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5 Initial Steps to Correct Course in US Foriegn Policy

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:

  1. Prior to the beginning of the “War on Terror” our national debt was under 6 trillion dollars. Today, it has more than doubled and currently sits at a whopping 14.3 trillion dollars.
  2.  Today, the U.S. military is in nearly 130 different nations and it has a total of about 700 military bases around the globe. It costs approximately $100 billion each year to maintain these military bases.
  3. U.S. military spending is greater than the military spending of China, Russia, Japan, India, and the rest of NATO combined.
  4. The United States already accounts for 46.5% of all military spending on the planet. China is next with only 6.6%.
  5.  If Bill Gates gave every penny of his fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for 15 days.
  6. When you throw in all “off budget” items and other categories of “defense spending” not covered in the Pentagon budget you get a grand total of somewhere between $1.01 and $1.35 trillion spent on national defense in 2010.
  7. The U.S. government borrows an average of about 168 million more dollars every single hour.
  8. The Pentagon currently gobbles up 56 percent of all discretionary spending by the federal government.
  9. Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. GDP grew by only 4.26%, but the U.S. national debt soared by 61% during that same time period.
  10. The cost for the first week of airstrikes on Libya was 600 million dollars. Keep in mind that the leader of the opposition in Libya has admitted that his forces contain large numbers of the same “al-Qaeda fighters” that were shooting at American troops in Iraq. So we are going broke and we are helping al-Qaeda take power in Libya at the same time.
  11. The total price tag for each F-22 fighter jet is approximately $350 million.
  12. Over the past decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers well over a trillion dollars.
  13.  If you went out today and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you over 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.
  14. Since 2001, the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan breaks down to well over $3,600 for every man, woman and child in the United States.
  15.  Just one day of the war in Afghanistan costs more money than it took to build the entire Pentagon.
  16. The United States Government is now responsible for more than a third of all the government debt in the entire world

 

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:

  • The cultures of the Middle East – those people now attacking American bases and burning US flags – respect strength and power above all else. They largely do not respect generosity, cooperation, sympathy, or kindness; they view these to be characteristics of weakness, and invitations to demand more. Many of those with whom we deal understand our weaknesses and exploit them mercilessly. They know, for example, that when a new member of our team is coming into a theatre of operations he or she will be unfamiliar with what has already been done, what has already been paid for, and so on – and will request that it be done again just to get a “double dip” whenever possible – and it often works. I recall meeting with several Iraqi businessmen in Baghdad back in 2007 to deliver the good news that my team at DOD had secured a source of very low interest loans to expand and modernize their businesses (primarily factories), and terms that included the stipulation that they would not need to make any repayment at all for the first 6 months of the loan period. The reaction? “We don’t want loans. We want subsidies. You just give us the money we need.” Their spokesperson practically spat on the ground as he responded to me. Not all Iraqis were so rude and inappropriate in response to our attempts to help, but this attitude was quite common.
  • Our US Military has done a much better job of diplomacy and has a much better track record of success with Middle Eastern relations than our US diplomatic services in many cases. I believe there are several reasons for this: The military is recognized to be the pre-eminent purveyor of strength and authority, the military is deployed to live and work in the most challenging areas of the country rather than the protected environment of embassies and consulates, and the military has a far greater propensity to “get their hands dirty” by working on the ground with the local population on everything from bridges to wells to the construction of schools. The dimensions of heroism I have witnessed on the part of our military personnel are breathtaking in both number and personal sacrifice. They occur every day, and the vast majority of them go unnoticed. 
  • The waste in money by the US and our allies on the part of diplomatic efforts overseas is staggering. A lot of this is driven by the frequent turnover of our own personnel, but much of it is also driven by inexperience, immaturity, an effort to be “politically correct”, and just plain poor judgment on the part of our diplomatic personnel. Many instances come to mind, but one of my favorites was the purchase of several thousand portable water pumps that were acquired by USAID from manufacturers in China to assist farmers in Helmand Province in irrigating their fields. This well-intended act was poorly designed. After only a small percentage of the pumps had been distributed, it became clear that the canals were being depleted by the pumps, and essentially the further downstream the farms, the less water became available. The source of water that had sustained many farms for generations was being sucked dry to improve the situation for upstream farms. Then an effort was mounted to retrieve many of the pumps, which – of course – did not sit well with the farmers to whom they had been given. When last I heard about the program, many of the remaining pumps were being disassembled in an effort to turn the motors into small generators of electricity. It was a debacle. We also undertake long-term projects that target non-critical and/or non-relevant areas of the economy or infrastructure while ignoring quicker and more effective projects that could save lives by employing people and reducing violence. A DFID (the British version of USAID) project to develop an Agriculture-oriented business park in Lashkar-Gah – a project that was under way when I arrived in Helmand in 2009, was bungled so badly that it was still completely unusable when I departed late in 2010 – many months and many millions of dollars later. Again, well intended people who were inexperienced, poorly coordinated, and convinced that if we just spent enough money and were kind enough, people who had in most cases been trained to mistrust or even kill us would come around. This is, in my view, a microcosm of macro-level US foreign policy in action.

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:

  1. Return to a policy of “Peace through Strength.”  Stop offering apologies for America and American policy to foreign leaders – especially despotic dictators. America is the most beneficent and generous country in the world, and we should no longer tolerate abuse. Our President should bow to no one, and apologize to no one for our policies.
  2. Immediately cease the distribution of billions of dollars in foreign aid to countries who harbor terrorists, such as Pakistan (Osama Bin Laden), and countries like Egypt do not suppress the actions of their citizens or others who attempt to attack US embassies, consulates, or citizens within their borders. I know this sounds simplistic, but it can be done.
  3. Immediately change our trade policies to mirror those of the countries with whom we trade, and without exception. This includes tariffs, trade restrictions, quotas – the entire spectrum. Require fair and reciprocal trade practices with all trading partners.
  4. Undertake to stop the development of nuclear weapons by Iran immediately. Make it clear to Iranian leaders that we will not tolerate their development, insist on complete transparency of their current development efforts, and if complete transparency is not granted, take immediate and forceful action in conjunction with our allies to disable any/all sites involved.
  5. Enhance the security of our diplomatic installations abroad so that we never lose another diplomatic staff.

 

What do you think? Other ideas?

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