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Foreign Affairs

Trump vs Trump

January 26th, 2016 // 12:24 am @

The Maybe

Donald TrumpA lot of people can’t stand the thought of Donald Trump for president. And, in contrast, a lot of people really like the idea. But neither of these groups, alone, is going to make the decision. Those who support Trump will vote for him, and those don’t, won’t.

There is another interesting group that will have a lot of influence in the primaries, and perhaps in the general election. This group (let’s call them Group X) isn’t sure what to do with this election. Perhaps Group X was summed up best by a man in Iowa who said something like this:

A lot of people don’t want to vote for Donald Trump, but they really do want to vote for someone like Donald Trump—someone with pretty much the same views, the same policies, the same disdain for Washington, the same sense of really fixing things, and the same aggressiveness, but without the outrageous, bombastic, offensive and extreme.

Group X could have a huge impact on the election. But if not Donald Trump, then who else could they elect?

What Voters Want

Some pundits immediately suggested that Ted Cruz or Chris Christie might meet their needs. But the Group X voters shook their heads. What the pundits don’t seem to understand is that many voters believe that if Christie, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Fiorina, or Huckabee win the White House, it will be politics as usual in Washington. And the voters hate this.

Just think: Who will any of these candidates put into the top cabinet positions? Answer: politicians. The same old faces. Meaning that nothing will change.

But Trump: he’ll put in new people. From outside political circles. He’ll do things very differently. And that’s what voters want. This is what the Republican and media pundits don’t seem to grasp. The conservative voters want change. Real change. Not another George Bush I and George Bush II era.

The truth is, members of Group X want Trump, but they want him to be less…scary. To stop attacking war heroes, the disabled, and every minority in the nation and world. They want him to be politically incorrect, but not petty, vindictive and mean-spirited.

Moreover, as a nation we’re now moving into an era of war, whether we realize it or not. It’s a new kind of war, to be sure, with sleeper cells waiting in neighborhoods (like in San Bernandino) and lone extremist shooters (like in Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Fort Hood). But it’s real.

Group X voters want a wartime president, someone who says hard things and fixes heretofore unfixable problems. But they are torn, because they want the same president to do it all nicely. Many of these people have long felt that politics is too contentious and corrupt. They’ve spent years hoping for a new era, one that addresses the uncomfortable mire of American politics.

Now they are faced with just such a major shift, but it is headed in a very different direction. Putin is a wildcard and obvious danger, and China’s threat rests heavy on many Americans. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and other terrorists have many voters very concerned, and now the idea that radicalized terrorist attackers might be living in any neighborhood…it has a lot of people scared.

All this at a time that many Americans suffer a sort of collective PTSD about the Great Recession of 2008-2012. “When will the next major problems hit our economy?” many people wonder. Others ask, “Has the economy really, actually, recovered like Washington claims? Then why doesn’t it feel like it?”

The Trump Card

Many committed Trump supporters have long since moved past this internal struggle. In their minds, it is clear that Washington is a disaster, that both parties are unable to really put things in order, and that Trump is the most decidedly-non-politician in the race.

They don’t necessarily agree with everything he says about the border with Mexico, but they believe he’ll build a real wall and close the border if anyone can. In their view, none of the politicians will even get close.

Likewise, they don’t agree with Trump’s worst rhetoric against Syrian refugees, or other groups, but they’re convinced that he’ll make the nation a lot safer than anyone else who is running.

Apply this same approach to every issue—Russia, China, the economy. Trump supporters believe that if anyone can actually take on Putin, Iran, China, and change the economy, it’s Trump. In their view, everyone else in the presidential race will just dither around, play politics, talk a lot, and nothing will really change. In fact, things will just get worse over the next four years—just like the last eight, sixteen, or even twenty-four years have under Obama, Bush and Clinton.

And, of course, on the other side of the divide there are those who wouldn’t dream of voting for Trump. From their perspective, he’s unpredictable, divisive, and vindictive—unfit to be in the White House.

The challenge for Group X is that they partially agree with both sides. They struggle, because on the one hand they think that only Trump will really change things. Only Trump will actually fix these huge problems. They’ve just watched decades of politicians make promises, and nothing got done, or bad things got done. They know what another politician in the White House will do—and they don’t want that.

But on the other hand, they wonder if Trump will change it too much. Will his extreme rhetoric go too far? Hasn’t it already? Will rounding up illegal aliens in the U.S. go too far?

