In the past month, Americans have been led to believe that President Obama has achieved diplomatic breakthroughs with Syria and Iran, thereby avoiding looming conflicts with those two rogue states. If the result being promised is not exactly “peace in our time,” the White House certainly is encouraging the notion that its robust threats of military action against these allied enemies brought them to the negotiating table.
Regrettably, this proposition does not stand up to scrutiny. Far from a Reaganesque policy of “peace through strength” and the practice of what historian Henry Nau calls “armed diplomacy” that it has made successful in the past, Team Obama is engaged in disarmed diplomacy. The results will, predictably, be disappointing and probably quite dangerous.
For example, with help from his Russian protectors, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has now bought himself protection against any strike the United States might still be capable of mounting by promising to eliminate his chemical stockpiles. No amount of officially professed U.S. “skepticism” or watered-down United Nations resolutions can obscure an unhappy fact: Mr. Assad’s regime is not owning up to all of its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which includes not only more chemical weapons than it has declared, but untold quantities of deadly biological weapons, as well.
Meanwhile, as international inspectors — some of whom will likely be Russians running interference for their client — prepare for the hazardous job of finding and eliminating all of what the Syrians have squirreled away, Mr. Assad will have a free hand to fight his Islamist and other enemies at home with conventional means. Mr. Obama’s arming of Mr. Assad’s foes, and ours, inside Syria will probably simply ensure that civil war goes on, murderously, for quite some time.
The prospects for a happy outcome for Mr. Obama’s disarmed diplomacy are no better with respect to Iran. Smooth-talking Iranian leaders brought their selective charm offensive to New York last week. In short order, they demonstrated contempt for the president by stiffing his offer for some sort of publicized encounter.
Worse, they exposed his desperation to find a new pretext for staving off pressure from Israel and Congress for action on Iran’s incipient nuclear-weapons capability. Mr. Obama paid dearly for it, offering to begin to unravel American and multilateral sanctions in exchange for nothing more than new negotiations — albeit ones that will, we’re assured, be less protracted and more productive than each of the previous ones with Iranian interlocutors.
The truth is that our adversaries, whether they be in Damascus, Tehran, Moscow, Beijing or elsewhere have not simply taken the measure this wholly inadequate American president. They are responding to all he is doing to emasculate what has been the principal obstacle to their ambitions: our military, long the world’s finest.
It takes nothing away from the men and women who are faithfully serving their country in uniform to point out that they are not being given the wherewithal — the funding for training, maintenance and modernization — needed to keep the peace.
To get a proper perspective on what is being done to “fundamentally transform” our armed forces, however, one must also look beyond the condition of the military itself. A leading indicator of future incapacity to perform its mission by, among other things, making the alternative to diplomacy unappealing to our foes can be found in the simultaneous evisceration of the nation’s defense industrial base.
To cite but one example: Boeing announced recently that it would have to shut down the production line for the C-17, the free world’s only modern, wide-bodied airlifter. A sequestration-induced lack of orders from the U.S. military and uncertainty about the prospects for foreign sales would effectively foreclose future purchases of the aircraft that will be, for the foreseeable future, the backbone of our prompt power-projection capabilities.
Take no comfort from suggestions that we can always reopen the line when (not if) more C-17s are needed. The harsh reality is that even if the machine tools and other specialized equipment associated with manufacturing such a sophisticated airplane are not sold off, say, to China (as was done with the B-1 bomber’s production line), the workforce and highly perishable second- and third-tier suppliers are unlikely to be reassembled and certified — certainly not anytime soon. Therefore, we must not let the C-17 line be closed.
Similar problems are to be expected with the contraction of the industrial base needed to supply tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, fighter aircraft and combatant ships. Perhaps not right away, but in due course, bad guys all over the planet will know that we lack the means to mount an effective, or at least a sustained, impediment to their aggressive designs. That is a formula for more conflict, not peace.
The Lexington Institute’s Dan Goure has warned that the U.S. military is already “unready.” So have the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have told Congress that if sequestration persists, they will not be able to fight even one war to assured victory.
What we have seen in the past month, and will surely witness more of in the days and years to come, is how ready our adversaries are to take advantage — diplomatically and otherwise — of our self-inflicted and unilateral disarmament.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio.”