Today, I’m stepping outside my usual role of talking about domestic politics because I believe the Obama-led American decline and retreat on the world stage has the potential to produce results that could affect the 2014 elections. Foreign policy might not be driving many votes right now, but it certainly shapes the environment in which Americans have to make choices.
Two remarkable articles and a new Gallup poll make it clear that this American decline and retreat is dramatic and is, I believe, accelerating. Each addresses different aspects of the same topic: The world is less safe and world order is in peril as a result of the ineffectiveness, weakness and incompetence of the Obama administration.
First, Niall Ferguson writes in the Wall Street Journal in a piece titled “America’s Global Retreat” that “it is not only U.S. monetary policy that is being tapered. Even more significant is the ‘geopolitical taper’ … The origins of America’s geopolitical taper as a strategy can be traced to the confused foreign-policy decisions of the president’s [Obama’s] first term.” And no less than Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt says that the president’s “turnabout on foreign policy has been … dizzying” as President Obama adjusts his rhetoric to match the elections. Each makes the point that the president is either leading the retreat from the world stage or bungling America’s foreign policy.
And a Gallup poll released today reveals that the American public is aware of this decline. More Americans today believe that world leaders do not respect Obama (53 percent) than do respect him (41 percent). This is a huge shift from 2009, when just 20 percent of Americans believed that world leaders did not respect Obama and 67 percent thought world leaders did respect him. Well, if the White House won’t listen to Ferguson and Hiatt, maybe they’ll pay attention to a poll.
These able writers and others say that America’s influence is declining, and they emphasize the real consequences of such a decline. However, the White House appears to either not know or not care about America’s decline.
I’ve never thought this White House was very self-aware — it can even be delusional at times — and Obama has gotten rid of anyone on his staff who would challenge his biases. From the president on down, I have the impression that for many in this administration, it’s all about having the job, not doing the job. For the most part, they are a self-congratulatory lot who revel in their prestigious titles and the perks of the office. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure many of them work hard — but as I always say, in Washington it’s easy to be busy but it’s hard to be productive.
As the international system becomes more ragged, fewer leaders around the world believe that America is the indispensable nation that will keep things from fraying. From protests in Venezuela, the Ukraine and Thailand to the tensions between China and Japan to the uncertainty — to put it mildly — in Israel and Syria, many either see America’s involvement as irrelevant or that our goals are (at best) unclear.
I travel around the world a lot and, anecdotally, foreign opinion leaders I come into contact with have gone from being puzzled about America’s foreign policy under President Obama to being worried. I have also seen firsthand how the world is shifting away from a bias for American partners in business to a bias against them. It used to be that everyone wanted an American involved in their venture. If an American was involved, foreign entities felt they had the benefit of the rule of law, security and the reassurance that U.S. interests would somehow protect the venture from an unlawful world. All of those beliefs have been greatly eroded by this administration. Foreign business leaders care less about an American presence in their business. American involvement now often brings with it too much regulation and bureaucracy and not enough clear benefit. Foreign businessmen don’t even want to meet in America like they used to. They want to meet in London, Dubai or Hong Kong; not Washington or New York.
And oh by the way, even as I write this, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is announcing deep cuts to the defense budget and our troop levels. I’m not a knee-jerk Republican who always thinks a bigger Pentagon is a better Pentagon, but the appearance of slashing our military amid the world’s perception of our retreat only adds to the perception of an America in decline.
Hagel would never do anything to weaken America, so we’ll have to wait and see the details of his plan to make a final judgment. But on its face, an American military with 100,000 fewer troops is less powerful than an American military with 100,000 more troops.
There isn’t one place in the world where America is more powerful than it was on the day President Obama took office. There isn’t one relationship that the president has developed with another world leader that leverages his own power. This reality is made worse by the fact that this White House never admits mistakes, possibly because they think they don’t make any; but if you don’t make mistakes, there are no lessons learned — and with no lessons learned, there is no way you can make any improvements or change course.
Maybe there will be a big international incident next month that will shape how Americans vote. Or maybe nothing significant will happen until after the 2014 elections. Regardless, we will eventually pay a price for the weakening of America’s presence in the world. Let’s all hope for the best.
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