President Obama's new defense strategic-guidance document sends a clear message to America's adversaries: Go for it.
The Obama administration frequently produces major publications that belie their own titles. For example, the president's first of several budgets with trillion-dollar-plus deficits was titled "A New Era of Responsibility." The same could be said of "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership," the strategic document introduced with great fanfare at the Pentagon Thursday morning. This mini-Quadrennial Defense Review is an eight-page admission of American impotence.
Mr. Obama claimed the new strategy reflects the personal guidance he gave throughout its formulation. It's odd he would seek to tie himself so closely to something that attests to his administration's dreary performance. The new strategy claims the United States faces "an inflection point," which is a poorly chosen phrase because in calculus this is the point at which a curve changes - from upward to downward, for example, from positive to negative. Rather than a change in the strategic landscape, the inflection in question is the massive $450 billion in defense budget cuts over the next 10 years mandated by the budget-control act.
In his prepared remarks, Mr. Obama stated, "The size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around." That's true. However, this plan is wholly driven by the need to adapt America's defense structure to the ruinous budgetary realities that three years of Mr. Obama's unprecedented deficit spending have imposed on the Pentagon.
The document is a new milestone marking America's strategic retreat. The Cold War-era requirement that the United States be able to fight and win "2 1/2 wars" was downgraded to "two major-theater wars" during the Clinton administration. Under the new guidance, we are down to a war and a half. "Even when U.S. forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region," it declares, "they will be capable of denying the objectives of - or imposing unacceptable costs on - an opportunistic aggressor in a second region." So, while Washington will pledge to defeat one adversary, in the second, smaller conflict, U.S. forces will only be able to play for a draw. This was a strategy that worked well in the Vietnam War - for our enemy.
To make up for the decline in U.S. power, the new defense document promotes the idea of "building partnership capacity," a concept inherited from the George W. Bush administration. America will "seek to be the security partner of choice," which reduces defending freedom to an uninspiring marketing plan. The guidance suggests pursuing partnerships with "a growing number of nations ... whose interests and viewpoints are merging into a common vision of freedom, stability and prosperity." Unfortunately, this statement is flatly untrue; freedom, stability and prosperity are not growing but are in global retreat like Obama's America. The guidance suggests the future lies in "innovative, low-cost and small-footprint approaches" to global partnership, which is like calling for a coalition of Facebook friends.
"Today," Mr. Obama declared, "we're fortunate to be moving forward from a position of strength." The Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrayed behind him like extras on a movie set, stared grimly ahead, in silence.
The Washington Times
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