Personally, I have never been so worried about the future of our nation in at least 3 areas: Our economy, our foreign relations, and our own moral decay. This blog entry is focused on our foreign policy.
Since the Second World War, America has steadily built a military and economic powerhouse which has eclipsed that of all other nations. Characteristics of the US economy that made us the envy of the world include: flexible labor markets, labor productivity, technology, capital markets, our monetary policies, the quality of our work force, our democratic form of government, and legal and judicial institutions. Our economic strength has enabled the United States to fund our military with an annual budget of about $692,000,000,000. We have active military forces of 1,477,896 personnel. The US State Department, with a budget of $27.4 billion, employs over 94,000 people world-wide whose purpose is to “create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community”. All of these military and diplomatic personnel enable the United States to have a pervasive impact across the world. And even though we have been surpassed in some respects (China has about 30% more active duty military personnel and Russia has about twice as many tanks), the US remains the only true super-power in terms of our ability to project force and influence national governmental policy around the world.
Recently, many have observed phenomena that lead them to believe the influence and power of the United States is waning, though. They believe that the United States can no longer afford to project its power and influence at the level it has over recent decades, and that perhaps this is not entirely a bad thing. As one blogger recently observed, there are at least “16 reasons why the United States Can No Longer Afford to Be the Police of the World”. (http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/187227.html) The reasons listed were as follows:
But far more troubling than the actual expenditure is the Return On Investment (ROI) from our expenditures. On the military side of things, we can at least see some tangible results from our investments. They include fighter jets, tanks, men and women in uniform, and in the cases of our military engagements, battlefield superiority that is uncontested by any other nation in the world.
On the diplomatic side, however, the results are not only less tangible, but downright disappointing. Many critics have charged that US presidents have used democracy to justify military intervention abroad. Some have also charged that the U.S. overthrew democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, and other countries. Until recently, scholars have generally agreed with international relations professor Abraham Lowenthal that U.S. attempts to export democracy have been “negligible, often counterproductive, and only occasionally positive.” (http://english.turkcebilgi.com/United+States+foreign+policy)
Some have asked the question, “Should the US return to a policy of isolationism?” as a result of our lackluster ability to influence the rest of the world to embrace liberty and democracy, even at such an enormous cost to our own treasury and our own effort. (http://sensiblethought.com/2011/us-isolationism-policy)
My perception is that much of our spending in these areas is wasteful, much of our diplomatic work is not effective, and that underpinning the malaise that is current US Foreign Policy is a profound misunderstanding of what works and what does not.
From the beginning of the Obama Administration, there has been a relentless focus on disarming the United States in terms of our nuclear weapons arsenal and our initiatives to protect allies across Europe. President Obama unilaterally abandoned the missile defense bases in Poland and Czechoslovakia that the Bush administration had negotiated before leaving office. Those bases were very important to American security and credibility. To surrender them up for virtually nothing in return, in the process betraying the Poles and Czechs, was extraordinarily foolish, or at best, extraordinarily naive. However, the Russians moved in the opposite direction. They bargained hard for a treaty that uniquely benefits them, in particular by limiting America’s missile defense shield.
This was an early example of what we have observed repeatedly since 2009; President Obama relied upon his rhetoric, to “reset” our relations with the Russians and cause them to cooperate with his disarmament aspirations. Similarly, in a 2009 speech in Egypt, the President attempted to “reset” relations between the United States and Muslim countries throughout the world. NPR reported: “Pledging “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims,” President Obama reached out to the world’s 1.5 billion followers of Islam on Thursday, addressing an appreciative crowd at Cairo University. Quoting from the Quran, the Talmud and the Bible — and closing to a standing ovation — Obama said his address was an effort to “speak the truth” about U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Several times during the hour-long speech, members of the audience shouted, “We love you.”In the Middle East, initial reaction to the speechwas mixed. A Hamas spokesman dismissed Obama’s remarks as “soft diplomacy” meant “to brighten the image of the United States,” while a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority hailed it as “the beginning of a new American policy.” An Israeli government spokesman said he heard no major surprises, but a spokesman for the West Bank Settler’s Council said the speech was “out of touch with reality … the Muslim world is at war with the Western world.” (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104891406) Who turned out to be correct? With half of the Middle East engulfed in anti-American protests, terrorist attacks on our bases and personnel, and the recent murder of our US ambassador in Libya in the anniversary of 9-11, there can no longer be any doubt. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy of appeasement, “soft power”, and self-disarmament has failed utterly. We grow closer and closer to a nuclear-armed Iran, and with it, the specter of World War 3. Our embassies and consulates are under attack all over the Middle East, and Americans are being ordered to return home in the face of growing threats in several countries. Our daily news is filled with images of US flags set afire by protesters and protesters chanting “Death to America”.