They like Trump when they think about him facing off with Putin, ISIS, China, North Korea, and Iran. He might be wild and unpredictable, but he’s OUR wild and unpredictable—so watch out! But they cringe when they picture how he might decide to respond to a big race riot in a major U.S. city. Or ten major U.S. cities.

The Real Race

This is the big debate in the 2016 election. For this group of conservatives (in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and a handful of other early voting states) who will probably determine how the primaries turn out, it’s not Trump vs. Cruz, Trump vs. Carson or Bush, Trump vs. Rubio or even Trump vs. Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

It’s Trump vs. Trump. Pure and simple.

Which way will these Group X voters turn? They are being pulled in two powerful directions, and the elections are rapidly approaching.

As the primaries arrive, we will see what they decide. They may pull back, deciding in the end that Trump is just too much of a wildcard, or they may decide that it’s finally time for a major shakeup in Washington, even a bumpy, white-knuckled one. After all, things have been going badly for over twenty-four years, so let’s try something different.

Trump supporters say that concerns about Trump are extreme, that the rhetoric of the campaign will eventually calm to the intelligent decisions of a President Trump—a proven leader and an effective, rational business executive, an inspiring and good father.

The X Group will consider this viewpoint as well. But it is still very unclear how they will vote. We will probably have to wait for the actual caucuses and primaries to see which direction they’ll choose.

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A Real State of the Union

January 7th, 2016 // 9:09 am @

Where America Is Right Now

Whatever the President says in the State of the Union address early next week, here’s what really needs to be said.

A Real State of the Union:

president-obama-announcementSometimes things just don’t add up. They don’t make sense. There’s no way to reconcile them with…well, reality. They are square pegs in a world of round holes.

I recently came across five such troubling facts and questions in current events, and, to make them even more ridiculous, they’re all coming from basically the same place: The current White House.

So here they are. I’ll give a little commentary on them, but not much. They’re pretty self-explanatory. Or, maybe a better way to say this is that they’re all amazingly ridiculous and commentary won’t help.

1. According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act) will reduce the number of full-time workers in the U.S. by 2 million over the next ten years.

Seriously?

Yes.

Just think of it: That’s 2 million full-time jobs that are going to be lost simply (and specifically) because of Obamacare.

This begs the question: “Then why do we keep it?”

The next three items come from an unattributed note circulating on social media. I think they’re worth reading:

2. “We are advised to NOT judge all Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of few lunatics.”

The White House couldn’t be more inconsistent on these two issues.

(By the way, I side with not judging any group by the actions a few bad apples.)

3. “Why are we cutting benefits for our veterans, no pay raises for our military and reducing the size of our army (too expensive to maintain), but we are not stopping payments or benefits to illegal aliens, or cutting federal aid to foreign countries?”

Cut the foreign aid and massive welfare (across the board, not just to immigrants) and rebuild our security.

4. “Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money. But we never hear about welfare or food stamps running out of money? What’s interesting is the first group ‘worked for’ their money, but the second didn’t.”

Did government use the money paid for the first group to cover the second?

The last one is just plain jaw dropping:

5. Over the course of many months our President and the White House have repeatedly assured us of two things: (A) ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic terrorists aren’t much of a threat, and (B) the most pressing priority for our national security is to get more nations to sign environmental treaties.

Talk about fiddling while Rome burns…

The Real Concerns

Together these five amazing attitudes give us a pretty good indication of how our current national leadership is thinking.

What about terrorism? What about the struggling economy? What about the massive over-regulation of business? What about the huge amounts of capital and jobs that are fleeing to other nations? What about serious unemployment (hidden because of the way Washington calculates its statistics)? What about China, Iran, and Putin? What about North Korea, and Syria? What about our skyrocketing national debt? What about…

“Don’t worry,” we’re told. “It’s under control.”

Really?

Where?

Certainly not here in the real world. The truth is that these things are far from “under control.”

I’m an optimist, and I still believe that America’s best years are ahead. But we need to make some major changes—and fast.

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Understanding Obama (What is the President Thinking?)

November 23rd, 2015 // 6:02 am @

Confusion and Concerns

president-obama-announcementIn the last couple of weeks I’ve heard the words “baffling,” “ridiculous,” “out of touch,” “unhinged,” and “I just don’t understand what he could possibly be thinking”—all directed at President Obama’s response to the tragedies in France and Mali. “It’s just like his answer to people shooting police officers,” many people are thinking, “His tone is all wrong. He thinks the good guys are the bad guys, and that the bad guys are the good guys.”

