Is America in Retreat?

The top two foreign policy news items last week left the world wondering more and more whether the US is in retreat. According to a new poll, most Americans think the nation is in decline. A lot of that is probably because of the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Still, implementing the Obama Doctrine, which sees the United States as“an equal partner’ rather than as the ‘exceptional” nation hasn’t helped.
Last week, the end of Gadhafi led many in the administration, including Vice President Biden, to crow that the White House had discovered how to keep America safe on the cheap. That, however, is anything but the lesson President Obama should take away from the Libyan adventure. Regardless of how things in Libya turn out, three facts about keeping America safe in the world have not changed.  
#1, “Right to Protect” is not right. Often called “R2P,” this is the notion that when governments can’t protect (or worse, oppress) their own citizens, other nations have an “obligation” to intervene. The R2P banner was waved over the Libya operation. R2P is the wrong standard by which to decide if U.S. military forces should be sent in harm’s way. A commitment to R2P could be an even greater threat to sovereignty, freedom, peace, and security than the average dictator. Nations are like individuals: They act best when they act from a sense personal responsibility rather than the whim of internationalist doctrines. The use of force always ought to be a judgment by a free, sovereign people based on the balance of what is right and what is in the nation’s best interest.
#2. Congress ought to be consulted. When nations enter armed conflicts, their citizens ought to be informed. Time permitting, it is always prudent for the President to ask for a resolution of support from Congress. The White House took weeks negotiating with the U.N. Security Council for a resolution to support intervention in Libya. The President had more than enough time to consult with Congress.
#3. The U.S. can’t outsource its security. Leading from behind might be all very well if U.S. vital interests are not on the line. The U.S. must, however, have both the capacity and the will to safeguard its interests when threats significantly endanger the safety, freedom, and prosperity of Americans. While a “light” touch might be suitable for dealing with leaders like Qadhafi (who at the time represented a minimal direct threat to the U.S.), such a strategy won’t serve the U.S. well against threats such as Iran or battlefields such as Afghanistan, where the Administration’s reluctance to act decisively has been widely interpreted as weakness. The U.S. cannot defend itself on the cheap.
The second top headline broke late in the week, when Obama tried to put a happy face on having to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq.  As Heritage Middle East expert Jim Phillips writes, “[a]fter denying last week that the negotiations to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq were failing, the Obama Administration pivoted on Friday as President Obama announced that the U.S. troop presence would not be extended. The President sought to turn a dangerous outcome for Iraq’s security and the war against terrorists into a political boost for his reelection campaign by declaring in a televised speech: ‘Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.’ The rapid drawdown of the U.S. military presence will undermine U.S. security interests in Iraq by severely limiting bilateral U.S.–Iraqi cooperation in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and radical pro-Iranian Shia militias. The U.S. military pullout will also weaken efforts to contain Iran by leaving a partial power vacuum that Iran will exploit to expand its own influence.”
This White House continues to invest more energy in spinning its foreign policy setbacks, missteps, and inaction as successes than it does in trying to recover from the failures of the Obama Doctrine. For that the President gets a grade of the week of “C” for “he ought to see the light” and start putting the nation’s interests ahead of PR for the presidency. Contributing Editor James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is a leading expert in defense affairs, intelligence, and strategy, military operations and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

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