The American people may not follow foreign policy regularly, but they know failure when they see it. They know when the wheels are coming off the bus. Gallup reports: “For the first time, more Americans think President Barack Obama is not respected by other world leaders than believe he is. Americans’ opinions have shifted dramatically in the past year, after being relatively stable from 2010 to 2013.”
It is not hard to see why. Around the goal the president has generated contempt, dismay, or disappointment — but rarely respect. He has shied from enforcing his own red line. He has failed to articulate a U.S. policy toward the countries undergoing turmoil in the Middle East. He’s pushing a rotten deal with Iran. He bugged out of Iraq entirely, and now an al-Qaeda flag flies over Fallujah, where just a few years ago Americans lost their lives by the dozens to turn back jihadists.
Perhaps the president needs to do his own reset. A speech would be in order to try to recalibrate his foreign policy and halt the slide into chaos and irrelevancy.
Instead of declaring that a decade of war is over he would do well to declare that we live in times of great opportunity but also danger. He could say specifically we stand with the students in Venezuela, the dissidents in Cuba, the imprisoned victims of Vladimir Putin and the people throughout the Middle East yearning to be free. A simple statement of where we stand and whom we support (with free peoples and those seeking freedom) would be a start.
Second, he must rethink round after round of Defense Department budget slashing to dangerous levels with no national security rationale. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a written statement today, “Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in seventy years does not accurately reflect the current security environment, in which the administration’s own officials have noted the threats facing our country are more diffuse than ever. Cutting key Air Force and naval capabilities just as we are trying to increase our presence in the Pacific does not make strategic sense. I am concerned that we are on a path to repeat the mistakes we’ve made during past attempts to cash in on expected peace dividends that never materialized. Mistakes that caused our allies to question America’s staying power and encouraged our enemies to test us.”
Obama won’t pursue entitlement reform of any type, but he’s more than willing to cut, recut and cut again the Pentagon budget despite the brewing crises in the Middle East, the unrest in Ukraine, the promised pivot to Asia and of course the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. By cutting down to the quick he signals we are in retreat and incapable of projecting U.S. power. He should abandon that tact and instead enlist General David Petraeus to go through the budget, formulate reforms and use savings to repair readiness and avoid painful cuts that will affect our troops and their families.
Third, the president would do well to upgrade his advisers. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commands no respect and certainly isn’t there to be “on the side of the troops” who bear the brunt of the cuts. Susan Rice still has no regrets about her misleading performance on Benghazi and shows absolutely no sign of any coherence, let alone a doctrine in foreign policy. Having politicized national security to new levels, he would be well advised to reach out to Republicans to form bipartisan national security team.
The world doesn’t fear or respect the U.S. That is an embarrassment for Obama, but a catastrophe for America, our allies and free peoples. He needs to refocus on national security and turn around the sinking ship. If not, we will look back on this time as the point at which things really got bad.