Actually, that’s exactly right. It’s a little more complicated than that, however. It boils down this: for seven years many pundits have been saying that President Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist, a Democratic centrist, yes, but not part of the far Left. But he’s acting like he is part of the far Left, now more than ever.

For example, if President Obama is a member of the far Left, this would easily explain his responses to the French massacre. The far Left tends to see the world as broken into two groups: the Oppressors and the Oppressed. Also, in this view, the Oppressors typically look and act a certain way: they hold positions of institutional power, they dress in expensive clothes, and they tend to talk for a living. Moreover, the Oppressors generally promote more power for themselves and others like them—and less for everyone else.

As president, a person with this view of the world (a place made up of Oppressors vs. Oppressed, always battling each other), is going to struggle when it comes to terrorism. Specifically: where most Americans see terrorists as the bad guys, the far Left sees people on Wall Street, big banks, the Right, K Street, Madison Avenue, and big business as the bad guys.

Likewise, where many Americans tend to see a police shooting (in, say, Ferguson, or Baltimore) as law enforcement officers protecting the Oppressed, the far Left sees it exactly the opposite—the police as tools of middle- and upper-class Oppressors, using their power to hurt the Oppressed under-classes.

The far Left tends to see terrorists as the Oppressed just looking for a way to get out from under the controls and dominating systems put upon them by Oppressive rich nations and their banks, rules, borders, etc. In this view, these things keep the poor poorer, and allow the rich to get richer.

It’s a matter of cultural dissonance. The two sides simply see the world very differently. In fact, many people see some of the elites as the bad guys. But the far Left takes it to an extreme: everyone is either helping the Oppression, often by mere inaction, or actively fighting against it.

The Divide

This isn’t anything new, of course. It’s been around for centuries. Greek, Roman and European history is full of this disconnect. It shows up in Biblical history and in ancient Egypt and Babylon. But what would be new, and different, is a president in the White House who generally sees things from the far Left viewpoint.

Such a president would see terrorism, and he would know it is wrong. He would say so. But he would also see in terrorism a fight of the Oppressed against their Oppressors, and he would view them as people trying to overcome the plight of the Oppressed.

Such a president would be willing to fight against terrorism, even sending troops and drones. But when he saw Republican rhetoric against refugees, or immigrants, would he view people who speak this way as the bad guys or the good guys? Clearly, he would think Republicans are the Oppressors, not the good guys.

Thus he would be able to stand in a press conference and unemotionally talk about the misdeeds of the terrorists in France, and only seem to get really emotional, really upset, when the topic turns to Republicans or reporters who question his motives. The Republicans and media seem like the bad guys, because they seem like Oppressors.

They would appear to be everything the far Left teaches about Oppressors—smug, educated, sure of their own righteousness, wealthy, powerful—while many of the terrorists fall into the category the far Left describes as desperate, misguided people seeking to throw off Oppression.

Where most people see terrorism as pure evil, a president with a far Left view would believe: The terrorists have the right goals (to overcome oppression), but use the wrong methods (terrorism). In contrast, the same president would believe that the Republicans and media have the wrong goals and the wrong methods, even though their methods are less extreme.

And, from the far Left view, the efforts of conservatives, bankers, middle class voters, media pundits and other Oppressors are downright wrong—and they must be stopped. Not violently, but stopped nonetheless. As a result, those on the far Left stop the terrorists because it is their duty, but they gleefully want to stop the middle class and elite “Oppressors” because they represent what in the far Left’s opinion is really, truly wrong with the world.

This view would also show up when a far Left president was speaking about police shootings. He/she would be seldom on the side of the police, often on the side of the non-police. Oppressors vs. Oppressed. Another example would arise when such a president addressed religion: often taking the side of Muslims, seldom siding with Christians. From the far Left viewpoint, this isn’t an issue of religion at all, but rather the ideal of always siding with the Oppressed minority against the Oppressive majority.

I don’t know if this critique is an accurate portrayal of the current president. I don’t know him, so I’m left with what the media shares. But this critique certainly explains a lot of his behaviors, and many of his words. It is indicative of many on the far Left. For example, when asked who her worst enemies were, Hillary Clinton mentioned terrorists as a problem but ended up calling “Republicans” her worst enemies.

She later said it was a joke. But the fact that she and many others laughed at the joke, and found it funny, is telling. People on both sides of the political divide frequently make this mistake, thinking that other Americans are really the great enemy, when so many worse enemies are out there (e.g. terrorists, Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, etc.).

