Debate Magazine

Save American Defense from Obama’s Inept Leadership

Posted on the 30 October 2014 by Shahalexander

While Western democracy was taking holidays from history, challengers like Russia and China reemerged from post Cold War peace. And also, religious extremism rose to eclipse nation states in the Middle East. Furthermore, nuclear proliferators like North Korea and Iran are emerging one after another. The global security picture today has become more complicated than that of the bipolar era. Naïvely believed the end of history as shown in defense spending debate at NATO’s Wales summit, the Western alliance failed to manage multiple rising threats. It is not American “decline” but poorly prepared defense that really matters.
For a peaceful world order, lofty ideals and security strategy must be substantiated with raw hard power. The war against ISIS is dependent on an ad hoc coalition of the willing, instead of established security alliance like NATO. It is, therefore, necessary to rebuild American defense beyond partisan and ideological stand points. In order to rebuild defense power, it is necessary to rebuild national security policy.
Currently American security policy is shattered by inter and intra party politics. Michelle Flournoy, CEO, and Richard Fontaine, President, both at the Center for New American Security, presents an overview of politicization of American defense. During the 1970s and 80s, crossover voting was commonly seen, which helped the formation of bipartisan foreign policy consensus. However, strict partisanship prevents it these days. Intra party split is also serious. As to Republicans, Defense hawks and budget hawks bicker each other. On the Democratic side, the far left deviates from mainstream as they regard robust American economic and military presence around the globe simply sacrifices domestic issues like growing inequality (“Rebuilding Bipartisan Consensus on National Security”; June 9, 2014; Defense One).
We must bear in mind that so many Americans are tired of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are drawn to isolationists of either right or left wings. This is the very background to help Barack Obama win the presidential elections for two terms. As Fournoy and Fontaine argued, well-aware people must explore bipartisan national security consensus through various venues. So many things need to be considered to rebuild American defense, including right assessment of threats, right defense size, right defense budget, and so forth. But what really matters is the leadership of the president. As shown in Obama’s comment that he underestimated ISIS threat at the end of this September (“Obama: U.S. Underestimated ISIS, Overestimated Iraqi Army”; NPR News; September 28, 2014), presidential leadership in American defense is extremely questionable.
How Obama’s leadership harmed presidential leadership? Bobby Jindahl, Governor of Louisiana, outlined fundamental fraud of Obama’s defense policy in his lecture on October 6 at the American Enterprise Institute. The fundamental point of his argument is that current world insecurity is the consequence of Obama’s foreign policy viewpoint that denies America’s special role as the provider of global public good and its moral authority. Also, Obama’s disengagement is undermining trust to the United States among the allies. As Jindahl mentions, Obama’s foreign policy is nothing but “don’t do stupid things”, which is simply in denial of Bush’s approach. The most fatal mistake that Obama made was spending cut in defense when multiple threats were rising, from traditional ones like Russia and China to asymmetric ones like Al Qaeda and ISIS. As widely known, Jindahl is one of the prospective candidates for Republican presidential nominee in 2016. The vital point is that he tries to fill the intra party gap between budget hawks and defense hawks by emphasizing himself as a fiscal conservative who advocates wise defense spending while increasing the total amount of it. See the video below.

More importantly, criticism to Obama’s defense policy is rising even from his own camp. When former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates published his memoir, he commented that Obama had no confidence in his Afghan strategy and did not trust his military staff regarding Iraq. According to Gates, Obama was obsessed with nothing but early withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan (“Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty’”; Washington Post; January 7, 2014). It is somewhat expected that Republican Gates is critical to Obama’s defense policy. Also, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounces Obama’s failure to sponsor the Free Syrian Army, which permitted the rise of jihadists there. Though a Democrat, she is running for the 2016 election, and needs to differentiate herself from Obama. However, Leon Panetta’s rebuke this fall is startling, because he is a long term Democrat, and held top positions such as the Director of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense. Unlike Clinton, Panetta has never been a presidential rival, and supposed to be more loyal to Obama than Gates and Clinton.

In his memoir, Panetta says that Obama was preoccupied with immediate withdrawal from Iraq despite he strongly recommended to keep 24,000 troops there (“Obama ignores Leon Panetta’s warning”; Washington Post; October 6, 2014). Along with Panetta, Under Secretary of Defense-then Michele Flournoy and military commanders raised critical concerns with post withdrawal turmoil. However, Obama dismissed their analyses just “bogus and wrong”. That permitted current vandalism by ISIS (“Leon Panetta criticizes Obama for Iraq withdrawal”; CBS News; October 2, 2014). This is partly due to Obama’s lack of understandings in defense and his failure to assess security threats, but more fundamentally, his obsession with stepping down from superpower.

Ironically, Obama’s inept handling of defense can be of some help to nurture bipartisan consensus. Obama said, “There is no liberal America and conservative America, but the United States of America” during the 2008 presidential election. Now, he is appalled by both liberal America and conservative America. Will common understandings among the foreign policy circle overcome war weary public and intra party splits of both parties? Hopefully, that will help the next president whoever he or she is.

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