Defense & National Security

Obama gives short shrift to global affairs

Obama gives short shrift to global affairs

One-fifth of President Obama’s State of the Union speech was dedicated to rehashing his first term national security and foreign affairs policies but provided no new initiatives and plenty of cuts.  That’s alarming given the major international problems facing America today.

As expected Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from the current 64,000 in Afghanistan and reminded the American people that this spring the Afghans will take the battle lead.  That’s great news for our returning troops but not good for the war effort, because, according to a December 2012 Pentagon report, the Afghans are not ready to take the lead.  Only one of the Afghan army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently, according to the report.

The rush to exit what Obama once called the “necessary war” was evident in his speech.  He committed to a “unified and sovereign Afghanistan” without promising necessary financial aid for that country’s survival.  Further, subject to negotiating an agreement with Kabul, unspecified U.S. troops will continue training and counterterrorism missions after 2014.   The problem is those troops won’t provide critical enabling capabilities to the Afghans and our stay behind contingent is expected to be as few as 3,000, a totally inadequate force for the mission.

Obama’s exit formula threatens disaster because without significant long-term financial and the right military help, Afghanistan will quickly fragment and destabilize Central Asia to include the nuclear-armed Pakistan and provide a new breeding ground for transnational extremism.

The president also addressed the ongoing war with al Qaeda promising “to meet this threat.”  He intends to do the mission without “tens of thousands of our sons and daughters;” instead he will build ally capacity to “provide for their own security” and “we will continue to take direct action against terrorists” which means launching drone attacks and sending in special forces.  He did not explain why this strategy might work, especially in light of the exploding problems across North Africa.

Obama’s anti-terrorist drone campaign got him in trouble last week after the release of a Department of Justice memorandum outlining when it is okay to kill an American fighting for al Qaeda.  Obama promised in the future “to be transparent with the American people” and coordinate with Congress his targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists.  We’ll see.

Tuesday’s surprise North Korean nuclear test earned Obama’s only passing comment and he provided no new insights about how to tame the rogue’s increasing and credible nuclear threat. He reminded the Hermit Kingdom it must “meet international obligations” and then promised we will “strengthen our missile defense.”  We’ll see whether he’s serious about missile defense when he publishes his new budget. But as for North Korea, don’t expect Obama’s “strategic patience” strategy to tame the rogue.

Obama couldn’t mention North Korea without a passing reference to his failure to curb Iran’s nuclear lust.  Once again he stated his failed “give diplomacy a chance” plan but made no mention that Tehran recently turned down bilateral talks with the U.S. and then announced the intention to accelerate its nuclear enrichment program. For Israel’s benefit Obama restated his intention to “prevent them [Iran] from getting a nuclear weapon” but set no red lines for Tehran.

Reducing nuclear weapons, which was one of Obama’s signature issues in his 2008 campaign, is back on the agenda.  He succeeded getting the Senate to approve the new START treaty with Russia in 2010 which reduces our nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads and 700 launch platforms – missiles and bombers.  Now he wants to cut our arsenal even deeper and perhaps unilaterally.  Meanwhile, his defense budget cutters are eyeing the $80 billion promise to modernize the country’s weapons laboratories, which was part of the price to win Republican votes for the new START treaty.

Press reports indicate Obama wants to cut our arsenal to 1,000, which perhaps is what the president meant last year when an open microphone picked up him telling Russia’s then President Dmitri Medvedev “after my election I have more flexibility.” The New York Times just reported that Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, is planning to travel to Russia next month to lay the groundwork for talks that could lead to deeper cuts.

The cyber threat garnered Obama’s emphasis as a rapidly growing threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure such as our power grid.  He announced signing an executive order earlier in the day to “strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security.”

Then he called on Congress to act especially in the wake of failed legislation attempts to address the cyber threat in 2012.  But Obama’s executive order will anger many Republicans who view Obama’s order as an end run.  Critics like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) oppose the president’s order because it creates yet another bureaucracy forcing industry to comply with new government standards.

The Middle East’ ongoing Arab Spring crises earned passing comment but no new commitments.  Obama said “we can’t dictate the course of countries like Egypt” which may be true but he facilitated that country’s transition to the radical Muslim Brotherhood’ control by calling for the former ally President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

He gave two sentences to the ongoing civil war in Syria that so far has claimed more than 60,000 lives and threatens to destabilize the Middle East.  He promised to “support opposition leaders” but he failed to explain the strongest rebel groups are Islamic extremists that will never support American views.

Obama ended his brief foray into national security and foreign affairs issues with the reminder that he is the commander in chief.  He promised to “maintain the best military in the world” but failed to address how he will stop sequestration scheduled to kick in on March 1, 2013, which Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta labeled “devastating.”

Predictably, the president acknowledged “gays” in the military – an anti-military readiness triumph from his first term, and then he briefly mentioned his new radical social experiment, women in combat.  “Women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat,” Obama said.   That statement demonstrates how out of touch the “commander in chief” is with the reality of combat.

Obama’s State of the Union speech was short on substance, repeated his tired rhetoric and clearly signaled his intention to cut our national defenses and disengage from foreign affairs.

The take away: he is setting-up the nation for security and foreign policy failures in his second term. All this at a time when our potential adversaries are openly mocking us and rapidly building their offensive conventional and nuclear capability with America clearly designated as the target. What we have is a presidential failure to lead in the arena most critical to our way of life.

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