It’s certainly easier on the spirits these days to ignore Obama than to pay attention to his activities and pronouncements.
But it’s worth making sorrowful note of the fateful words he spoke in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday. We cannot doubt that they are likely to become as famous a misreading of reality and the current moment as Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” proclamation – curiously enough, uttered almost exactly 77 year ago, on 30 September 1938.
Here is what Obama said at the UN (emphasis added):
Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace. We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.
As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.
But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.
A few sentences later, Obama said this:
A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed.
(H/t: The Washington Times)
I suspect he thinks he is immunized against the hubris of his appeal to the “strongest military in the world” by the rhetorical rejection of “jingoism” – although he has just engaged in it himself.
Whatever he believes, he is profoundly wrong about his ability now to act “unilaterally and by force.” His claim to have (much less “lead”) the strongest military the world has ever known is something worse than counter-factual (which, in a technical sense, it may not be). It is situationally meaningless.
Where he would need to use the U.S. military to protect America or our allies, Obama has lost the ability to use it unilaterally, yet also have a decisive, genuinely protective effect.
That’s partly because of the significant losses in our force readiness over the last six years, and the increase in power being accumulated by nations like Russia and China. But it’s also because many of our allies and partners are losing faith in us, and will not now support U.S. operations they can confidently predict will be ineffectual. The biggest casualty of using force ineffectively is your credibility. No one actually believes Obama will use force effectively now.
America’s allies won’t pay all of the price for this. The day is coming when the U.S. military, stretched at the end of a fraying tether, will pay it as well. We do not have invulnerable, overwhelming force deployed to any confrontation area now (saving possibly the Korean Peninsula – although there’s no room for complacency there either). In each place where we have the military deployed, it lacks overwhelming advantage, and the ability to so dominate a tactical situation that no effort against it could possibly succeed.
Military strength on paper is just that. What matters is always the “correlation of forces” at the scene of maneuver or potential combat. That correlation is nowhere decisively in our favor today – unless we expect to be fighting a ground war somewhere between North Carolina and Texas.
The timing of Obama’s pronouncement is highly ironic, the day after Vladimir Putin announced the intelligence-sharing coalition – Russia, Iraq, Syria, and Iran – that effectively signals the official end of the post-World War I Middle East, whose European-drawn boundaries lasted until 2011. It will not be a European or “Atlantic” alliance that decides the fate of the Middle East in the coming days.
Obama’s talk of the “strongest military” verges on demented in the face of this political reality.
It’s easy to focus on Obama’s hubristic phrasing – “I lead the strongest military the world has ever known” – and it’s not unimportant. This is not how a statesman talks. It’s not how American presidents talk. It augurs fatally for his judgment and character in a crisis.
But it’s also a harbinger, of pride before a fall. The mainstream Western media and establishment politicians fail to see this because they are blind and foolish, and for no other reason. As for how America and the West will fare in the days ahead, the best each of us can do for now is look to his own heart. We already know where Obama will lead us.