Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Can America Trust President Obama on National Security?

In view of the incoming presidential election, it is time that we graded foreign policy of the Obama administration. At this stage, American voters are preoccupied with domestic economy. However, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 can wake them up. Too many people in the United States and abroad were infatuated with Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 election. However, his job performance disappoints American citizens. In the economy, only 17% of them give credit (“So who thinks Obama is helping the economy”; Washington Post; September 8, 2011). In foreign policy, his achievements are barren. Former Ambassador to UN John Bolton comments Obama’s foreign policy critically in his recent article (“The Innocents Abroad: Obama's Foreign Policy Is Characterized”; National Review; September 19, 2011). His article appears in a critical moment to think of 9/11 legacy and the forthcoming presidential election. Let me review this.

In this article, Bolton criticizes President Obama’s innocence and lack of interest in foreign policy, which helps further growth of threats to the United States and its allies. According to Bolton, Obama is apologetic to America’s hegemonic role as the provider of global public goods, and he says “Like Obama's presidency generally, his national-security flaws combine ideology, naïveté, weakness, lack of leadership, intellectual laziness, and a near-religious faith in negotiation for its own sake.” Furthermore, Bolton points out that Barack Obama is devoted to restructure domestic economy and society so much that he shows compelling interest in foreign policy only when he finds urgent necessity to do so as in the case of the surge in Afghanistan and the attack to Osama bin Laden. I would like to mention that Obama’s early day speeches show those problems, though the media praised the change from “Bush’s unilateralism” to “modest multilateral cooperation”. I have to stress that America cannot enjoy its own economic prosperity and domestic stability without getting involved with removing security threats around the world. America itself is a recipient of global public goods provided by a liberal world order of Pax Americana.

Quite interestingly, I would like to call an attention that John Bolton mentions some correlation between Obama’s viewpoint on domestic and foreign policy of America. Just as Obama is keen on changing the American society, as seen in his social security reform, he envisions a post-American world. Bolton says that Obama is no similar to any presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, because he does not believe in America’s special role in the world. Considering such lack of confidence in America itself, I wonder why the media was so infatuated with Obama to depict him a Black Kennedy during 2008 election. John Kennedy was more assertive to American leadership in the world, while Obama is so apologetic of it that Nile Gardiner, a former policy staff to Lady Margaret Thatcher, argues Obama stop such behavior (“Barack Obama should stop apologising for America”; Daily Telegraph; 2 June, 2009).

Now, let me talk of specific threats and issues to assess the impact of Obama’s foreign policy. Obama has launched an ambitious initiative toward a world without nuclear weapons. The first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last year has drawn dramatic attention by the media. However, Bolton criticizes that Obama’s obsession with negotiation has not stopped nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. This September, Iran has built new centrifuge facilities to obtain highly enriched uranium, which raises critical concerns among nonproliferation experts (“Iran's Nuclear Experiments Raise Alarm at U.N. Agency”; Wall Street Journal; September 3, 2011). North Korea also makes progress to make warheads small enough for their ballistic missiles, while Obama just waits for diplomatic negotiations. Both rogue states just gained time for their nuclear projects.

Obama’s appeasement to China and Russia is questionable, because this is deeply associated with present day arguments on “relative decline” of the United States. Obama decided to withdraw missile defense system from Poland and Czech. Also, he withheld the sales of F16 fighters to Taiwan. As a result, Russia and China assume their dominant positions in the former Soviet Union and East Asia respectively. Particularly, South and East China Seas are areas of grave concerns in view of natural resource disputes, and the growth of Chinese naval power and access denial capability.

