Despite President Obama’s snarky jabs at Mitt Romney in Monday night’s debate, claiming command of international affairs, the truth is that after nearly four years the emperor’s foreign and national security policy still has no clothes.
First, there’s no denying the Middle East is a mess. The Arab Spring released hard-line Islamist forces, not moderate secular forces as Team Obama hoped. It’s wrong to equate elections with the broader ideas of liberty and democracy.
While the president talked about his mainly-diplomatic approach in Syria, after nearly 20 months, the bloodletting continues. The outcome in Syria, considering the regime’s ties to Iran and Hezbollah, is much more fateful for us than Obama lets on.
The president is right that Iran is more heavily sanctioned and isolated than ever, but that’s irrelevant. Four years of Obama-plomacy toward Iran hasn’t changed Tehran’s atomic aspirations. After all, diplomacy and sanctions didn’t prevent Pakistan or North Korea from a nuclear breakout. They saw getting nukes as in their interest and worth the pain.
And while the candidates didn’t really get into the Libya tragedy — as many hoped they would — six weeks after the al-Qaeda allies’ attack on our consulate Team Obama’s handling of the crisis still raises far more questions than answers.
On Afghanistan, the president continues to say we’ve re-focused on those responsible for 9/11 — Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. But he doesn’t tell us the rest of the story: It’s possible that our 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan could allow the Taliban and Haqqani Network to seize territory and invite al-Qaeda back in.
And al-Qaeda continues to proliferate, especially in places like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, Mali — and now Libya.
On defense, Obama created a buzz with his “fewer horses and bayonets” sound bite, responding to Romney’s concern about the incredible-shrinking U.S. Navy and the sad fact that it may soon have the smallest fleet since World War I. Meanwhile, Beijing now has the second-largest navy in Asia and one of the world’s most active military shipbuilding programs.
In terms of military power, quantity counts. If you’re going to be a global power, you have to be able to be there. Diplomacy — which Obama is a big fan of — is always more effective when backed by the threat of military force.
Obama claims his foreign policy goal is to keep the American people safe. But the best way to keep the United States secure is to build enough domestic economic strength to project diplomatic and military power overseas.
In the end, the greatest ongoing threat to American security is our actual or perceived weakness, which those who would do us ill have exploited — and will continue to exploit — without major changes in our foreign and national security policy.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in Boston Herald.