Thursday, March 27, 2014

Speak Loudly and Don't Carry a Stick

In March, 2012 President Obama told Russia’s then-president Dmitry Medvedev that after his next election he would have more flexibility in dealing with missile defense issues.

He suggested that since he would never have to run for office again, he would be free to  be the transformative president he had always wanted to be.

Obamacare was part of it. But, apparently, reducing America’s leadership role in the world was also a major, albeit unspoken part of it.

Polls are showing that more and more Americans believe that President Obama has diminished America’s role in the world. They see a reactive and pusillanimous American president ceding authority to the president of Russia.

Americans have the unmistakable impression that the Vladimir Putin is leading and that Obama is following. This has reduced America's status and stature. Besides, it is demoralizing.

No one should have been surprised. President Obama has consistently believed that America should be just one among many nations of the world. In his “cosmopolitan” view America should be less active in leading the world. To his mind America’s authority makes other nations feel badly about themselves.

In Obama’s gauzy multicultural view of the world, all cultures are equal. Those that have been more successful—think America and Israel—could only have achieved what they achieved by cheating.

Since winners are exploiters and oppressors they must cede authority and territory to the less fortunate, that is, their victims.

Obama has effectively shrunk America. Yet, he still knows how to bluster and bluff. He still issues empty threats, the better, one imagines, to keep American public opinion more or less with him.

Unfortunately, there is no substances behind the bluster and everyone knows it.. You cannot bluff very well when everyone knows you are bluffing.

Some pundits have called it a “speak loudly and carry a baguette” policy, but I prefer: “speak loudly and don’t carry a stick.”

This morning the Washington Free Beacon reports on administration efforts to disempower the American military:

President Barack Obama is seeking to abolish two highly successful missile programs that experts say have helped the U.S. Navy maintain military superiority for the past several decades.

The Tomahawk missile program—known as “the world’s most advanced cruise missile”—is set to be cut by $128 million under Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal and completely eliminated by fiscal year 2016, according to budget documents released by the Navy.

In addition to the monetary cuts to the program, the number of actual Tomahawk missiles acquired by the United States would drop significantly—from 196 last year to just 100 in 2015. The number will then drop to zero in 2016.

The Navy will also be forced to cancel its acquisition of the well-regarded and highly effective Hellfire missiles in 2015, according to Obama’s proposal.

What are the likely consequences of this strategy?

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of what happens when leaders speak loudly while showing weakness.

Remember Pearl Harbor? Hanson explains how FDR’s bluster helped incite that attack:

The Roosevelt administration once talked loudly of pivoting to Asia to thwart a rising Japan. As a token of its seriousness, in May 1940 it moved the home port of the Seventh Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor — but without beefing up the fleet’s strength.

The then-commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral James O. Richardson, an expert on the Japanese Imperial Navy, protested vehemently over such a reckless redeployment. He felt that the move might invite, but could not guard against, surprise attack.

Richardson was eventually relieved of his command and his career was ruined — even as he was later proved right when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

For obvious reasons, this side of the story has been largely eliminated from history books.

Not to be outdone, the Truman administration made a similar error in a different context:

By 1949, the U.S. was pledged to containing the expansion of Communism in Asia — even as Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson (who had been chief fundraiser for Truman’s 1948 campaign) declared that the Navy and Marines were obsolete. He began to slash both their budgets.

A “revolt of the admirals” followed, to no avail. But Mao Zedong’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union took note of the new disconnect between American bluster and massive defense cuts. So they green-lighted a North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950.

And then there is Russia. Hanson reminds us of how Putin got the idea that he could fill the leadership vacuum left by President Obama:
Consider also Russia. We forget that “reset” in 2009 was a loud Obama attempt to reverse the Bush administration’s efforts to punish Russia for its aggression against Georgia — a Russian gambit itself perhaps predicated on the impression that the United States was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that the Bush administration had been weakened by the midterm elections of 2006. Bush’s efforts to promote new missile-defense initiatives with Poland and the Czech Republic, suspension of nuclear-arms-limitation talks, curtailment of official communications with Moscow, and bolder efforts to isolate Iran from Russian interference were all intended to advise Moscow not to bully its neighbors.

Yet Obama entered office declaring that it was the Bush administration’s reaction to the Georgia aggression, and not the Russian invasion itself, that had cooled U.S.–Russian relations. The result was a red plastic reset button that presaged loud lectures about human rights in Russia without any real, concrete follow-through.

Our relationship with Russia is far worse now than during the Bush administration. Vladimir Putin is not just not deterred — who would be, after the U.S. fickleness in Libya, Egypt, and Syria, and in dealing with Iran? — but quite eager in the Crimea and Ukraine to show the world how to deflate American moralistic sermonizing. Putin believes that his amoral show of power impresses others who admire not his strength — for in truth he has little of it — but the simulation of strength that wins him support at home and a sort of sick admiration abroad.

