The contempt with which Vladimir Putin holds President Obama and his entire foreign policy team fairly oozes out of the Kremlin. Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast noted “sarcasm and derision from Russia’s Twitter-happy deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozi,” including a Tweet mocking “Comrade @BarackObama.” Putin’s speech yesterday was full of venom towards the U.S., as have been most Russian media outlets.
But the key detail is how Putin played Obama, as the Wall Street Journal noted this morning:
Mr. Obama in four phone calls with Mr. Putin over the past month totaling 4½ hours also failed to make headway with a leader he had cultivated as a crucial ally in trying to roll back the spread of nuclear weapons and international terrorism.
If that is “cultivating an ally,” I would hate to see how someone acted whom the president had in fact offended. Oh, right. General al-Sisi of Egypt, who was recently in…wait for it….Russia!
Not only has Obama been twice overpowered by Russia in eight months –in both Syria and Ukraine– our president has also alienated the most important Arab state in the world and sent it into Russia’s waiting arms. Beautifully played by the Obama-Kerry-Clinton team over five years. Did I mention that the People’s Republic of China announced a massive hike in defense spending last week?
American influence in the world is at its lowest ebb since 1979-80, when Cuban forces swarmed over Africa, Iran convulsed and brought forth the worst enemy our country has on the planet, and the then Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
Forty years before that America had been mired in isolationism, leading to unpreparedness when Pearl Harbor occurred and Germany declared war on us.
So this cycle of American strength descending into abject American weakness is right on time. The only difference is that few if any voices are sounding urgent alarms to rearm and restore American strength.
Marco Rubio is a welcome exception to the “cut defense” chorus, and hopefully other would-be GOP nominees in 2016 begin to take up the cause of national security first through the restoration of the Pentagon’s stockpile of weaponry –especially ships and submarines– through “plussing up” the absurd DOD budget submitted by Secretary of Defense Hagel last month. The Murray-Ryan “cap” on defense spending negotiated last year before either the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea or the PRC’s unveiling of its new, super-sized public defense spending –there is a large non-public component as well– should be set aside as irrelevant in a rapidly changing world. Most if not all Democrats, and some Republicans, will balk, but the road to this November’s elections should feature not just a pummeling of Obamacare but also a clear choice on the necessity of a robust national defense via increased defense spending.
Two cliches dominate the anti-defense spending rhetoric, even against the backdrop of America’s plunge in prestige and power and Russia’s rise and the PRC’s aggressiveness.
The first, from the old left which views America’s military might with suspicion, is that America spends X times as much as the rest of the world combined. The answer to that old saw is in Robert Kaplan’s new book, Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. A superpower must have the forces and assets to project deterrence everywhere. A power like the PRC that seeks only to dominate its own region need only overwhelm the locals and any part of power America projects into the region. Of course our total defense budget must be much, much larger than the next five powers combined, and even ten. We have to be everywhere, and everywhere effective. Opponents need only be in one place, and China in the South China Sea is formidable already and becoming more so every day.
Note: The most stunning of many stunning facts assembled by Kaplan is that the PRC will possess more attack submarine than the U.S. by 2020. Robert C. O’Brien, a former Bush appointee to the U.N. and senior advisor on defense strategy to Mitt Romney, thinks that may be too optimistic a forecast and that the PRC will pass us in total submarines sooner than decade’s end. Former Senator Jim Talent shares a lot of O’Brien’s concerns. Talent is another defense-nik and a weekly guest on my radio show, and even as he notes the superiority of the Virginia class sub, he concludes that superiority of capability won’t defeat pure numbers. Kaplan is careful to explain our submarine fleet must patrol the entire world and China’s need only patrol the South China sea. Talent also expects anti-sub measures from the PRC aimed at our previously stealthy fleet of underwater ships. The only answer –the only answer– is more submarines, just as the only answer to American power projection is maintenance and upgrades to our existing carrier fleet. None of this is possible with the Obama-Hagel budget and the Murray-Ryan caps.
One more example of the rush to hollow out our deterrence capabilities. Secretary Hagel also wants to carve down the Army, but the Marine Corps? The Corps remains the force-projection force, and dropping it to between 150,000 and 175,000 as Secretary Hagel has declared would clearly diminishes our rapid response capabilities everywhere around the world. (The USMC was above 200,000 as recently as two years ago.)
The second cliche comes from the GOP’s “deficit hawks” and declares that the national debt is more dangerous to America’s future than all of its foreign enemies and opponents. This is transparently not true, and one only need look at what the debt looked like during World War II to understand that real enemies kill many more Americans that red ink. Actual war is much, much more expensive and much worse for the national debt than the cost of deterring it. Only permanently attached rose colored glasses keep deficit hawks from seeing the world as it is, rapidly evolving into a place far more dangerous than it was even on 9/10/01.
So the GOP needs to recover its Reagan legacy on defense preparedness and do it now. Those would-be nominees who figure out that full-funding for the Navy and USMC is the way to assure a maritime power’s core security will benefit as Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond grow closer.
Three long years separate us from seriousness in foreign policy, and the rule of the professors will cost a lot more lives around the world before the change at 1600 happens. But preppering the climb back up from the nadir has to begin now.