- - Monday, January 27, 2014

On the eve of his annual State of the Union address, Barack Obama’s five years as president have brought innumerable national security failures.

However, beyond the long, growing list of ideologically driven errors, missed opportunities and generally inattentive stewardship of foreign and defense issues is a larger problem.

National security is simply not a top Obama administration priority.

It is no excuse to say that recovering from the 2008 economic crisis has been the main goal, because that is manifestly not true.

Instead, Mr. Obama’s priority is his campaign pledge to “fundamentally transform” America, expressed first in Obamacare and currently in his obsession with economic inequality. Moreover, all presidents consider America’s economic well-being as a top objective, whether the economy is rising or falling at any given moment.

Mr. Obama has been very different. Unlike every other president since Franklin Roosevelt immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack, national security is not Mr. Obama’s highest priority.

His first thought on waking up every morning is not “What threats does America face today?”

This lack of attention and interest in national security matters alone makes his tenure remarkable. He seems interested only when external events force him to confront international issues, or something happens for which he can take credit (fairly or not) such as the death of Osama bin Laden.

More than indifference is at work, though. Mr. Obama has a “little America” view of the world, one entirely comfortable with declining U.S. power.

His policies, words and actions all imply that he sees America historically as too powerful, too assertive, and too advantaged by its military capabilities and economic might.

In Mr. Obama’s view, no “grand strategy” is needed for dealing with a rising China, an assertive Russia or a Middle East in turmoil.

Instead, “leading from behind” and detachment from key international issues all demonstrate Mr. Obama’s discomfort with U.S. power and his feeling that the real problem is American strength.

Accordingly, in his view, a receding, unassertive America is actually better for world peace and security.

Mr. Obama is too cynical a politician ever to say this publicly while in office. For now, it is likely shared only by his closest political advisers — not surprisingly, since most observers agree that national security decisions under Mr. Obama have been centered in the White House to an unprecedented degree.

Whatever the psychology involved, whatever the ideology, whatever role Mr. Obama’s personal history may play in fashioning his national security views, these questions are all ultimately irrelevant. In fact, the search for the key to Mr. Obama’s motivation is ultimately nothing but a distraction. What really matters for the United States as a whole is not what motivates the president, but what he actually does. The facts on that score are devastating.

Story Continues →