What are the Solutions?

In all this, the real issue for most Americans is one of leadership. We are a nation divided. Divided about who the good guys are, and who the bad guys really are.

A nation where the majority of people don’t assume that the police are the good guys is in deep trouble. Very deep trouble. Yet our current President has seemed to signal this very thing on numerous occasions. This is a big problem.

Perhaps just as big, if not even bigger, is the President’s inability to passionately call out terrorism and unite the nation in defeating it. His attacks on terrorism seem half-hearted. For example, during the first Gulf War the allies sent out an average of nearly 1200 bombing sorties a day. In contrast, during the anti-ISIS attacks over the past 18 months, the Obama group has sent on average 6-8 sorties a day. That’s not a typo. It’s 1200 a day, versus 6-8 day. That’s a huge difference!

In short, those on the far Left aren’t really interested in foreign issues. They are focused on reformatting America, using government to transfer more and more power, money, and influence from the “Oppressive middle and upper classes” to the “Oppressed” under classes. Foreign policy is a distraction for them. They are annoyed when foreign policy problems come up at all, and wish they would just go away. For example, the President truly seems more passionate about taking away guns from law-abiding American citizens than he is about stopping terrorists.

With that kind of fuzzy leadership, not much is going to get done. The next time we elect a president, we need to look for someone whose words are crystal clear about what’s really important. Above all, the main purpose of the national government is national defense. And the main purpose of state and local governments is protection from murder, rape, theft and other violent crimes. Stopping these things is the reason government was invented in the first place.

Perhaps part of the reason political leadership has become so fuzzy is that our elected officials are doing far too much. If they focused on excellent national defense, and true public safety, and ensured freedom for all, we’d be in a much better place. That shouldn’t be too much to ask—a simple focus on protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The good news is that our national problems aren’t insurmountable. But without real leadership, things just struggle and worsen. This doesn’t mean that more bombing is the only answer. There are other options. But one thing is certain: Our nation desperately needs true leadership right now.

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What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

November 17th, 2015 // 9:53 am @

After Paris

Construction_tour_eiffel4In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, here’s what we know:

  • ISIS is cheering the Paris massacres, and vowing that this is only the beginning. They promise that more such attacks on Europe and the United States are ahead.
  • One of the terrorist attackers in Paris had a passport on him that showed he came into Europe with the Syrian refugees on small boat through Greece. (It may or may not have actually been his, but whoever put it there must have been sending a message.)
  • The terrorists were highly trained, well equipped, and functioned in a way that requires additional support beyond the known attackers.
  • ISIS isn’t content to focus on gaining territory in Syria and Iraq. It is a key part of their strategy to take the war to Europe and the U.S. This has been true for a long time, but it is finally hitting home to most Americans.
  • Another part of ISIS strategy is to create a Western backlash against Muslims in Europe and the U.S. ISIS wants to create a situation where all Muslims are pushed to choose between the West and ISIS—with no middle ground.
  • According to numerous reports on the news, ISIS is calling for supporters who live in Europe and the United States to take initiative and make terrorist strikes on people without waiting for top-down orders.

If ISIS is in fact behind the Paris attack, ISIS has killed over 400 people in less than 10 days—including the Russian airliner, the Beirut bombings, and the 6 coordinated attacks in Paris. Even if ISIS isn’t behind some of these events, they all play directly into the ISIS strategy.

The U.S. Response?

But where does the United States stand on ISIS? Just hours before the Paris attack, President Obama announced that ISIS has been “contained.” The timing couldn’t have been worse for such a statement. After Paris, Obama spoke in strong terms of supporting France, but said little about any response to ISIS.

In contrast, just the night before, Donald Trump announced that his plan for ISIS was to bomb the s%&t out of it. News reports the next morning featured experts pointing out why Trump’s extreme words were out of touch and bad for America. By that very evening, after events in Paris, some of the same channels put on experts saying exactly the opposite. Other candidates spoke strongly of the need to stop ISIS.

The Big Debate

In all this, there is a big debate about what the U.S. should actually do about ISIS. After all, ISIS isn’t likely to just go away.

What should we do? Before Paris, the debate was mainly about whether or not to put American boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. After the Paris attacks, it’s a whole new world.