Even before this all erupted, though, Obama failures in the realm of foreign policy and foreign relations were legion. Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal enumerated some of them: “His failed personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. His failed personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in 2009. His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year and this year. His failed effort to improve America’s public standing in the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech. His failed reset with Russia. His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent settlement freeze. His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a residual U.S. military force in Iraq. His failed efforts to cut deals with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea. His failed effort to win over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria’s Bashar Assad. His failed efforts to intercede in Europe’s economic crisis. “ Rick Richman followed up with a similar, but even longer list of Obama “successes which were also really failures: “His successful personal effort to insult the head of state and prime minister of America’s closest ally (as well as removing the bust of its wartime prime minister from the Oval Office); his successful personal effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel; his successful effort to ostracize Honduras for enforcing its constitution against a Hugo Chavez wannabe; his successful effort to become the first U.S. president to chair a UN meeting; his successful effort to ignore the efforts of Iranian citizens protesting the stolen 2009 presidential election and then ignore seriatim deadlines for Iran to accept his outstretched hand; his successful efforts to oppose Congressional attempts to strengthen Iran sanctions, while touting each round of non-crippling sanctions as the “toughest ever”; his successful effort to ward off pressure to visit Israel from liberal Israeli columnists, Jewish Democrats in Congress, and friendly rabbis; his successful effort to jettison a U.S. ally in Egypt and reportedly invite the new Pharaoh to the U.S.; . . . . his successful effort to delay executing an already-negotiated free trade agreement with the closest U.S. ally in Latin America; his successful effort to improve relations with Mexico by suing Arizona on its behalf; his successful effort to build a knee-slapping relationship with Dmitri Medvedev to deliver a deferred flexibility message to Vladimir; and his winning a Nobel Peace Prize for not being Bush.” (http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/08/obamas-foreign-policy-failures-catalogued.php)
I have some personal experience here. I have spent a fair amount of the last several years working in and around the Middle East. In fact, I lived in Helmand Province (southern Afghanistan) for more than a year in 2010-2011, and travelled / worked all over that country. Here are a few of things I learned and can attest to from my own experience:
Over all, the Obama Administration, in the course of trying to influence the world – especially the Muslim world – through “Soft Power”, rhetoric, unilateral disarmament, and appeasement has weakened our strategic strength in almost every area of international relations. It abandoned the most fundamentally powerful strategy of successful US foreign relations: “Peace through strength”. This approach was proven again and again between 1945 and 2008. It won the Cold War, and made the United States the sole remaining superpower. While the United States remains stronger than any other single country in the world, its strength is being diminished by these amateurish mis-steps, and there is a tipping point beyond which the US and its allies will no longer be able to prevail in an increasingly hostile world.
So, in this situation, what can be done to restore America to a place of respect, and our image as the most powerful force for good in the world? Here are 5 ideas:
What do you think? Other ideas?
Personally, I have never been so worried about the future of our nation, with my primary areas of concern falling into 3 categories: Our economy, our foreign relations, and our own moral decay. This blog entry is focused on our economy, including underlying causes such as corruption and inappropriate influences affecting national legislation.
The American economy is weak by any historical standard. Almost 13 million Americans are unable to find work. 13 million; just think about that more a moment. 13 million Americans are unable to find work to feed and clothe themselves, not to mention save money for retirement or buy Christmas presents for their kids. 13 million of our relatives, friends, and neighbors. The national employment level, though substantially under-reported because of all the people who have given up looking, and the others who – although they need full-time employment – can only find part-time work, remains at more than 8% even 3 years after the “recovery” following America’s most recent recession.