Regarding Libya, Bolton asserts that Obama’s cause of “responsibilities to protect citizens”, instead of “regime change”, is utterly wrong. NATO did not oust Muammar Khadafy swiftly enough, and there is no guarantee whether the new regime will be a pro-Western stable democracy or not. The controversial strategy of “lead from behind” makes America less safe as Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns. He says, “But if it fails, and Libya devolves into anarchy or despotism, this operation will likely be remembered as a tactical triumph that didn't translate into strategic success. The outcome still hangs in the balance” (Did Libya Vindicate 'Leading From Behind?'”; Wall Street Journal; September 1, 2011). Currently, Khadafy’s loyalists have fled into Niger, and Muammar Khadafy himself is not found yet. They can plot terrorist attacks out of Libya.

The Obama administration’s approaches to the Middle East need to be reviewed furthermore, as John Bolton is critically concerned that they are completely inconsistent and contradictory. Since the inauguration, Obama has been too afraid of “offending” public opinion in the Islam world, as shown in his speeches in Prague and Cairo. In the Arab Spring, there are some problems such as the rise of Islamism in Egypt, continual dictatorship in Syria, rampant Hezbollah in Lebanon. In addition, Turkey is departing from pro-Western secularism of Kemal Ataturk. The most fatal error that Bolton points out is Obama’s misjudgment to reduce troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after successful attack to Osama bin Laden in the War on Terror. While Obama belittles these threats, he denounces Israel for building houses in the suburb of Jerusalem. Considering the above points, Bolton wonders whether Obama understands real dangers in the Middle East.

I would argue that such loss of policy balance mentioned by Bolton will lead to further problems in East Asia. As in Libya, the “lead from behind” diplomacy does not work in this region. China and North Korea poses much more dreadful threats to their neighbors than Khadafy’s Libya. Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are far weaker than Britain and France. American involvement is utterly essential to regional security, even though it “offends” nationalists in China and North Korea. I strongly hope that Obama reconsider his speech at APEC Singapore summit, as he said “America welcomes a strong China”.

On defense expenditure, Obama made use of the debt ceiling debate for proposing drastic cuts. However, the Super Committee is no support of such proposal. Republicans and the Defense Department resist it as expected. Also, Democrats do not want to be seen weak on defense by agreeing to Obama’s defense spending cut. Though partisan gaps are not filled, the Super Committee’s conclusion in the November deadline can rollback pro defense arguments (“Hyper-Partisanship in Defense Budget Debate Playing in Pentagon’s Favor”; National Defense --- Blog; September 9, 2011).

The 10th anniversary 9/11 terrorist attack has passed, and America needs in depth debates on national security for 2012 election. John Bolton’s article has made an appearance on such a critical occasion, and its insightful criticism to the Obama administration’s foreign policy achievements is invaluable and extremely helpful.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The 10th Anniversary of 9-11 and the Prospect of the War on Terror

In view of the 10th anniversary of 9-11 terrorist attack, it is necessary to assess its policy implications for the future.

To begin with, I would like to mention an interesting column by Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corporation (“Five myths about 9/11”; Washington Post; August 29, 2011). Jenkins examines widely spread misconceptions about the War on Terror. Although 9-11 appears a bolt from the blue, it was expected as low-tech raids by Al Qaeda were carried out before. Quite importantly, Osama bin Laden mis-assumed that America was so afraid of combat risks that it would not retaliate against Al Qaeda terrorist attack, as the Clinton administration withdrew from Somalia quickly. Also, Islam did not unite against the Western coalition as Osama envisioned when the War on Terror broke out.

The focal point of this article is US reaction. Jenkins says that the Bush administration acted right to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. When terrorist attacks happened, further raids by Al Qaeda were anticipated. Therefore, the United States had no choice but to improve intelligence, to strengthen security at home, and to use military force abroad in order to remove hostile regime and potential threat. I would argue that this point needs more attention, in order to understand US-led efforts for Middle East democratization and nuclear nonproliferation. It is America’s Middle East strategy since 9-11 that provokes the Arab Spring.

