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One of the more perverse and fascinating aspects of the impending 2012 Presidential election is the apparent reversal of the long-time public perception that the Republican Party is stronger on national defense and that the Democratic Party is stronger on economic issues. Today, with few exceptions, exactly the opposite is the public portrayal, as encapsulated in Joe Biden’s favorite tagline from the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina: “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”
As events transpire, of course, things are not quite so simple. Bin Laden is indeed dead – an announcement made with unnecessary fanfare and attention to grisly details, some of which are now reportedly proving to be exaggerated or inaccurate – but General Motors is still very much on life support and may well wind up again in bankruptcy.
Since the government bailout that turned U. S. bankruptcy laws on their head and stiffed GM’s creditors in favor of its unionized employee-owners, GM’s share of the U. S. automobile market has continued to decline, and the company still owes the American taxpayer some $25 billion. True, that’s a small piece of change compared to a $16 trillion national debt, but $25 billion would still assist a lot of poor people with subsidized health care and housing and – who knows? – even help Georgetown law students and others afford their “free” birth control.
Dispatching bin Laden on the other hand was a military and foreign policy goal set at least as early as September 11, 2001, under a prior administration, and a United States Navy SEAL Team finally completed the task while their current Commander-in-Chief was out playing his regular Sunday morning round of golf. Still, incumbent Presidents get credit for what happens on their watch, so give President Obama his due for authorizing the mission, even though he did show up late from the golf course to witness it on closed-circuit television and had to sit in the back of the room.
Sadly, however, the dispatch of bin Laden has been virtually the sole foreign policy achievement of the current administration and that has seemingly had little effect on anyone except on Joe Biden. Despite the seemingly tireless efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the administration bungled its “reset” with Putin’s Russia, has effectively abandoned any sort of anti-missile defense protection for Poland and Eastern Europe, intervened only belatedly in Libya, and failed to seize the initiative in the “Arab Spring” in Egypt or the Green Revolution in Iran, squandering opportunities for greater – and friendlier – democracy in both countries. Instead, the current administration leads from behind and welcomes the Muslim Brotherhood to the White House.
Indeed, America’s current foreign policy seems grounded more on appeasement and popularity than on achievement and realpolitik.
With respect to the world’s tinderbox – the Middle East, home to the continuing struggle between the Arab world and the State of Israel over Israel’s very right to exist – the President’s party dramatically equivocated at its recent convention on whether the U. S. should even recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol. This is a direct reflection of the President’s own ambivalence on the issue.
With respect to the Bush administration’s attempts to replace a despotic and genocidal dictator with a functioning democracy in Iraq – strategically located between Iran to the east and Saudi Arabia and Syria to the South and the west – this administration famously declared it a “war of choice” and decided to pull out, squandering the sacrifice of life, limb, and morale of some of the country’s bravest and most committed citizens. (No veteran is quite as embittered as the one who feels he gave his limbs or health in vain.)
And with respect to the “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, the President has also prematurely announced a timetable for failure while seeking to negotiate with the very Taliban who harbored bin Laden while al Qaeda plotted its original September 11 attacks.
This same attitude of appeasement is reflected concerning the association of Mullahs whom our President insists on calling “The Islamic Republic of Iran.” There, the centrifuges keep spinning in the name of a “peaceful” nuclear energy program in a country sitting on one of the world’s largest oil reserves. For over a decade, Iran has been a major terrorist trainer and a supplier of the “improvised explosive devices” (IED’s) that have done such terrible physical and emotional damage to young Americans trying to keep the peace in neighboring Iraq. The fact that the Mullahs pursue their “peaceful” nuclear program in battle-hardened bunkers suggests nothing so much as a military purpose, while Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to promise a second Holocaust against Israel’s Jewish population while denying that a first one ever took place.
Remarkably, the President’s foreign policy team announced this week that the U.S. is still “not setting deadlines” for Iran and that the U.S. considers negotiations “by far the best approach” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Like the administration’s economic policies, it seems, they haven’t worked so far, so it’s determined to try more of them.