Also, the United States has 312 million residents and 106 million of those residents live in households where one or more persons are receiving US Government financial assistance of one kind or another. Doing simple math, this tells us that more than one third of us are getting help from the Government. Almost 9 million Americans are currently on disability insurance. Almost 48 million of us are on food stamps. Again, 48 million people – about 15% of us. That means that 15% of us can’t even afford to buy food! (http://www.billoreilly.com/video?chartID=556#play)
In addition, the US Census Bureau this week reported that 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty – a level that continues to hover at 15%, or roughly 46.2 million Americans. If you add up the population of the 10 largest cities in the United States, the poor are still more than twice their combined population.
Furthermore, America’s national debt – the level of indebtedness we are passing on to our children and grandchildren – has now surpassed $16 trillion. That is a tax burden that has now passed $51,000 per person. Essentially, we have signed the names of each of our children and grandchildren to $51,000 mortgages and then spent the money – and they will have to pay that money in taxes along with whatever additional debt we incur and whatever debt they incur – on top of what would have been their normal tax rates. It’s like everyone starts out in life with a student loan for $51,000 but is never allowed to attend college, but they have to pay off the loan anyway.
Liberals and Conservatives present two starkly different approaches to resolving this problem. Liberals (basically the Democrat party) approach the problem through massive spending on public works projects and redistribution of money from higher income individuals and businesses to individuals and businesses with lower income levels. This philosophy was underscored by presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, when he told a small plumbing business owner (later dubbed “Joe the Plumber” by media pundits) that because his business was clearing over $250,000 a year in sales, he should be “sharing the wealth” by paying higher tax rates, ostensibly enabling Government to give that money to others. Conservatives address the problem by lowering income tax rates – usually across the board, but often especially for businesses, in order to encourage expansion and hiring. They also typically favor the reduction of governmental regulations around everything from trade to environmental protection, in order to further encourage industries like manufacturing and petroleum production – again, with the goal of increased employment.
Unfortunately for America, in recent years it has become clear that neither Liberals nor Conservatives can effectively execute their strategies. In general, it is because both sides push their approaches too far. When Conservatives are in control, they deregulate to such an extent that American lending institutions implement corrupt and unsound lending policies and fraudulent accounting practices. (Lehman Brothers is a prominent example.) When Liberals are empowered, they spend recklessly and impoverish the nation and our progeny. (The examples here are legion, with the most obvious manifestation being debacles like Solyndra, and the US National debt expansion under the Obama Administration.) They impose regulations that often increase cost and make products / businesses uncompetitive, and sometimes attempt to impose regulations for purposes of “political correctness” such as requiring the awarding of government contracts minority owned contractors, even when those businesses would otherwise not be competitive in bidding.
Part of the challenge that political leaders face when coming into office is that radical steps must be taken to compensate for the prior years of poor decision making on the part of their predecessors. In order to correct our course of expanding national indebtedness, for example, simply balancing our budget going forward will not be enough. Massive spending cuts will have to be made, far beyond what would have been required 6 to 10 years ago, if we want to avoid burdening our children and grandchildren with these debts. In essence, newly elected or appointed politicians must over-correct, resulting in accusations of unfairness, unwillingness to compromise, and extremism. It makes the politician unpopular, and in many cases, unable to garner the support required to make the corrections needed for recovery.
That is the situation we find ourselves in today. The sins of the past (in both Conservative and Liberal administrations) have left us with a massive level of national debt, chronic and high unemployment levels, a spending profile that is unsustainable, public welfare programs that are certain to reach insolvency within a decade unless action is taken to trim them or adequately fund them, and a tax code that is neither fair nor effective.
Ideally, both sides (Liberals and Conservatives) would come together and compromise on a solution that would take aggressive near-term step such as deep spending cuts, and sound long term stabilizing steps such as constitutionally requiring a balanced Federal budget and restructuring the tax codes around a flat 17% individual income tax rate with no exemptions and no tax returns to file.
But the level of leadership required to execute an effective recovery strategy has not been visible in America in a very long time, and the bureaucracy that has grown up around Congressional and Senate activity makes it almost impossible. Lobbying, special interests, political action committees, and other influencers of our “representatives” make clear-headed and unbiased decisions almost unheard of today. No one votes in support of the common good these days – they vote in a manner that supports their political party (which draws financial support for re-election), their highest campaign contributors (which supports their both their ability to remain in office and often their personal wealth), and their individual constituents (which garners them votes in future elections.) As is clear with both the incumbent and the challenger in this year’s Presidential race, politician’s positions on everything from government-sponsored health insurance to abortion rights change as often as the weather in favor of political expediency.
