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Barack Obama’s presidency has had profoundly negative consequences for our national security. From debilitating cuts in defense budgets, to gutting national missile defense efforts, to his unwillingness to acknowledge a continuing war against terrorism, to his inability to stem the nuclear proliferation threats posed by North Korea and Iran, to his echo of George McGovern’s 1972 refrain, “come home, America,” the picture is bleak.
Underlying these and many other foreign and defense policy mistakes is a common theme. Obama consistently rejects the ancient doctrine si vis pacem, para bellum: if you want peace, prepare for war. George Washington said almost exactly that in his first annual message to Congress in 1790: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”
By contrast, Obama acts as though U.S. strength is provocative, and that our military forces, especially our nuclear “umbrella,” exceed our legitimate needs, and are therefore worthy of reduction. He bases this conclusion not on strategic analysis, but on ideology, the knee-jerk belief that America’s size and global influence somehow induce the misbehavior of others.
‘Blame America first’
Jeane Kirkpatrick assailed “the San Francisco Democrats,” site of their 1984 nominating convention, by saying “they always blame America first.” Fortunately, neither Walter Mondale nor successive ideological clones were elected, but Obama was.
He has spent his first term doing exactly what Kirkpatrick warned us about. The president either does not understand or does not care that America’s strong international presence is critical and often decisive in maintaining whatever stability and security exists around the world.
The United States and its alliance partners provide this international stability not out of altruism, but out of self-interest. For all of Obama’s obsession with domestic affairs, often to the exclusion of national security priorities, it is ironic he has not made the most elementary connection, namely that U.S. politico-military resoluteness internationally is critical to sustained economic growth at home.
If international trade, investment, finance, and communications were to be imperiled by growing global anarchy or the belligerence of regional powers, our economy would suffer, and so would many others. The inextricable linkage between a strong America abroad and a strong America at home is one that Obama ignores at our collective peril.
Contrary to Obama’s worldview, challenges to our national security, economic and political, are not provoked by U.S. strength but by U.S. weakness. Enemies and potential adversaries today see a White House most benignly be described as inattentive to world affairs, which does not view the world as terribly threatening or challenging to American interests, and which is not prepared to confront incipient threats to our interests before they metastasize. Our opponents now understand Obama, and they are now continually recalibrating their strategies to take account of both his indifference and his weakness. And with Obama’s measure having been taken, a second term will doubtless mean that the scope and the pace of global challenges to our security will broaden and accelerate.
It is his fundamental ideological blunder—combined with inexperience, incompetence and naiveté—that explains so much of Obama’s national security strategy. Unfortunately, while restoring a proper philosophical basis for U.S. policy would be relatively easy under a new President Romney, correcting the real-world consequences of Obama’s mistakes will be far more difficult and costly.
Some problems have inevitably gotten irretrievably worse, such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which made four years of essentially undisturbed progress on Obama’s watch. We can only hope that neither Pyongyang nor Tehran take steps in the eight months before January 20, 2013, that will so worsen the situation that President Romney would be confronted with a fundamentally more dangerous proliferation environment.
Similarly, Russia and China continue to become more adversarial. Despite a three-year effort to press the “reset” button with Moscow, Russia has pocketed one Obama concession after another, on missile defense, arms control, and proliferation. Now, top Russian defense officials are threatening pre-emptive military strikes against U.S. missile-defense facilities in Europe.
If this is what we get for bending the knee to Moscow, one can hardly conjure what “bad” relations with Russia would mean. Similarly, Beijing is building up its conventional and nuclear forces, conducting widespread cyber-warfare against both the U.S. government and our private sector, and making vast, and utterly unjustifiable, territorial claims in its region, with essentially no response from the White House.
Elections, as political analysts say, are about choices. On national security, it is hard to imagine a starker choice than the one we will make this November. And the budget deficits created by Obama will make for extraordinarily hard choices as we try to restore America’s international presence. But as Ronald Reagan once said: “yes, the cost is high, but the price of neglect would be infinitely higher.”
John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security.