Thursday, December 29, 2016

What Will the Cost of Restoring Our Reputation Be?

Early in the Obama era, I worried that our retreats under the president would be mistaken for peace as our enemies geared up to pursue into the vacuum and make gains at our expense. It is even worse than I thought. I fear the price of restoring our reputation.

As I wrote in 2009, when you retreat you momentarily leave your enemy behind. It is easy to mistake that quiet for "peace"--until the enemy catches up:

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.

Note the "good luck" that an author I quote says we've had with Russia, China, and Iran, as the president's timidity avoided conflict with them.

And our retreat from Russia, China, Iran (and jihadis) as the Obama administration tried to pretend that their are no differences that a little concession here and there can't cure has indeed been met with crises with all of them rather than true peace.

As it turns out, the situation is worse than I thought. It isn't just that our foes think that they can make gains at our expense in the face of feeble resistance.

No, now our foes don't even consider our impact on their advances:

One of President Barack Obama's most important legacies is a sense that the U.S. is no longer the dominant global power: It can be ignored. It's a new reality that became apparent this year as various authoritarian regimes and populist movements have tested it out.

The president likes to remind us that we are still the most powerful country on the planet. He is correct, of course. But influence is the product of physical power times reputation for action. Right now, our still-dominant military power is nullified by a reputation among allies and allies that is so low that weaker foes gain ground in the world, not even thinking America is much of a factor to consider.

Of course, America can regain our influence by regaining our reputation even without more physical power. But I fear that we will need to fight a war to regain that reputation thrown away in a thousand small retreats.