So what could change all this? What could break the deadlock in Washington, restore principle-based, moral, and unselfish behavior on the part of our elected and appointed officials? Here are 6 ideas:
What do you think? Have some ideas of your own you’re willing to share?
President Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was a study in irony and disingenuousness. Propoganda at it’s finest, including glittering generalizations and soaring prose. Perhaps the most striking example of ironic disingenuousness was his complaint about the role that money plays to influence public policy and legislation. The President said: “If you turn away now, if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn’t possible, well, change will not happen. If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health care choices that women should be making for themselves.” Somehow, that didn’t seem like such a terrible thing when the Obama Administration was buying off public officials through gimmicks like the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback” to ram Obamacare down the throats of an unwilling populace. (http://www.weeklystandard.com/keyword/Cornhusker-Kickback).
In addition, it is a remarkable “coincidence” that in the Obama economic stimulus program’s Department of Energy loan portfolio, companies owned and operated by Obama contributors and friends (Solyndra’s George Kaiser is one example) received more than $16 billion of the $20.5 billion awarded.
But there was much more. Consider Mr. Obama’s statement about income taxes: “I want to reform the tax code so that it’s simple, fair and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 — the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president, the same rate we had when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs, the biggest surplus in history and a whole lot of millionaires to boot.” So my question here would be: “Where have you been on this for the last 3 and one half years, Mr. President?” The fact is that really knotty issues such as the Federal income tax rate have gone unaddressed throughout the life of this Administration, as have Social Security and Medicare. Now that Paul Ryan is engaged at a national level, these issues have been placed squarely on the table, and the 800 pound gorilla in the room can no longer be ignored. In my opinion, anyone who is serious about parity, fairness and effectiveness in the area of Federal income taxes supports a flat tax with no exemptions. I recommend a universal rate or 17% with no tax returns to file – just mandatory withholding by all employers. (http://sensiblethought.com/2011/what-we-need-from-washington)
Then there was the shot Mr. Obama took at Mr. Romney on foreign relations: “My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy. But from all that we’ve seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly. After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy — not al- Qaida, Russia — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.” Keep in mind that President Obama didn’t need to visit Great Britain to launch his own unique brand of insults. One of his first acts as President was to return a bust of Winston Churchill to London from the White house (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/4623148/Barack-Obama-sends-bust-of-Winston-Churchill-on-its-way-back-to-Britain.html), and his gaffe of presenting the Queen with an iPod containing songs he thought she would enjoy. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/apr/02/barack-obama-presents-queen-ipod) A master of foreign relations; Mr. Obama is not.
Finally, there was the Obama-approved language change combination in the Democratic Party Platform, removing both Jerusalem and God from the platform language altogether. While this continued slide toward atheism and consequential abandonment of Israel certainly did not surprise me (http://biblicallythinking.com/2011/which-political-party-is-more-%E2%80%9Cevil%E2%80%9D-a-facebook-exchange), it certainly seemed to shock many of the Democratic Party faithful. Even after 3 voice votes on the floor of the convention, the party’s delegates never did produce a two-thirds majority to put Jerusalem and God back into the platform language. The vote became irrelevant and the changes were affirmed over loud protestation. This speaks volumes about the direction and velocity of the party, and about the leadership of President Obama. After all of this, the President displayed his now infamous level of unmitigated gall by saying: “Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace.”
The truth is that I don’t believe we hear much rock-bottom truth about core beliefs from either candidate – Republican or Democrat. Governor Romney’s flip-flops on a range of issues from Government mandated health care to abortion rights is legendary. But no Republican in history has brought such a lack of experience to bear, or done so much damage to the economy (8+% unemployment and $16 trillion in debt), plotted such a damaging foreign relations path (http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2012/03/26/Obama-to-Putin-Ill-Surrender-After-Reelection) or pushed such a destructive social agenda on this country as President Obama. Four more years? I am praying for America, which means that I am praying this doesn’t happen.
What do you think?