At the same time, the U.S. continues aggressively to discourage Israel from taking pre-emptive military action despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s astute observation that “[t]hose in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” And despite finding time for David Letterman’s show, an interview with a Miami rapper, and more fundraisers than any U. S. President in modern history, Mr. Obama can’t quite find time in his busy schedule to meet with Mr. Netanyahu when Netanyahu visits the U.S. later this month.
All of the administration’s pontificating would be of little import if it had no real-world consequences, but of course it unfortunately does. Like Neville Chamberlain’s policies of negotiation and appeasement in the 1930’s, the administration’s fecklessness only guarantees future unhappy consequences. So far, within just three days of the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we have witnessed al Qaeda-inspired attacks on U. S. embassies in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, with more reported unrest in Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia.
In Egypt on Tuesday, exactly the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, an Islamist mob occupied U.S. embassy grounds in Cairo, tore up the American flag, and waved the banner of al Qaeda. That same day in Libya, organized militants armed with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades overwhelmed the U. S. mission in Benghazi – at the far end of Libya’s coast from Tripoli – murdering U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff, including Air Force veteran Sean Smith, working on temporary assignment as an information management officer, and 42-year old former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, working as a security officer.
No doubt cowed by Secretary of State Clinton’s stern “condemn[ation] in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today,” as reported in The New York Times, Yemeni protesters waited two whole days before storming the U.S. embassy there, breaking through an outer perimeter, clambering over a high wall, and setting fire to a building before being “forced to retreat after trying to plunder furniture and computers.” (Nothing says political protest like pillaging and looting.) Like their friends in Egypt, the Yemeni protesters also tore down (and burned) the U. S. flag, replacing it with an Islamic banner of their own making.
Meanwhile, back in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a reported 500 Iranians chanting “Death to America” converged on the Swiss Embassy (the surrogate for U. S. interests in the absence of a U. S. embassy in Teheran) while protesters continued to scuffle with police for a third consecutive day at the American Embassy in Cairo. Not to be outdone, the militant Iraqi Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq has proclaimed “all American interests in danger.” The New York Times is also reporting protests at American missions in Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia.
As exemplified by Secretary Clinton, the administration’s response to all this has been mostly anemic: verbal condemnations “in the strongest terms” and apologies – not once, but twice – to Muslims whose “religious feelings” may have been hurt by a 14-minute YouTube trailer of a video called “Innocence of Muslims,” originally posted in June, that allegedly provoked the protests. (One apology reportedly came before the protests began in Cairo and Libya, and one has come since that time.)
But the excuse that an amateur video is what provoked al Qaeda-inspired anti-American attacks on the 11thanniversary of September 11 holds little water. According to The Times itself, the video was made in obscurity back in June and was barely noticed when released; only when translated into Arabic and reposted twice on YouTube in the days before September 11 did it draw any attention. It seems highly unlikely that Libyan militants could and would organize and arm themselves with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled in a mere matter of days: as a U.S. counterterrorism official quoted anonymously by the Associated Press put it, the Benghazi violence was “too coordinated or professional” to be spontaneous. And unless “devout Muslims” are synonymous with “al Qaeda terrorists” it seems odd that the religiously devout in Cairo would be waving the banner of al Qaeda.
More likely, this developing anti-American violence on and in the wake of the anniversary of September 11 is part and parcel of coordinated attacks that reflect the Arab world’s perception that, in the words of the late bin Laden, America is indeed a “weak horse.” With nothing but talk, apology, and retreat in the face of increasing foreign policy threats, the current administration has only reinforced that perception.
At last report, the administration had belatedly dispatched a small contingent of elite U. S. Marines from their home base in Spain to their spiritual home of Tripoli, enshrined in the Marine Corps anthem, to be deployed to Benghazi to guard U.S. diplomatic facilities. Let us hope that this deployment is not too little, too late. As Medieval philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli observed in his famous tract “The Prince,” in foreign affairs it is far better to be respected than to be loved.