The weekly column from Clark Judge:
A Dangerous Place Already, This Week the World Became More Dangerous
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc.; chairman, Pacific Research Institute
When based on principle, partisanship can be a good thing.
Due to a series of coincidences, I have spent much of the past five days listening to lectures from foreign policy and national security intellectuals and former policy makers of the Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations. All were partisans, of course. But all aligned where they did politically and served in the administrations they did out of conviction about what was best for the nation. None of the lectures and discussions was for public attribution, so I will be vague about who said what and where they said it.
It would be hard to exaggerate how universally dismayed and fearful for the nation’s future every one of these political leaders, senior journalists and policy intellectuals was.
Speaker after speaker observed that, once the steadying and mediating force in the global order, the United States under the current administration is viewed as feckless and unreliable in all global quarters.
In private conversation, one former ambassador to an international organization told me of having listened to rounds of public criticism of the United States by other ambassadors to the body, but then realizing that they all looked to America to lead on every issue.
Everyone I know who has played in the international arena tells the same story of public criticism coupled with private reliance on the United States to step out front.
Repeated speakers pointed out that the character of the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan was leaving a vacuum in those countries, effectively turning them over to Iranian domination. Whether meaning to or not, the actions of the last five years have sent a sectarian message, one noted. After Iran’s 1979 revolution, we were allied with the major Sunni powers. Sunnis make up 85 percent of the region’s population, Shiites 15%. We have now effectively switched sides.
In Syria the president’s recent statement that there would be consequences to Syrian president Bashar Assad’s actions was viewed as totally unserious. Another example of the president drawing a red line, it served only to emphasize the lack of policy and will from the Untied States.
Again in a side conversation, I asked one prominent journalist what he thought was going on in the White House during Benghazi attacks. “I think the president doesn’t feel comfortable with foreign policy,” he said, “and he delegated” decisions on how to respond. Messages had circulated almost immediately throughout the government that a terrorist attack was under way, so the president clearly would have been informed of the nature of the attack, this journalist told me.
His was the most sympathetic view of the administration all week, but also one laden with implications for the next election. For if true, who was making those disastrous decisions? Most likely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
A renowned expert on national grand strategy spoke at one assembly. In the wake of American retreat, he said, we will see the world divide into spheres of influence, each under the hegemony of the dominant regional power. In Russia, Putin is asserting control of the countries of the old Soviet Union, which is what the upheavals in the Ukraine are about. Establishing regional dominance is also the purpose of China’s declarations regarding the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. And Iran is close to becoming that power that calls the shots in the Middle East, with a nuclear Pakistan falling under Taliban control as a looming threat in the Subcontinent.
The tone of these discussions turned even more alarmed following the administration’s announcement of its defense budget. The army is slated to return to pre-World War II manpower levels and there appears to be indecision about whether to go forward with the refueling of the nuclear carrier George Washington, slated for next year. If the George Washington is not refueled, we will be down by a carrier task force. Will we be able to respond to Chinese challenges to the status of Taiwan, one speaker asked in a manner that answered the question.
Several former officials told the story of then Defense secretary Richard Cheney calling former president Ronald Reagan after the first Gulf War. In that war the United States has sent a 500,000 soldier military force (a force larger than the entire army under the planned cuts) half way around the world into harsh terrain. Once fighting began, it took that force 100 hours to vanquished one of the world’s largest and most battle-hardened armies with a handful of casualties.
In his call, Secretary Cheney thanked President Reagan for his military build up of the 1980s, achieved over tremendous resistance from the opposition party’s leadership in Congress. Without that build-up, stopping Saddam Hussein’s aggression and bid for regional dominance would have been impossible. Each teller of this story concluded saying that it is impossible to imagine a future Defense secretary calling a former President Obama and thanking him for what his administration has done this week.
Here is the conclusion of these partisans of principle: The world has become a more dangerous place these past five years, thanks to the administration’s abdication of global leadership. With this week’s budget announcements, it has become even more dangerous.