When the United States commanded "street respect," it was achieved by adhering to a policy of "peace through strength." This was a proven policy that, regretfully, has been squandered over the past almost two decades. Nowhere is this more evident than in the failure of President Obama's outreach to America's enemies, particularly those in the Islamic world. The repeated humiliating gestures to Iran have been met with nothing but public mockery and contempt by the illegitimate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has cast our president as an amateur.
The latest round of watered-down United Nations sanctions against Iran for its continued enrichment of uranium at an accelerated pace and to 20 percent purity - far in excess of what is required for a medical reactor - is another facade. China's and Russia's votes for the weakened sanctions were bought only by exempting their key business ventures with Iran. Further, Brazil and Turkey's agreement with Iran on processing its nuclear fuel only provided cover for Iran's nuclear-weapons program. This agreement on the eve of the U.S. sanctions vote was nothing but a slap in the face to our president. He is seen as someone who can be rolled. This is clearly evident from Mr. Ahmadinejad's brazen ventures with the ideologue Hugo Chavez and his placement of Iranian Quds Forces in Venezuela.
Compounding our relations with Turkey, our old Cold War NATO ally that refused to let our forces transit its territory into Northern Iraq in 2003, was Turkey's sponsorship of the Gaza-blockade-running ship. From this act, the perception is that Turkey has allied itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and other advocates of global jihad. Even though Israel botched the confrontation, you don't let an ally down. It is clear that Turkey is hedging its bets on a new regional power structure.
In the past, with our 6th Fleet controlling the Mediterranean, it would have been inconceivable that such an operation would have been undertaken. Today, however, with the 6th Fleet reduced to just one ship, my old flagship the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), there is not much deterrence, particularly when it is conducting an exercise in the Baltic Sea.
At home, President Obama's growing image of ineffectiveness and weakness has been reflected in his slow reaction to the oil leak in the Gulf and his inability to mobilize the resources of the U.S. government to contain it. Furthermore, to refuse to accept the oil-spill containment resources offered by 13 countries, citing the Jones Act (which easily could be waived) was unconscionable.
Abroad, we are still involved in fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have made some semblance of progress in Iraq, but Afghanistan is an entirely different situation. With a weak, corrupt central government with little control, our "population-centric" mini-nation-building is not feasible. In order for such a strategy to be successful, we must have a trustworthy, reliable partner. Certainly, President Hamid Karzai's performance to date is not reassuring. The culture of corruption is endemic throughout the country.
You also must have a national army and a functional police force that have a sense of national commitment and pride. As of now, such characteristics have not been evident. Mr. Karzai's recent firing of two Cabinet ministers with close ties to the U.S., plus his refusal to remove his corrupt half-brother from a position of power in Kandahar, suggests that he is positioning himself for a future alliance with the Taliban and Pakistan.
I have always had trouble with the concept that it is better to put your forces at risk in an effort to limit fatalities to the civilian population. In war, you always try to limit civilian casualties, but when the insurgency is embedded with them, it becomes a difficult situation. Those Washington politicians who state that this a burden we are prepared to accept know full well it will never be their butts on the line. My paramount concern has always been the safety of my men and women. In short, the restricted rules of engagements in force in Afghanistan are tying the hands of our military and costing American lives.
Let's remember, we never went into Afghanistan for nation-building. We went in to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda's base of operations. Columnist Tony Blankley said it best when he wrote recently that "only self-deception" can justify further sacrifice of our forces in Afghanistan.
Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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