Here’s how the debate is now developing:

View A: Airstrikes will never beat ISIS. To seriously stop them, we must put a lot of ground troops into Iraq and Syria-enough to really destroy ISIS once and for all. We’ve waited too long, and President Obama hasn’t been truly committed. Now, with Paris, we know that the terrorists are coming after us in our own nations. It’s time to go destroy them, and that means real ground troops and a “win at all costs” strategy. Find our Patton and go win.

View B: Hold on a minute. Slow down and think. Every time we intervene in the Middle East, we make things worse. Just look at how we armed Saddam Hussein to fight against Iran, and then he turned on us. We eventually intervened to stop Saddam, and most of the weaponry from that war is now in the hands of ISIS. And Iran is still a major problem. Also, look at Libya, which is arguably much worse off than before we intervened. Likewise, Afghanistan is another nation that our intervention made worse in some ways. Let’s stay out of the Middle East.

View A: We disagree. The reason Iraq went to pieces is that we moved our troops out. If we had stayed, the region would be stable. Same with Libya—we intervened but didn’t keep troops there to stabilize things. Same with Afghanistan: it’s only getting bad again because we keep reducing troop levels. As for Syria, if Obama had followed through on his “red line” promise and taken out Assad, Syria would be stable and ISIS would be a minor group with little or no power. That’s the reality.

View B: Really? You actually wish the U.S. had lots of ground troops right now in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, and probably Iran? You think that the Middle East can only be stable if the U.S. intervenes in all these nations—and any others where terrorists gather to train and plan—and kills the bad guys, then posts troops in those nations for decades to keep the peace? This is your strategy? U.S. troops in half a dozen nations for the next six decades, like we are in Korea? And the same in any other Middle East nation that has problems? Really? That’s a horrible plan.

View A: ISIS is a new and more modern kind of terrorist group, and its strategy is to take the war to France, Britain, Germany, the United States, etc. It plans to ramp up Paris-like terrorist attacks far and wide in Western Europe and North America. We are at war with these people! Whether we like it or not, they are waging war on us, and this will not only continue but actually escalate as long as we don’t entirely destroy them in their home base—Syria, and even Iraq. What choice do we have? If we don’t destroy them, they’ll keep waging terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. They’ll kill hundreds, then thousands. Then they’ll keep killing our people until we absolutely destroy them in their home base. And air strikes won’t do it. Ground troops are essential.

View B: Actually, after four years with ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still haven’t solved the problem of terrorists coming from those places and attacking Western nations. Ground troops don’t seem to be a real solution. We need something better.

View A: Like what? Ground troops is what works.

View B: But it hasn’t worked. Seriously.

View C: Can I join this debate? I have something to interject here. What about literally bombing them back into the stone age? Bomb their oil. Bomb their buildings, where they might be on computers running their huge financial resources or posting their online recruiting videos. Bomb all their buildings. Flatten them. Leave nothing but dust. We know what areas ISIS controls. Let’s flatten them. Period. It’s us or them. Let’s win this war before it gets much, much worse. Let’s don’t be like Chamberlain appeasing Hitler, hoping ISIS will start being nice. Bomb them until they’re all destroyed.

Views A and B: That’s so barbaric. That’s not the kind of country we are. Think of all the women and children we’ll kill or maim.

View C: The women and children are either slaves of ISIS or supporters of ISIS. For the ones who are slaves, our actions in ending the slavery would be merciful. Just look at the way ISIS treats such people—repeated rapes and maiming and torture and slavery. It’s unspeakable brutality. THAT’S the barbarism. Bombing will create chaos and free a bunch of them, and the ones who are casualties will at least be released from the ongoing torture. On the other hand, those who aren’t slaves are nearly all supporting ISIS. Cut off their support. Destroy them. It’s us or them, and they’re getting stronger. If we let them keep spreading, they’ll eventually gain an air force, missiles that can reach Europe and America, and probably even nukes—given how much money they’ll have. Stop them now.

View A: We can do this humanely, if we get serious about this war and put enough ground troops into Iraq and Syria, and leave them there long enough to really turn things around.

View B: But that might mean a thirty-year war, or more. We’ve already been in Iraq and Afghanistan for fifteen, and we haven’t made much progress. Let’s rethink this. What if we put all our resources into protecting the United States? Let’s protect our borders and protect our cities and states. Let’s focus on our national defense, not on the security of the Middle East.