However, American citizens are somewhat fed up with long wars, and budget debates pose psychological constraints to defense spending. Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, conducted a poll to understand how Americans see the War on Terror now (“The War on Terror: Ten Years of Polls on American Attitudes”; AEI Political Report; September 2011). According to the report, “Public concern about terrorism is not as high as it was ten years ago, but Americans have not lost sight of the threat.” The American public gives credit to both the Bush administration and the Obama administration in tackling terrorism. However, they have ambiguous feeling to the War on Terror. While Americans want the government to take tough measures to protect themselves from terrorists, they are increasingly concerned with civil liberties by strict surveillance. The war in Afghanistan is another issue of ambiguous sentiment. Though 57% of Americans still see the initial decision to intervene in Afghanistan was right, 64% of them believe that the troop level be reduced now. We can conclude that American citizens want to lower war burdens for their own life, but they are keen to keep their country safe.

Finally, let me mention grassroots movements of 9-11 events. In such an atmosphere, conservative civic organizations like Move America Forward (MAF), launch vigorous campaigns to appeal support for US troops fighting against terrorists. MAF sent an e-mail alert on August 30 to call an attention to still ongoing wars in the Middle East as the 10th 9-11 anniversary is coming close. Since then, MAF has been sending messages to appeal grassroots support for the War on Terror, including missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their campaigns may have some impacts on presidential election debates.

Currently, both Democrats and Republicans are preoccupied with the economy. The 10th anniversary of 9-11 can provoke more talks on defense. We must keep in mind that the Tea Party does not just represent free market libertarians, but also constitutional patriots. The latter is dedicated to build a strong America to defend the nation of Founding Fathers. This anniversary can stimulate patriotic sentiments, which may activate debates on defense budget for the presidential election.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Implication of Libya to the Trans-Atlantic Alliance

The war in Libya ends successfully with a small number of casualties. As shown in the chart below, this war was smaller and quicker than wars in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, James Blitz, political editor of the Financial Times, points out some lessons to be learnt for policymakers in Europe and America (“Defence: Lessons from Libya”; Financial Times; August 30, 2011).

To begin with, lack of unity within NATO delayed the progress in this war, and Colonel Khadafy is not still found yet, though his regime has completely collapsed now. While Britain and France led NATO operations, other European members including Spain and Turkey refused to participate in ground attacks, and Germany and Poland rejected to join all missions. US Secretary of Defense-then Robert Gates urged more defense commitment by European allies at the Brussels meeting this June. Quite ironically, the United States decided to "lead from behind" in this war, and just supported the coalition led by Britain and France, but did not directly involved in combats. In consequence, NATO forces lacked solid and coherent leadership to defeat Muammar Khadafy. It is widely known that Republican politicians and conservative opinion leaders criticize such self-denial of America by the Obama administration.

The will of intervention is not the only problem. European nations do not have sufficient scales of armaments to defeat a weak and small enemy like Khadafy’s Libya. Due to stagnant economy, European governments are obsessed with the idea of small and efficient armed forces. However, Britain faced critical shortage of airpower because the Royal Air Force was cut drastically under the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). While NATO fighter planes were attacking Khadafy’s army, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton warned that the Cameron administration’s defense plan was unsustainable to maintain British military capability on the global stage (“RAF chief Sir Stephen Dalton makes case for Britain's air power”; Guardian; 3 April 2011). France barely kept its aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle operational during the war. Apparently, current size of European military is insufficient.

We have to remember that Blitz stresses importance of ground battle. Air attack does not guarantee the victory in the end. One senior British official of the Ministry of Defence even said, “The countries that deserve most credit in this conflict are Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. They provided the rebels with the training and weapons they needed, and acted as their leaders.”

The war in Libya gives lessons for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. As James Blitz mentions, reluctant attitudes among some NATO members ruins the unity of the alliance. The foremost problem is the size and the quality of armed forces. Currently, both America and Europe are preoccupied with the budget. Remember. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said “I have long believed, and I still do, that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country's fiscal woes” and "a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go to fewer places and be able to do fewer things.” In a globalized world, more overseas intervention is required to keep free nations safe. American and European leaders and citizens must learn a lot of vital lessons from Libya.