President Obamas just-issued National Security Strategy has, like most heavily nuanced Obama documents, something for everyone. What is given with one hand is seized by the other, in near-predictable cyclical fashion.
There are stout affirmations of Americas need for a strong defense extensively qualified by even more dogmatic commitments to a new international order. According to the President, we must (renew) American leadership so that we can more effectively advance our interests in the 21st century while shaping an international order that can meet the challenges of our time.
So ... is there ever a time when American leadership means standing alone? Is that not, by definition, what leadership sometimes is?
Mr. Obama says, within two paragraphs, that military force, at times may be necessary to defend our country and that the use of force is sometimes necessary (emphasis mine). Maybe, is, could be, sometimes there might be a certain trumpet in there somewhere, but I have yet to find it.
Mr. Obama then lurches into Wilsonian utopianism: His new strategy reaffirms Americas commitment to pursue our interests through an international system in which all nations have certain rights and responsibilities. This rings of Wilsons infantile Fourteen Points, through which an arrogant American president tried to impose a new international order on a world that didnt want one.
Then: When force is necessary, we will continue to do so in a way that reflects our values and strengthens our legitimacy, and we will seek broad international support, working with such institutions as NATO and the U.N. Security Council.
You tell em, Mr. President. Im sure the worlds dictators are trembling with terror. No doubt Kim Jong-Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have by now jettisoned their nuclear arms programs, Vladimir Putin is relaxing his authoritarian grip on Russia, and China will allow representative democracy - all in light of your vacuous commitment to international bloviation.
Just to be sure theres no confusion, the President then says: The United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests, yet we will also seek to adhere to standards that govern the use of force.
Got that? First, he has so qualified this assurance through the repetitive emphasis on international order, cooperation and making nice with friends and enemies alike that it is little more than a throw-away line. Still, one inference is clear that at times, we have violated our own principles.
In a fallen world and yes, Mr. President, it really is imperfectable no nation constantly lives up to every one of its principles all the time. America has done so better than any other, and rather than continuously if tacitly admitting our failures, perhaps a word about all we have done to better the life of the world, at great sacrifice of blood and treasure, might be advised. But thats just me.
In a preview of todays statement, the President spoke at West Point this past weekend. There, he said:
So we have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation. We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by your side in Afghanistan and around the globe. As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.
Insulting Israel and her Prime Minister, treating Poland and the Czech Republic with contempt by suddenly canceling long-negotiated anti-missile system agreements, giving the Queen of England recordings of ones own speeches is this what Mr. Obama means by strengthening old alliances? Playing-up to the autocratic (and ruthless) bully Vladimir Putin, apologizing to China CHINA! - for Arizonas new immigration law, failing to approve the Columbia free trade agreement: Are these and similar misadventures what Mr. Obama would call shaping stronger international standards and institutions?
This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times - countering violent extremism and insurgency; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials; combating a changing climate and sustaining global growth; helping countries feed themselves and care for their sick; preventing conflict and healing wounds.
Well might Mr. Obama seek this kind of international order, but he will never find it. Such an order implies an overarching international governmental regime to which to belong intrinsically would compromise the independence and security of the United States. And an informal order of this type will never work, because it presupposes that regulatory constraints (e.g., economic sanctions) and enlightened self-interest will drive policy. Consider the United Nations, which has been such a roaring success. Just ask the victims of Pol Pot, the residents of Darfur and the brutalized people of the Congo.
These assumptions are so naive as to evoke visions of sugar-plums. Dictators, totalitarians, oligarchs, and corrupt, venal and creatively evil leaders of all types understand consistency and force, nothing more. The threat of military intervention must always lurk behind any effort to negotiate agreements favorable to the vital security interests of the United States. For such a veiled threat to be realistic, it must also be understood that America will act alone, for its own sake, whenever necessary.
Mr. Obama has taken this option substantially off the table and thereby hobbled the United States with the imponderable burden of international approval for future military engagement.
During his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Mr. Obama said, As a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation ... I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people ... To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Amen. But to this should be added, Thus, while we will never act cavalierly, when necessary America will act unilaterally to protect itself from any form of aggression against its people and vital interests.
Mr. Obama has now subsumed Americas compelling and sometimes urgent need for solitary action under the broad umbrella of an amorphous international order composed of who knows what and whom. While he professes to understand the need for force and the intransigence of evil, he fails to grasp something unique and essential: He is the President of the United States, the sole exceptional nation that alone can animate just alliances and confront regional and international evil.
The irony is that for any sustained and honorable order to exist, America must always be willing to stand apart and act alone. Without this underlying commitment, our enemies will not tremble nor our friends be at rest. In denying this principle, Mr. Obama has set in motion the very disorder of which he warns.
George Washington wrote that "There is a rank due to the United States, among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness.
A reputation for exactly that is being hard-won by a President and Administration that disregard our allies, caustically attack our friends and obsequiously fawns over our adversaries.
The rank of which President Washington spoke is diminished. We are at risk of losing it altogether.