by Victor Davis Hanson
NRO’s The Corner
It is not surprising how little foreign policy comes up in the debates, given the sorry state of the economy. But the entire idea of Obama’s outreach/reset diplomacy is now starting to Carterize, circa 1979/80, and in part reflects the vast trillions borrowed of the last three years that sent the debt to $16 trillion and weakened the US presence abroad.
The sudden spike in violence in Iraq bodes ill, especially given the contrast that not a single US soldier was lost in our last month of deployment and the country was largely quiet.
Afghanistan remains a story of wanting to withdraw, surge, withdraw, and who knows what next? The defense cuts appear, fairly or not, as force multipliers of the previous iconic apologizing, contextualizing, and bowing. An insolvent Europe wanted no part of our serial fiscal stimuluses.
A new Asian direction is loudly announced, but by what means and for what purposes are left unsaid — as is the reality that a broke and unraveling EU, an ever more impotent NATO, and growing German pride and regional fear of German pride, make the original American postwar commitment there more important than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We are an ascendant Turkey’s new best friend, without much recognition of what that means, given its growing Islamization, especially for our friends who traditionally fear its ascendance — whether the Kurds, Greece, Armenia, or now Israel. No one believes that US outreach, often to the embarrassment of our allies, to Russia, Syria, Venezuela, or Iran has brought us dividends; tensions with all have not abated — or are becoming much worse.
Distancing ourselves from Israel brought no Middle East breakthrough. Hot spots like the 38th Parallel, the Strait of Hormuz, Taiwan, and the West Bank are just as hot, as interested bad-acting parties calibrate to what degree the new US stance offers opportunity. Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan do not feel as secure under the US defense umbrella as in the past. All want more of their own arms, and will soon probably consider going nuclear or dealing with China on less favorable terms.
Utopian boasts about a new empowered UN or nuclear disarmament remain faculty lounge pipedreams. No one can quite articulate what is going on in North Africa, much less what our own posture is or should be.
The trashing and loudly promised reset of the Bush anti-terrorism protocols, followed by Obama’s embrace or expansion of them, ended up confirming their past legality and utility in ways no conservative could have imagined. Bin Laden’s demise was important and Obama deserves credit for ordering the hit, but the ability to take him out was part of the continual adherence to the prior anti-terrorism protocols on the Afghan border. The KSM civilian trial and closing of Guantanamo remain fantasies, as do the euphemisms like “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters.” No one can explain to this day why blowing up suspected terrorists and any in their vicinity — Predator targeted assassinations have increased seven-fold — is more humane than the infamous enhanced interrogation of three confessed planners of 9/11.
These are sometimes insidious rather than overt developments, but in aggregate they create an image of US naïveté and indifference that could lead to an eruption in the style of those of 1979.
That Was Then, This Is Now — All the Time
Some on the Left are making the argument that the Obama administration has achieved much tougher sanctions on Iran than did the Bush administration, and with the killing of bin Laden and the seven-fold increase in Predator attacks, represent an effective record in confronting terrorism — one not so acknowledged by either cynical or partisan conservatives.
I think there is one key component left out of this narrative. Conservatives mostly applaud these efforts and have offered no opposition to them. Indeed, the things they have in bipartisan fashion supported since 2009 have largely worked, and the things they opposed — the trial of KSM in New York, the closing of Guantanamo, ending some of the Bush-Cheney protocols from rendition to tribunals, trying CIA operatives, keeping silent about Iranian unrest while reaching out to the theocracy — would not have worked, as the about-face on these matters by the administration suggests. Much of the administration’s present antiterrorism policy and its maturing approach to Iran come despite, not because of, the past politicking of many now executing these measures.
So there is a sort of paradox here. Were Bush now in power, does anyone believe that many on the left, and perhaps most notably a Senator Obama (given his public statements from 2007 through 2008), would not be fiercely critical of ratcheting up pressure on Iran, of vastly expanding the Predator program, of keeping all the anti-terrorism measures, and even for ordering a hit — rather than a find-and-capture mission — on bin Laden? A Bush bombing Libya without consulting Congress would have renewed calls of impeachment.
One must in bipartisan fashion applaud the Obama administration when it successfully advances American interests, but that does not mean amnesia about the past when what is now customary was once cynically derided as either useless or unconstitutional.
And I fear the politics of anti-terror are not quite over, as securing the base becmes once more important to President Obama. Abruptly leaving Iraq and new efforts to close Guantanamo mirror 2008, after having been not-so-pressing issues during most of 2009–2011.
©2012 Victor Davis Hanson