Critics have suggested that President Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless.” Some have argued the president is insouciant, a relative innocent, incapable of responding to the challenges that confront him. I see it somewhat differently.
In April 2009 in Prague, President Obama promised to lead a crusade to rid the world of nuclear weapons with treaties and the power of America’s moral example. This is a position he has long held. As a Columbia student, he wrote a piece in the Spectator in which he called for unilateral disarmament, noting that the American example would precipitate a dramatic shift to denuclearization. It was a sophomoric article in my judgment lacking any historical context, but then again it was written by a twenty year old with limited experience.
However, the Obama position hasn’t been altered. His belief that documents, assurances, negotiations, speeches can maintain stability is without historic precedent. “Soft power” of the kind he espouses works when military power stands behind it. When assurances are called into question by hostile forces and a military reaction – either threat or deployment – is unavailable, the world is put at risk.
In fact, the president’s denuclearized dream is likely to result in the very proliferation he opposes. Why? If the nuclear umbrella of the United States is unreliable, nations will seek their own nuclear deterrent. It is not surprising that Saudi Arabia has been in discussion with Pakistan for the purchase of nuclear weapons as a direct reaction to the U.S. rapprochement with Iran over its enrichment of uranium and pursuit of its own bomb.
A bipartisan consensus in Washington has agreed to reduce the U.S. defense budget to its smallest size since the demobilization after World War II. Will this reduction in military assets allow the government to project power if necessary? Of course, it is impossible to answer the question without knowing the mission. However, weakness or, perceived weakness, comes with a price.
Russia has taken Crimea and is on the urge of moving into Eastern Ukraine. The president has protested and remonstrated and it has only made him look ineffectual on the global stage.
With Russian initiative, Syria agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons in order to avoid a U.S. airstrike last September. Now the chemical weapons are intact; the rebel strongholds have fallen; Assad is ensconced in Syrian leadership; he has effectively won the Civil War at the cost of several hundred thousand lives – in part because of the chemical weapons and we look hapless as a nation. Moreover, we are dependent on the same Mr. Putin who invaded the Crimea to bail us out of this embarrassing morass in Syria.
The U.S. continues to engage in talks with Iran on its nuclear programs even after a senior State Department official told Reuters recently that Iran is “very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs” – a violation of the agreement that started the talks, in the first place. But so intent is the U.S. in a deal that negotiators simply avert their gaze to present conditions.
There you have it, the president has lost touch with reality – a combination of youthful idealism has been wedded to an arrogance that his personal magnetism can change the course of history. The Columbia student has evolved into a president who cannot see the world as it is. A world he wants is the world he sees. If he believes it to be true, it must be so.
When the president speaks at The Hague on the virtues of nonproliferation at the third global Nuclear Security Summit, it would be wise for him to review events of the last six months and perhaps keep a map of the world available for easy reference.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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