So, we have a president who came into office believing that America was at fault and that if only America would cease its belligerent ways, world peace would break out.

Of course, the American people are responsible for their votes. Having been duped by the Obama campaign they are now paying the price.

But, if they go out and vote in 2016 for one of the major architects of the Russia “reset” policy, that is, for Hillary Clinton, they will deserve what they are going to get.


Anonymous said...

Stuart, I am not confident at all about us recovering from this disaster. The American people were different in the 1980s - demographically and culturally - and still possessed intuitive understandings of international relations that emerged in WWII/Cold War. The new American electorate is dumber and lazier and more invested in progressive BS.

I watched some interviews the other day with some college students and they could not name ONE US senator - not one. But they could name the latest dreck pop hit. A certain degree of ignorance has always been the hallmark of youth - but I think that we are plumbing new depths. They can be easily distracted with fatuous accusations against conservatives - "they want to ban contraceptives!", "war on women", "warmongers", "tax breaks for the rich", etc etc ad nauseum. With social media technology they can be corralled to vote en masse.

The upshot is that we are stuck with this vast progressive constituency (Obama's bottom seems to be about 40%) and they are lathered in this essentially anti-US worldview. This produces the Obamas, Kerrys, Boxers, Clintons of this world. Not to mention the left-wing control of the media, universities, entertainment, and Federal bureaucracy (on the last one see what has happened to N. Virginia).

Obama is getting beaten up on the international scene and he does not care and, more importantly, his constituency does not care. It is sad and dismaying.

Dennis said...

The only people who fear Obama are American citizens and the occasional ally he has insulted. It is like watching a disaster in the making.
It would seem that Obama is making a good attempt at becoming the American Neville Chamberlin. Unfortunately we may not survive the results.
It is not like we could have not helped the Ukraine by creating a currency board built on tying the hryvnia to the euro among other measures like not raising taxes.
It was Obama that helped to weakened the Ukraine. It appears that Obama destroys almost everything he touches.

Sam L. said...

Problem is, all will be punished for the sins of those who voted for him.

Lastango said...

Given western fecklessness, it is unsurprising that Russia is on the move everywhere. The arctic is just one such theatre:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure neocons like Victor Davis Hanson are worth listening to, unless you have a really short memory.

Sam L. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam L. said...

anon at 222, VDH is a historian; see books at

I'd guess he has a better grasp of world history and how things today compare than you do.

Anonymous said...

Sam at 316, yes VDH is a historian and as rationalwiki trash talks him, experts often get uppity to think their opinions are tall because they have perfectly cherry-picked historical facts to match their preconceived conclusions with the utmost care.

"Victor Davis Hanson is an expert on ancient warfare and a professor of classical studies. When writing on those fields, he is typically very knowledgeable and strong. Of course, he has decided that knowing everything about Rome and Greece means he knows everything about everything. ... This, in essence, is how Hanson approaches all of politics. He looks back to history (usually Greece or Rome) for something he feels is vaguely analogous, and tries to make them fit."

Sam L. said...

Anon? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. I guess we all drink different Kool-Aid. rationalwiki isn't my flavor.

Anonymous said...

Anon @2:22 + 5:03p: Ye without preconceived conclusions, I'm sure... And you probably think 26-year-olds are "children" who've just graduated from Hogwarts. Is that what rationalwiki tells you, too? I'm with Sam, that website ain't my speed. After all, I'm a "global warming denier." And it's funny that y'all came up with global warming theories.... I thought you didn't like Creationism. "Myths" about Adam and Eve are a far cry from hockey stuck theories of global doom and "Noah" Armageddon adaptations. First time I've been on rationalwiki... thanks for the moonbat recommendation. They probably wouldn't think too highly of me, would they?

Anonymous said...

Sam at 754 and Anon at 1004,

I said trash talk, and rational wiki is more entertainment, but facts remain - experts exist within certain fields, and if an expert wants to offer opinions outside his field (history professors opinions of modern politics warfare for instance), its still called opinion, and its uncritical value exists only to those who have the same cherry tree in their back yard.

Anonymous said...

Here's a less anonymous critic of neocon Victor Davis Hanson's cookie-cutter political style.

Expert opinions are helpful, especially if you have an objective reputation on the line, but ideological narratives have as much chance to deepen the echo chamber as enlighten a way out to complex reality.
"Victor Davis Hanson has been writing the same thing for years now: cheerleading for the Iraq War spiced up with classical military history. Doesn’t matter whether he’s writing a 400-page book or a 1000-word column for National Review Online, Hanson uses the same formula. And it’s sure worked out well for him. Hanson’s got his fans convinced that Socrates himself would volunteer for duty in Fallujah, if only he didn’t have to drink that damn goblet of hemlock."