The weakening of America 1

Something fishy in the Arabian Gulf:

There is something fishy about how such a high-tech U.S. craft can “stray accidentally into Iranian waters due to a navigation error”, as Defense Secretary Ash Carter described it on Thursday to Univision. The Pentagon had previously claimed engine trouble for an incident that’s humiliated the U.S., as Iranian video showed to the world 10 American sailors on their knees at gunpoint.

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From Investor’s Business Daily:

How can an advanced, ultra-agile U.S. combat boat suffer a “navigation error” that leads to a terrorist state capturing its sailors? Tehran just revealed military ineptitude warranting a congressional probe.

The Swedish-designed Combat Boat 90 can make the sharpest of turns at high speed, stop nearly on a dime, maneuver like magic and, with its Rolls-Royce jet-propulsion system, can speed along at over 45 miles an hour in rivers and shallow coastlines while transporting 18 amphibious troops.

But what good is any of that if it falls into enemy hands? …

A retired operations commander for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, Christopher Harmer, told CNN the capture constituted “a severe failure”,  charging that “either the naval leadership put these sailors in an impossible situation, or the sailors are professionally incompetent”. Harmer has researched the increased lethality of Iran’s submarine fleet for the Institute for the Study of War.

That one of the sailors would appear in an Iranian video apologizing may have actually violated the military’s Code of Conduct, which requires that a detainee give name, rank, serial number and age, but “evade answering further questions” and “make no oral or written statements disloyal” to his country “and its allies or harmful to their cause”.

Harmer told the Washington Times, “The U.S. Navy looks extraordinarily incompetent. … In its ability to transit boats without violating Iranian waters, they look incompetent to know how to deal with a mechanical malfunction, and now that they’ve been taken into custody, they’re apologizing.”

Harmer told CNN there was “no reason for a small vessel to be out that far and especially without escorting ships around it”, and “the Navy has to explain why you have small ships transiting 300 miles of open ocean”.

Iran claims its Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the CB90’s GPS gear and that it revealed U.S. espionage. As reported in Defense News, House Armed Services Committee member Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a Marine who served in the Iraq War, claimed there was no way the Iran military “didn’t reverse engineer, or look at and copy everything that they possibly could” of the two commandeered boats’ high-tech equipment.

In the midst of this disaster did Secretary of State John Kerry make another bad deal with Tehran, following last year’s nuclear pact, to get the sailors released swiftly?

All of this warrants a high-profile congressional investigation. Sailors and valuable equipment get captured, are humiliated on video, and finally one ends up making a statement that serves terrorist propaganda purposes.

“Semper Fortis” — always strong [an unofficial motto of the US Navy] — hardly describes what this incident reveals about the U.S. Navy after seven years of Barack Obama.

When the captured crews were released the next morning, the two boats sailed away with no sign of  “mechanical failure”. Had both boats been afflicted with it? Had it been hard or easy to repair? Who repaired it?

Here is more editorial comment from IBD:

Ten U.S. sailors kneel at gunpoint before Iran’s military, then actually apologize, and while held captive, merit no mention in the president’s speech to Congress. It’s American weakness illustrated.

We don’t yet have the full facts on how a U.S. naval vessel was allowed to be seized by the world’s foremost terrorist state. But as Desert Storm infantry commander Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret.) warned in an NBC News interview, “this is an affront to our military presence in the Gulf and will unsettle our allies in the region.” …

Images can hurt a global power profoundly. … For Iran, images of U.S. sailors kneeling in submission, and video of one apologizing on behalf of the rest — and, by extension, on behalf of the U.S. — are priceless.

“It was our fault,” the sailor said on camera. “And we apologize for our mistake.”

What a comparison with the tortured crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo, captured by North Korea in 1968, who during their captivity discreetly extended their middle fingers when posing for propaganda photos.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry says, “I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities. …”

Gratitude!

As Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said, “Before we thank the Iranian naval forces and attempt to defend and normalize their behavior, as Vice President Biden and Secretaries Kerry and Carter appear inclined to do, we should demand answers” to questions that include:

“Where exactly were the sailors intercepted? Why were they detained instead of being merely escorted into international waters? What was the nature of the technical malfunctions on both vessels? … Was sensitive equipment compromised? (and) Why were the sailors not permitted to contact U.S. higher headquarters in the region for the 16 hours they were detained?”

Cotton also noted that the administration presumes that Iran conducted a rescue mission, “when Iran has characterized the incident as U.S. ships trespassing into its waters and ‘snooping’.”