View A: That sounds good, and we should certainly do that too, but it won’t work if that’s all we do. Just look at the nation of Israel. It is so much smaller than the U.S., with only a few cities and populated areas to protect—like the U.S. trying to protect New Jersey, or to make the point, even New York. Yet in Israel, with armed soldiers on every corner in times of terror threats, and with a huge portion of the adults trained in the military and prepared with weapons to fight, hundreds of terrorist attacks still occur. The U.S. cannot stop a committed ISIS (and other groups like it, of which there are many) that finds ways to recruit homegrown American terrorists online. Nor can Europe do it effectively.

Moreover, if we give ISIS a free rein in the Middle East, by just pulling out all U.S. involvement, it will drastically increase its funding, and its online influence around the world. The number of terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. will significantly increase. In fact, if the U.S. pulls out of the Middle East, ISIS will take over more oil, territory, and gain intercontinental missiles and naval and air power.

Make no mistake. ISIS intends to weaken and eventually take over the United States. That’s what the Caliphate is all about—taking over the whole world, starting with anyone who stands in their way. That’s their plan, as many experts on ISIS have been telling us for months.

If the U.S. pulls out of the Middle East, ISIS will grow, strengthen, gain more funding, and eventually attack us with missiles, warships and nukes. We must stop them now. Not barbarically by wiping them out with bombs, like View C wants, but humanely, with ground troops.

Specifically, put enough U.S. and allied troops into Iraq to push all ISIS fighters back into Syria. Then Assad and Putin and Western air strikes can get rid of ISIS. But it starts with ground troops.

View C: No. Let’s not send another generation of our young men and women into a Middle Eastern war zone. Bomb ISIS into oblivion. ISIS doesn’t even have an air force. At least not yet. Let’s do this now, before they expand and gain an air force, missiles, even nukes. Bomb them into the dust. Right away. France will help. Britain will help. Russia might even help. We might even get Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arabic nations to help. Flatten ISIS. Now. It will save more lives and ultimately be more humane—with fewer dead and injured—than any other strategy.

View B: Wait. Think this through. There’s got to be a better way.

Conclusion

This is basically where the discussion in Washington stands right now. What do you think? Ideas?

Do you have any great alternatives to these three main viewpoints? If so, share them.

This is worth thinking about deeply.

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Obama’s (Disastrous) “Small Stick” Foreign Policy Doctrine

October 15th, 2015 // 12:51 pm @

Putin, Iran and Our Escalating National Security Problem

I. The Disaster

canstockphoto10511354In the last few weeks, Putin has rapidly reversed many of the major gains Reagan garnered for the United States when he faced down the USSR in the Cold War. Amazingly, Russia is now arguably the major power in the Middle East, having moved significant military assets into Syria and created an alliance between Syria, Iran, and now even Iraq.

This is incredibly big news. A month ago many people were deeply worried about the rise of nuclear Iran; today major nuclear power Russia is bombing U.S.-backed rebels.

Things just got a lot worse.

The Rise of Russian Power

Consider the strategic upgrade for Russia, which is the world’s second largest producer of oil in the world over the past 10 years, now quickly spreading its influence in the oil rich regions of the Middle East. Russian jets and helicopters are now flying daily maneuvers in the area, near 5 of the top 10 oil producing nations in the world (Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, Iraq, Kuwait). And the Russian navy has proven its eagerness to act in the area as well.

This at the same time that the Obama Administration’s stunningly weak foreign policy has significantly reduced U.S. influence in the area. In a very real sense, the U.S. has lost the Middle East to Russia as much as it lost Vietnam and North Korea to Russian and Chinese influences in past decades. As David Brooks put it in The New York Times: “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq, and Now Iran.” (August 7, 2015) And that was written before Russia’s latest aggression.

Imagine the situation if U.S. power continues to weaken, Russian dominance in the region continues to increase, and Putin’s administration gains even more influence over the control and price of world oil. Like it or not, this is a major issue; yet the Obama Administration continues to defend its recent agreements with Iran and its general downgrade of U.S. military strength.

II. Background

canstockphoto1725493This new reality has an interesting backstory. Listen to a Republican presidential debate, and you’ll hear a chorus of criticism toward the Obama Administration’s foreign policy and national security record. Most Americans—on both the Left and the Right—tend to chalk such rhetoric up to political bickering.

But what some voters don’t realize is that President Obama is a Woodrow Wilson-style diplomat, not an adherent of realpolitik. Whether regular citizens understand this or not, it has serious ramifications for all of us, many of them dangerous for the United States.

Wilsonian diplomacy is based on the idea that agreements made between nations will be honored by both sides. Negotiate, discuss, compromise, then sign a mutual deal. And—Voila!—your work is done.

