Axis of Indecision
Posted on February 20, 2014
Things are never simple on the international stage.
A President has to make countless decisions to position the United States in the most advantageous strategic position to best benefit the American people.
How best should we use our military might? What is best left to behind-the-scenes negotiation? Can our American culture help to build better relations with strategic adversaries or does our culture make things worse?
We like to think of ourselves as a “shining city on the Hill”, as Ronald Reagan paraphrased John Winthrop, but all that glitters is not necessarily gold to our rivals.
American democracy can get awfully ugly, awfully quickly, and we can make dumb decisions that set back our long-term policy goals. We waited too long to go into World War II, and as a result, millions of people were slaughtered in a Holocaust. We failed to intervene in Rwanda and let a genocide ensue. We blundered in Iraq with a misguided understanding of what it would take to bring peace to that region.
Since the end of the Second World War, our most notable achievement is that we have largely avoided a full-flung World War III, mostly because the consequences of an unlimited war are too horrible to contemplate. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our fair share of limited wars, up to and including the current war against Islamic terrorists, which seems to never end.
America is the big kahuna, and what it decides to do or not do sends strong signals to the rest of the world. As much as I might have disagreed with some aspects of the Iraqi incursion, George Bush’s steadfast leadership was unmistakable. You are either with us or against us, and if your against us, God help you.
Barack Obama’s leadership is different. He makes his military decisions based on a campaign calendar. Killing Osama Bin Laden would sure make a nice campaign commercial. Let’s pull out of Iraq so I can fulfill one of my most important campaign promises. Afghanistan is the good war, because that is what I campaigned on.
Now Obama hasn’t been able to keep all of promises. He still hasn’t closed Gitmo for example.
But many foreign policy decisions don’t fit very nicely into a campaign theme. What should we do about the Korean dictator who kills babies? Should we send troops into Syria to get rid of Bashir Al-Assad, as promised consistently? What about this new flare-up in Kiev?
These are hard decisions to make, and each one of them has real consequences. If we take out the pudgy killer atop the throne in Pyonyang, we might put our South Korean friends in danger of a war. But Kim Jong Un is a butcher of the highest degree and sitting idly by and allowing him to murder thousands upon thousands of his own citizens is nauseating. It’s kind of like watching your neighbor beat his kids. You might not want to get involved, but somebody has to.
Syria is a different case. Assad is not a nice man, we can all agree with that. But many of his opponents are worse. Obama has staked his reputation on bringing down the Syrian President, but so far, Assad seems pretty comfortable in his own survival. And as a result, Mr. Obama’s bluster makes him look ineffective and feckless.
The turmoil in the Ukraine presents another challenge.
The protestors want to be our friend, while the government wants to be closer to Vladmir Putin. Putin’s allies currently have the upper hand because they have the weapons. What do we have? Moral authority? What good is that in the face of a tank? Joe Biden reportedly called the Ukranian President and told him to knock it off, but how exactly are we going to back that up. Words are cheap. It is action that counts.
The President seems largely undecided on how to act on any of these crises, and that axis of indecision is hurting American strategic interests. The rest of the world looks to America for leadership, but if the American President isn’t quite sure which way to go, the rest of the world will scatter in all kinds of different directions.
Say what you will about President Bush, but rest of the world knew where he was heading. With Obama, it’s anybody’s guess.