He added: “Our sailors never should have been detained in the first place, and blithely accepting such action will only embolden the ayatollahs who wish to do harm to Americans and our allies in the Arabian Gulf.”

This humiliation of the U.S. comes less than a week before we lift sanctions unfreezing $150 billion for new terrorist activities, as promised in Obama and Kerry’s Iran nuclear deal — a pact that Tehran has not even been required to sign.

Our sailors were held as Obama stood before Congress on Tuesday night, but they weren’t deemed worthy of mention in the president’s [State of the Union] address.

He could have included among his otherwise untrue boasts one that is outrageously true: that he has achieved something he always said he wanted to achievethe weakening of America.

The taking down of America 18

President Obama believes that America is arrogant.* If his foreign policy can be explained by anything, it would be his intention to bring America down a peg or ten. Looked at like that, the disasters we see happening in many parts of the world are testimony not to  Obama’s failure, but to his success.

Not that President Obama can have any objection to arrogance as such. He is an arrogant man. He just doesn’t want America to be proud of its superiority. He hates the very idea that it is superior. But while he would not even acknowledge its political-moral superiority as a republic constituted for liberty, he cannot deny that it is economically and militarily stronger than any other country. So he’s been working to change that for the last six years.

The whole world is the worse for his efforts.

This is from Front Page, by Bruce Thornton:

The 6 years of Barack Obama’s foreign policy have seen American influence and power decline across the globe. Traditional rivals like China and Russia are emboldened and on the march in the South China Sea and Ukraine. Iran, branded as the world’s deadliest state sponsor of terrorism, is arrogantly negotiating its way to a nuclear bomb. Bloody autocrats and jihadist gangs in the Middle East scorn our president’s threats and behead our citizens. Countries in which Americans have shed their blood in service to our interests and ideals are in the process of being abandoned to our enemies. And allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia are bullied or ignored. All over the world, a vacuum of power has been created by a foreign policy sacrificed to domestic partisan advantage, and characterized by criminal incompetence.

Incompetence is what it looks like. But if failure is the aim, then either the incompetence is only an appearance, or it is a means to the end.

How we have arrived at this point, the dangers to our security and interests if we don’t change course, and what must be done to recover our international prestige and effectiveness are the themes of Bret Stephens’ America in Retreat. The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. …

A clear sign of American retreat is the precipitous decline in military spending. “In the name of budgetary savings,” Stephens writes, “the Army is returning to its June 1940 size,” and “the Navy put fewer ships at sea at any time since 1916.” The Air Force is scheduled to retire 25,000 airmen and mothball 550 planes. Our nuclear forces are being cut to meet the terms of the 2010 New Start Treaty with Russia, even as its nuclear arsenal has been increasing. Meanwhile Obama … issues empty threats, blustering diktats, and sheer lies that convince world leaders he is a “self-infatuated weakling”.

Unfortunately, 52% of the American people agree that the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally”,  and 65% want to “reduce overseas military commitments”, including a majority of Republicans. This broad consensus that America should retreat from global affairs reflects our age’s bipartisan isolationism, the centerpiece of Stephens’ analysis. This national mood is not a sign of decline, according to Stephens, who documents the enormous advantages America still enjoys globally, from its superiority in research and entrepreneurial vigor, to its healthy demographics and spirit of innovation. But it does bespeak a dangerous withdrawal from the policies that created the postwar Pax Americana – even though this global order policed by the U.S. defeated the murderous, nuclear-armed ideology of Soviet communism, and made possible the astonishing economic expansion that has lifted millions from poverty all over the world. …

For Stephens, isolationism has not been the only danger to American foreign policy success. What he calls “the overdose of ideals”, specifically the “freedom agenda” of the sort George W. Bush tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, has misdirected our efforts and squandered our resources in the pursuit of impossible goals. The success of the Cold War and the subsequent spread of democracy and free-market economies suggested that the world could be not just protected from an evil ideology, but “redeemed” by actively fostering liberal democracy even in countries and regions lacking the necessary network of social mores and political virtues upon which genuine liberal democracy rests. But in attempting to redeem the world, Stephens notes, policy makers “neglected a more prosaic responsibility: to police it”.

The failures to create stability, let alone true democracy, in Iraq and Afghanistan have enabled what Stephens calls the “retreat doctrine”, one to be found in both political parties. Barack Obama is the master of this species of foreign policy, incoherently combining idealistic democracy-promoting rhetoric with actions that further withdraw the U.S. from its responsibility to ensure global order. Under the guise of “nation-building at home,” and in service to traditional leftist doubt about America’s goodness, Obama has retreated in the face of aggression, and encouraged cuts in military spending in order to fund an ever-expanding entitlement state.

