In foreign policy, American weakness is provocative

White House/Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia while aboard Air Force One.

Article Highlights

  • “If November 6 were a referendum on #Obama’s national security record, his defeat would be ensured.” @AmbJohnBolton

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  • Romney promptly labeled the Obama-Medvedev conversation an alarming and troubling development.

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  • Obama’s vision of America’s proper place in the world is different from that held by most Americans. @AmbJohnBolton

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Although economic issues will likely dominate America’s ongoing presidential campaign, foreign and defense policy differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are just as deeply critical for America’s future. If November 6 were a referendum on Obama’s national security record, his defeat would be ensured.

Defending Democracies

Domestically, Obama has advanced his vision of an America which looks suspiciously like European social democracy. Similarly, in the international arena, he has consciously sought to diminish U.S. strength and capabilities, strengths which for many decades have underpinned U.S. efforts to provide security and stability. By undermining these foundations of international order, Obama has directly raised this question: what happens when Washington’s capabilities are dramatically reduced? It was one thing for European members of NATO to downsize their military budgets to fund their social-welfare and economic-redistribution schemes while the United States stood guard. But when America’s nuclear umbrella and global force-projection assets are eroded, who will provide the protective shield the industrial democracies need to sustain their domestic prosperity?

It is not just Obama’s record to date that should fill voters with foreboding. Look at what lies ahead, domestically and internationally, should Obama win a second term. Unfortunately Americans already know what the future will hold, although Obama didn’t intend for them to hear it. Instead, in the now-famous “hot microphone” conversation with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the following exchange took place, picked up in midstream:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him [incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin] to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …

Obama: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility. (Emphasis added.)

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

This is a conversation to remember Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is welcomed by U.S. President Barack Obama at the G8 summit in Camp David, May 18, 2012. Obama’s “hot mic” comments to Medvedev earlier this year should concern Americans as they prepare to vote in the presidential election this November. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer) regularly from now until November 6, and to pass on to others who may have missed it.

Consider just a few of its implications. First is the unusual and perhaps unprecedented spectacle of an American president effectively asking a foreign government to influence a U.S. election. By begging Russia not to press him on sensitive issues—“give me space”—until after the election is safely over, Obama hopes to avoid provoking Republican criticism of his record. Second, Obama is obviously promising to move in policy directions Russia prefers; “flexibility” hardly means adopting a tougher American line. Third, and perhaps most significantly, although the “hot mic” conversation was on missile defense, Obama is saying unambiguously that his postelection flexibility will extend to many other issues.

Romney promptly and correctly labeled the Obama-Medvedev conversation “an alarming and troubling development.” One wonders what other foreign officials Obama is engaging in similar conversations—is it the rising generation of new Chinese leaders, perhaps those charged with expanding their conventional military forces as well as their nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles? The diplomats representing Iran, bargaining over the future of their illicit nuclear weapons program and expecting further U.S. concessions? Negotiators for the Taliban terrorists, haggling over the details of Obama’s potentially disastrous 2014 military withdrawal from Afghanistan, when they are not otherwise occupied assassinating Kabul government officials?

Unfortunately, the list is long. Whether Obama or his advisers have actually had other conversations like the one with Medvedev, the whole world knows about that specific encounter, which is almost as bad.

American Strength Protects Economic Interests

Across the board, Obama’s vision of America’s proper place in the world is dramatically different from that held by most Americans. Perhaps most importantly for 2012’s key issue—America’s faltering, inadequate economic “recovery”—the administration completely misses the vital nexus between a strong America internationally and sustained domestic prosperity. The worldwide stability the U.S. and its alliances provide is important not only to advance U.S. political objectives but its economic interests as well. Global trade, investment and communications rest on the perception that these critical commercial flows will take place unimpeded by massive disruptions or uncertainties. While far from complete, America’s visibility, military predominance and global reach are all important to protecting economic recovery at home.

Just as prolonged domestic expansion cannot last without a strong U.S. presence abroad, that presence cannot last without a vibrant U.S. economy. Obama repeatedly ignores this connection. It is as if he assumes global stability exists on its own, no matter what the United States does, just as he seems to assume there is an unlimited amount of wealth in America for him to redistribute without worrying about negative consequences. Internationally, however, if America does not provide stability, there are only two other possibilities. Either no one will provide it, and the ensuing vacuum will threaten international peace and prosperity, or others will step into the void. The United States can be certain they will not be looking out for America’s best interests, but for their own.

Obama Turns Away

Consider the wide range of issues where Obama has turned away from prudent foreign and defense policy, starting with national missile defense, ostensibly the subject of his conversation with Medvedev. Many Democrats, most notably Vice President Joseph Biden, have believed for decades, almost as a theology, that national missile defense in the Cold War was not only wrong but dangerous. Defense, in their view, is destabilizing. Only by remaining vulnerable to Soviet nuclear salvos could the U.S. convince Moscow it had no aggressive intent, at least in the bizarre world of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) doctrine inhabited by Biden and his crowd. President Reagan, whose basic national security approach embodied “peace through strength,” had the courage to challenge the dominance of MAD thinking in U.S. strategic thinking by developing his “Strategic Defense Initiative.”

Unfortunately, Reagan was unsuccessful in persuading the Soviets that the changing relationship between the two countries at the end of the Cold War justified new thinking on missile defense. And U.S. adherents to the MAD doctrine warned against doing anything to undercut the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that prohibited national missile defense. Even more inexplicably, these opponents of national missile defense were willing to consider theater (or localized) missile defense to protect deployed American forces overseas and U.S. allies, but only because such activities were permitted under the ABM Treaty.

In 2001, President Bush cut through the strategic confusion by announcing U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty so it could develop national missile defense “By any coherent metric, the nuclear threat America faces today is substantially greater than when he [Obama] took office.” 48 TOWNHALL July 2012 0H World Affairs capabilities against rogue states like North Korea and Iran. The Bush missile defense program, like Reagan’s, was designed to protect the entire U.S. homeland but was more limited in size. Bush wanted to protect against the relatively small number of missiles rogue states could launch against the U.S., rather than the massive Soviet attacks America feared in the Cold War. But even this modest approach, reflecting post-Cold War strategic realities, still worried Russia and the likes of Joe Biden.

Accordingly, the Obama administration has gutted the U.S. national missile defense programs, both because most Biden-style Democrats never believed in them and because of Obama’s “reset” button policy toward Russia. How did Moscow react? Predictably, Russia still opposes even limited U.S. attempts to protect its civilian population. Moscow continues to insist, for example, that the missile defense assets the Bush administration hoped to base in Poland and the Czech Republic (to guard against strikes by a nuclear Iran) were actually directed against Russia’s ballistic missile forces. One only need look at a globe to see why this contention makes no sense. But incredibly, Obama has repeatedly acceded to Moscow’s views.

Romney, Not Obama, Following in Reagan's Footsteps

Romney, by contrast, from the outset of his campaign, has followed in Reagan’s footsteps, insisting that America must be able to protect both its forces overseas and its own homes from the devastating impact of nuclear, chemical or biological attacks by ballistic missiles. This is sound defense policy in its own right, but important politically as well. Indeed, the clash of ideas over missile defense vividly demonstrates the huge gap between Obama’s search for forbearance from U.S. adversaries and Romney’s clear support for Reagan’s “peace through strength” philosophy. ...

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