In this worldview, words are the main thing. You can talk your way out of, or into, almost anything. Once the talking is done, it’s all peachy. “Peace in our time!” Neville Chamberlain announced, sure that the words and paper agreements had done the job. Churchill scoffed.

Where Reagan famously quipped “Trust, but Verify,” the Wilsonians prefer a different approach: “Trust, Trust, Trust.” And the corollary: “Talk, Talk, Talk.” Indeed, they often label a “Trust but Verify” strategy as too aggressive, even warlike. “Give peace a chance,” they demand. And, on face value, that’s a good idea. But without follow up, without effective verification and a strong military, even the best “talk” often evaporates in the face of reality.

Many nations break their agreements. Iran has done so repeatedly. The same is true of Iraq and Syria. Not accounting for this in a negotiation with them is tantamount to national security malpractice.

In contrast to Wilsonian negotiations based primarily on hope and talk, realpolitik argues that nations act for their own national interest, and that aggressive enemy nations are ultimately limited only by actual power. The American framers pitted power against power, governmental branch against branch—in order to curb the abuses they knew were inevitable. Similarly, many commercial contracts openly include exit plans and establish specs for arbitration for the breaches, misinterpretations and misunderstandings that can and do sometimes arise.

In international affairs, realpolitik has a much more effective history than Wilsonian idealism. (The word “idealism” isn’t a criticism; Wilsonianism is actually called “idealism” by many political scientists and historians.) The only Wilsonian presidents in the past century were Wilson, Carter, and Obama. All three left international chaos in their wake.

Specifically, in our time, President Obama has taken a “words and trust” approach to:

  • Syria (Assad must go, and crossing the “red line” of using chemical weapons will not be tolerated)
  • the Crimea and Ukraine (you cannot invade other countries in the 21st century, Russia)
  • Iran (it must come clean on it’s nuclear program, or we won’t make any deal)
  • ISIS (we will downgrade and destroy it), and China (I’ve indicated that they must stop engaging in cyber attacks on us, and they agreed).

Really? All of these words by President Obama turned out to be false. All of them. But many Americans aren’t very surprised. After all, such words mirrored certain domestic promises: e.g. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.

Except: you can’t.

And:

  • Syria’s use of chemical weapons was tolerated with no significant response.
  • Russia was allowed to invade Crimea.
  • Now Russia is reinserting itself in Syria, Iran, Libya and Bagdad at pre-1973 levels, foreshadowing major increased conflicts ahead. Syrian refugees are fleeing by the millions. Iran didn’t have to come clean—despite President Obama’s tersely delivered words—and it got almost everything it wanted in the negotiation anyway.
  • ISIS hasn’t been downgraded or destroyed. Indeed, it is still growing, and emboldened by all this U.S. weakness, the Taliban is once again stepping up its operations. For example, on September 29, the Taliban attacked and took control of the first major city (Kunduz) it has overtaken since 2001. On top of these serious developments, Putin’s first choice of targets in Syria was U.S. backed rebels. Seriously.

In short, President Obama’s Wilsonian words aren’t working. At least not in the real world.

“Peace Through Weakness” isn’t even a bumper sticker. It’s just plain stupid.

III. The Real Strategy

canstockphoto12576554And let’s be clear. This is not, as some Republican politicians claim, a case of incompetence in the Oval Office. If we’re honest, we have to admit that Barack Obama is one of the most effective politicians in American history. Just look at the evidence:

  • He got Obamacare passed, despite the fact that a large majority of the nation dislikes it.
  • He pushed through the Iran deal, even though, again, most of the nation thinks it’s very bad for America.
  • He got the debt limit raised repeatedly, even in the face of Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
  • He also led numerous, significant budget increases and massive growth of the federal government.
  • His drive to increase the size and scope of the federal government has hardly been stopped by the flaccid speed bump that is the Republican opposition. To date, more has been added to the national debt under President Obama’s watch than during all the presidents before him combined.

In short, this President knows how to get things done. When he ran for office, he had a campaign quiver full of domestic goals—and we’ve seen many of them realized. Not a kinder, friendlier Washington, certainly, but many of his other objectives.

Concerning foreign policy, his main purpose was to stop exporting American exceptionalism and make the U.S. just another industrialized nation—not a superpower, but just another country; you know… like France, maybe, or Japan. In many measures, he’s accomplished this as well. In the next sixteen months of his tenure, he’ll likely do even more.

