Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s spinners are out taking a victory lap on Libya, but evidence abounds that the administration’s policy choices are deeply flawed. All that is left is spin.
Let’s begin with Syria. It certainly doesn’t appear that the administration’s belated demands that Bashar al-Assad get out of the way have had any impact. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Syrian opposition leaders said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces appear to have gained the upper hand in the eight-month revolt, after a weekend of one of the harshest crackdowns on protesters served another blow to a movement struggling to overcome divisions within its ranks.”
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies emailed me his take:
Assad’s certainly not losing here, and that’s cause for concern. While the US has officially called for his departure, he’s the one making the moves. He’s ejected our ambassador and is bombing civilian opposition targets with impunity. There’s still nothing stopping him, as far as I see it. Washington certainly hasn’t done anything to challenge him in any meaningful way.
Meanwhile, the decision to pull all troops out of Iraq has now created such a backlash from allies that the Obama administration is promising a Plan B. The New York Times reports:
The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.
So much for the notion that complete pull-out of troops was the best of all words. Conservative critics doubt how real the Plan B is. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute told me this morning that there is a huge question as to “what the Arab regimes in the Gulf States would accept.” He explained, “They may allow us to preposition materiel in their country but allowing us to keep tens of thousands of troop . . . no way. This story is typical CYA by an administration, in this case because of the Iraq decision.” He chides “gullible reporters [who] take what they are given without asking any details about who, what and where.”
So if you are keeping score, Iran gets two wins in its quest for regional hegemony by keeping its ally Assad propped up and by sending the U.S. scrambling to counteract the impression that we’ve abandoned Iraq and other anti-Iranian Arab regimes.
And then, looming in the background, is the defense budget. The Post’s Robert Samuelson in a must read-column explains some myths about defense spending including the notion we can just cut “waste”:
Of course there is waste and inefficiency. These are being targeted in the $450 billion of additional cuts over 10 years — beyond savings from Iraq and Afghanistan — that President Obama and Congress agreed to this year. Former defense secretary Robert Gates had already cut major programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter, that he judged unneeded. Savings can be had from overhauling Tricare, the generous health insurance program for service members and retirees. But like most bureaucratic organizations, the Pentagon will always have some waste. It’s a myth that it all can be surgically removed without weakening the military.
Defense spending is unlike other spending, because protecting the nation is a government’s first job. It’s in the Constitution, as highways, school lunches and Social Security are not.
He highlights, as many hawkish conservative critics have, the disconnect between Obama’s zealous desire to cut defense and our national security needs. “Aside from preventing attacks on the homeland, goals include: stopping terrorism; countering China’s rise; combating cyber warfare; limiting nuclear proliferation (Iran, North Korea); averting the loss or theft of nuclear weapons (Pakistan?); safeguarding sea routes and some major oil producers; and providing humanitarian assistance in major natural disasters. . . . Those who advocate deep cuts need to specify which goals — combating cyber warfare, countering China, fighting terrorism — should be curtailed. Would that be good for us? The world?”
The argument that Obama gets a pass on national security because Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gaddafi are dead is foolish. His incoherent Middle East policy has left Iran more dominant. His penchant for defense cuts undermines our ability to project American strength and values around the world. It will be up to the GOP candidates to explain the stakes to the American people.