The president was going to make us more respected in the world. By an overwhelming margin in a new Pew poll, Americans don’t think he has: “For the first time in surveys dating back nearly 40 years, a majority (53%) says the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago. The share saying the U.S. is less powerful has increased 12 points since 2009 and has more than doubled – from just 20% – since 2004. An even larger majority says the U.S. is losing respect internationally. Fully 70% say the United States is less respected than in the past, which nearly matches the level reached late in former President George W. Bush’s second term (71% in May 2008).” Considering the behavior of China, Russia, Iran, Syria and Egypt of late, it is hard to argue with the observation we have less clout than we’ve had in decades.
The assassination of Osama bin Laden was going to decimate al-Qaeda and so reduce the threat of jihadists that we could safely bug out from Afghanistan. That’s not true either, according to the New York Times: “Intensifying sectarian and clan violence has presented new opportunities for jihadist groups across the Middle East and raised concerns among American intelligence and counterterrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe.”
Hmm, it might just be that we do have compelling national security interests in Syria. As we did, the Times notices key lawmakers privy to the most intelligence data don’t think we are safer:
The new signs of an energized but fragmented jihadist threat, stretching from Mali and Libya in the west to Yemen in the east, have complicated the narrative of a weakened Al Qaeda that President Obama offered in May in a landmark speech heralding the end of the war on terrorism. The leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, raised warnings in an interview on CNN on Sunday when they said that Americans were “not safer” from terrorist attacks than they were in 2011.
Consider then how badly Obama has measured up to his own defined foreign policy goals — and we haven’t gotten to completion of the “peace process” in a year (a number of years ago) or the removal of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So many of the nostrums we’ve heard for five years turn out to be terribly wrong:
• Leading from behind is not a realistic policy.
• The Libya approach was not a superior way to handle such conflicts.
• Leaving Iraq and leaving Afghanistan don’t “end wars.”
• The United states cannot retrench and expect the world to leave the United States and its allies alone.
• Equivocation over Syria was not a diplomatic success story.
• The “peace process” is not the key to bringing stability to the Middle East.
It is hard to think of a major initiative or significant policy (not Russian reset, not Iran engagement, not bullying Israel about settlements) that worked. And things get worse by the day.
Jihadist violence is on the upswing in Northern Mali. Ukraine, under pressure from the Russians, has turned its back on a key political and economic agreement with the EU and resulted in mass protests. Ukraine now seeks to pivot back to Russia, in contravention of U.S. and European attempts over the last 20 years to integrate the former states of the Soviet Union into Europe. (Senators from both parties have criticized Russian meddling and condemned the Ukrainian government’s violence against protesters, but the administration remains, as we have come to expect, relatively mum.) Meanwhile, Russia is in talks with Iran on helping Iran build another nuclear reactor. And in Asia, to which we were going to “pivot,” China is flexing its muscles by asserting air rights over the disputed Senkaku islands.
Moreover, our ability to deter aggression and assert power is evaporating with each new installment of the sequester. Our military readiness and lack of sufficient funding for projects such as the Air-Sea Battle concept continue the pattern of half-hearted efforts and a lack of seriousness about maintaining American power.
If “decline is a choice” as Charles Krauthammer and Robert Kagan say, this president is all in. The results are a more dangerous world for which we are under- or unprepared.