In fact, when asked on 60 Minutes why his foreign policy has been weak, he responded that is hasn’t been weak, that it has in fact been strong. When pushed on what he meant by this, he noted that his words about global climate change have been very strong indeed.

The truth is, I think this is exactly where his head is. Strong foreign policy to him means talking strongly about things like fighting climate change and lecturing Syria about chemical weapons. Wilsonian words.

In other words, this President did exactly what he meant to do with our foreign policy. As a result, we live in a much more dangerous world. This gutting of our national defense will probably be his biggest and most enduring legacy.

Putin, clearly, has gone the opposite direction. As has China. And Iran. Syria too. And many others.

As bad as this all is for the U.S., imagine how Israel must feel.

IV. Alternatives

canstockphoto18295434Our overall foreign policy goals are a deeper topic than we have time to fully develop here. Yet it is worth mentioning the highlights. Some argue that the U.S. should happily stay out of the Middle East, and let the various radical Islamic groups fight it out amongst themselves. There is a lot of merit to this strategy. Supporting Iraq against Iran in the 1980s resulted in the extremities introduced by Saddam Hussein. Likewise, intervening to remove Saddam and trying to create a more pro-Western Iraqi government resulted in a power vacuum that has helped ISIS.

But sitting back and watching Putin essentially take over Crimea and Syria, establish Russian military bases in the Middle East, fly Russian aircraft and drones in droves around the region, and establish a new axis alliance (with Iraq, Iran, and Syria all working with—and to a certain extent, for—Russia), is a whole different matter. If Russia turns its eyes toward controlling world oil prices and revenues (and this has already begun), the consequences will only destabilize the entire region and could drastically hurt the U.S. economy.

In a stroke, Putin has managed to sweep in and direct much of the $150 billion Iran-deal U.S. payout to Iran in the direction of Russian and Chinese weapons and infrastructure. Moreover, events in Europe, relationships between China and Russia, and Russian-American relations are quickly—and dramatically—becoming more dangerous. Putin simply moved into the Middle East without announcement or fanfare and took over. The White House was, and remains, shocked.

When Russia invaded and took Crimea, President Obama responded with words (of course) of censure, and Western sanctions. The President also called Russia a “regional power,” basically limited to influence in Eastern Europe. He was pointed in his explanation that Russia is no longer a global power, just as he recently called ISIS the jayvee team. But under Putin’s leadership, this “regional power” took over Syria almost overnight (cheaply and easily) and then got Iraq and Iran to join the alliance.

However you feel about American intervention abroad, the result of these developments is a major downgrade to our national security. It’s one thing to avoid getting caught in a Middle Eastern quagmire; but it’s an entirely different thing to turn the reins of power over the Middle East to Putin’s Russia. And it’s even worse to do this while simultaneously downgrading the U.S. military year after year. Not only has the Obama Administration’s policies hurt national security, they’ve significantly downgraded our national defense as well.

V. The Road Ahead

canstockphoto18074576

Let’s now turn our attention to briefly considering the bigger picture. We have a serious set of problems ahead. The following are potential existential crises for the United States, meaning that one or more of them will almost surely threaten our very national survival in the years ahead:

  • ISIS
  • Terrorist Attacks in U.S.
  • Russia
  • China
  • Nuclear North Korea
  • Iran
  • Russia’s Expansion and Oil Domination in the Middle East
  • Economic Recession—or Worse

Even something as simple as continued economic stagnancy could have a hugely negative impact on our families, standard of living, and our children’s future. None of these problems are likely to just go away, no matter how many Wilsonian words our leaders multiply. America will need to wisely consider, plan, and take effective action to deal with all of these major challenges.

On the issue of defense, without a significantly re-strengthened military, the United States is in serious trouble. I’m not by any means suggesting that we need as many interventions as the two Bush presidents felt determined to engage, but a weak military is not the right path to American success. And big words from the White House about how America will use its power–followed by capitulation whenever a foreign enemy ignores the President and attacks our interests with no consequence except more words–isn’t the right course either.

The Obama legacy may well go down in history as the era of “Speak Loudly and Carry a Small Stick.” Again, the President seems genuinely annoyed that he has to deal with foreign issues. We can expect the problems to grow in the months ahead—not just in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but elsewhere as well.

canstockphoto14062099Whoever replaces Barack Obama in the Oval Office will have his/her hands full. It was bad enough when Bush left office, leaving massive problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an escalating face-off with China–not to mention the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.

But let’s be honest: Things are much worse now.

The tinderbox only needs a spark.

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