But also, equally, in order to make America weaker.

Meanwhile, “Republicans are busy writing their own retreat doctrine in the name of small government, civil liberties, fiscal restraint, ‘realism’,  a creeping sense of Obama-induced national decline, and a deep pessimism about America’s ability to make itself, much less the rest of the world, better.”

The “retreat doctrine” is dangerous because global disorder is a constant contingency. The remainder of Stephens’ book approaches this topic first from the perspective of theory and history, and then from today’s practice. History teaches us that all the substitutes for a liberal dominant global power have failed to prevent the descent into conflict and mass violence. The ideas of a balance of power, collective security, or the presumed peaceful dividend and “harmony of interests” created by global trade did not prevent World War I or its even more devastating sequel. Nor are they any more useful in our own times.

As for today, Stephens identifies several challenges to a global order fragilely held together by the commitment to liberal democracy, open economies, and the free circulation of ideas and trade. The “revisionists” attack this model from various perspectives. Iran sees it as a fomenter of godlessness and hedonism, Russia is moved to oppose it by “revanchism and resentment”,  and China believes that it “is a recipe for bankruptcy and laziness”,  lacking a “sense of purpose, organization, and direction”.  All three see evidence for their various critiques in the failure of the U.S. to exercise its massive power in the face of challenges, and in the willingness of American elites to revel in guilt and self-doubt. These perceptions of national decline invite rivals and enemies to behave as if the U.S. is in fact declining.

The other international players that could worsen disorder are “freelancers” and “free radicals”.  The former include those countries like Israel or Japan who, convinced that America will not act in its own or its allies’ interests, will understandably take action that necessarily entails unforeseen disastrous consequences. Much more dangerous are the “free radicals”, the jihadist gangs rampaging across 3 continents, and the nuclear proliferators like Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, whose collaboration with each other and rogue regimes like Venezuela endangers the world through provoking even further proliferation on the part of rivals, or by handing off nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations. And then there are “free radicals” like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who have undermined global order by publicizing the necessarily covert tools, practices, and institutions that undergird and protect it.

Finally, there are the structural weaknesses of the globalized economy and its continuing decline in growth, which may create “breaks” in national economic systems that “will be profoundly disruptive, potentially violent, and inherently unpredictable”. Add America’s retreat from world affairs and reductions in military spending, and in the “nearer term”, Stephens warns, “terrorists, insurgents, pirates, hackers, ‘whistleblowers’,  arms smugglers, and second-rate powers armed with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles will be able to hold the United States inexpensively at risk”,  provoking further American retreat from world affairs and the inevitable increased aggression by our enemies and rivals.

 So what can be done? In his conclusion Stephens applies to foreign affairs the “broken windows” tactics of urban policing that caused rates of violent crimes to plummet over the last few decades. Thus “the immediate goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to arrest the continued slide into a broken-windows world of international disorder”.

This foreign policy would require increasing U.S. military spending to 5% of GDP, with a focus on increasing numbers of troops, planes, and ships rather than on overly sophisticated and expensive new weapons. It would mean stationing U.S. forces near global hotspots to serve as a deterrent and rapid-reaction force to snuff out incipient crises. It would require reciprocity from allies in military spending, who for too long have taken for granted the American defense umbrella. It would focus attention on regions and threats that really matter, particularly the borderlands of free states, in order to protect global good citizens from predators. It means acting quickly and decisively when conflict does arise, rather than wasting time in useless debates and diplomatic gabfests. Finally, it would require that Americans accept that their unprecedented global economic, cultural, and military power confers on us both vulnerability to those who envy and hate us, and responsibility for the global order on which our own security and interests depend.

No matter how understandable our traditional aversion to military and political entanglements abroad, history has made us the global policeman, one committed to human rights, accountability, and political freedom. If we abdicate that position, there is no country powerful, or worthy enough, to take our place.

We agree with that.

And Thornton tantalizes us with this:

Stephens ends with an imagined “scenario” of how a serious global disruption could occur, one grounded in current trends and thus frighteningly believable.

When we’ve found out what that scenario is, which is to say when we’ve read the book, we’ll return to this important subject.

 

*  “In his first nine months in office, President Obama has issued apologies and criticisms of America in speeches in France, England, Turkey, and Cairo; at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City. He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, and for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, and for feeding anti-Muslim sentiments; for committing torture, for dragging our feet on global warming and for selectively promoting democracy.” – Mitt Romney, quoted by PolitiFact.com