The president authorizes F16s to be delivered to Muslim Brotherhood chief and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Egypt’s top general declares that “the state itself was in danger of collapse if the feuding civilian leaders could not agree on a solution to restore order.” Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton in an e-mail to Right Turn advises that “we should suspend all aid until Morsi unequivocally endorses Camp David, apologizes for his hateful remarks about Jews, and starts acting like the friend of the United States Egypt is supposed to be.” Instead, the White House and State Department say they are very disappointed, very concerned, blah-blah-blah.
Having previously told us that al-Qaeda was nearly kaput, the president tells us a decade of war is over. He hasn’t tried to fend off sequestration cuts and wants as defense secretary someone who thinks the Pentagon is “bloated,” favored a Global Zero no-nukes fantasy and has championed U.S. retrenchment. But wait: “The U.S. military is planning a new drone base in Africa that would expand its surveillance of al-Qaeda fighters and other militants in northern Mali, a development that would escalate American involvement in a fast-spreading conflict. Two Obama administration officials said military planners are eyeing the West African country of Niger as a base for unarmed Predator drones, which would greatly boost U.S. spy missions in the region.”
The president announces $155 million in humanitarian aid for besieged Syrians, fatuously instructing them: “Even as we work to end the violence against you, this aid will help address some of the immediate needs you face each day. . . . More Syrians are standing up for their dignity. The Assad regime will come to an end. The Syrian people will have their chance to forge their own future. And they will continue to find a partner in the United States of America.” Except there is no military assistance forthcoming, no meaningful measures to take out Bashar al-Assad. And Obama has appointed a secretary of state infamous for Assad boot-licking and has nominated a defense secretary who consistently opposed sanctions on Syria and was still telling us in late 2009 that Syria was willing to dump Iran and move toward the United States. (He also has been unusually solicitous when it comes to Hezbollah, whose patron is Assad, of course).
Is Egypt a reliable ally or not? Are our threats diminishing or escalating? Do we have national interests in ending the slaughter in Syria or just sending blankets? If threats are expanding, can we afford to slash defense? These are reasonable and critical questions for which no administration answers can be divined.
Despite President Obama’s public fawning over departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she crafted no framework for our foreign policy, came up with no doctrines and advanced no coherent strategy for the Middle East (or really anywhere else). It took her goodbye Benghazi hearing for us to hear that there was a metastasizing threat from al-Qaeda in North Africa. (Did she figure this out before or after four Americans were killed in Libya and more were killed in Algeria?)
They say that foreign policy is being run out of the White House. But who there is steering and what are our policies?
Defense policy, if it is possible, is in even more disarray. Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings (whom I suggested would be a fine defense secretary) warns that rather than arguing in sweeping terms about the defense budget, we should be trying to “link budget numbers to strategies and capabilities.” He explains that “there are two basic ways to proceed now: a tactical approach and a strategic one. Tactical cuts would stay with the basic national-security strategy of the Obama administration but look for additional economies within it. . . . [Huge strategic cuts] wouldn’t emasculate the country, deprive it of superpower status or force the abandonment of any allies, but it would mean accepting substantially greater risk.” Well, we can see why he didn’t get the job. Too much serious policy, too much attention to the real world, too little inclination to say whatever he needs to in order to get into the White House’s good graces.
It is a truism that personnel is policy in government. But in this case the disinclination to have coherent policies necessitates, I guess, weak appointees whose own views are changeable when convenient and whose presence is primarily justified by how comfortable they make the president feel. The problem with third-rate appointees and policy incoherence is that we have real, substantial and complex national security challenges. Obama has done his best in rhetoric and in appointments to convey that we are not up for those challenges.