes a while for an enemy to pursue you and fill the vacuum. And that time it takes for the enemy to re-engage will surely be much quieter.

And if you want to, you can argue that the period of quiet while the enemy approaches is actually "peace." It isn't peace, but you can pretend for a while that it is so you can focus on domestic issues.

Yes, foes have finally started filling those vacuums. The false peace ended. Perhaps the Benghazi 11 SEP 12 attack is as convenient a signal event as any to mark the period when we can't pretend that we've achieved actual peace.

Foes who think we are too weak in leadership to use the power that our foes will admit we still have on paper, will advance as they see us retreat to see what they can gain because they don't think we will use that technically existing power.

They will believe that they have an opportunity to make gains now, before new leadership can make it obvious to the world that America is engaged, pushing forward, competing, and standing up.

That's the ultimate bad news. The president and his team think that they have been responsibly ending a decade of war. All they are doing is inviting a new war. A new war on top of the old war on terror that we haven't won yet.

And John Kerry--and his boss--will be perplexed by that, too.