“The Russians are laughing as us,” said one astute French observer as the U.S. amphibious landing in Portugal went badly. Numerous vehicles became mired in the sand during NATO’s Trident-Juncture-2015 maneuvers, described by NATO as its “most ambitious exercise in over a decade.” Intended to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a message, the fiasco went virtually unreported by U.S. media, but was noticed in the European and Russian press.
During the NATO military maneuvers held in October and November that focused on Spain, Portugal and Italy, 30,000 troops were mobilized in countries across Western and Eastern Europe, mostly in “penny packets” that did not leave their territories. About 1,000 U.S. and other NATO troops went to the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, that are the part of NATO most in danger of being swallowed by the Russian bear. U.S. press coverage, what little there was, focused mostly on U.S. female paratroopers being air-dropped in Spain.
What kind of message are we sending to Moscow? Does the Obama administration understand that Spain, Portugal and Italy would not be in the front line of a military confrontation with Russia?
And a mere 1,000 troops sent to defend the Baltic states?
Does the Obama administration know that during one of Russia’s numerous short-warning “snap” training exercises, in July 2013, Moscow projected 160,000 troops across the vastness of Siberia? This is seven times more than the collective armed forces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia combined. The benefit of Moscow’s “snap” exercises went on display when a Russian expeditionary force suddenly showed up in Syria, taking the West by surprise.
U.S. troops numbering 1,000 during the Cold War might have been a deterrent by serving as a “nuclear tripwire.” But President Obama has allowed the U.S. nuclear deterrent to become obsolete. U.S. nuclear forces date back to the era of President Reagan and before. They are not being modernized, or even adequately maintained, to deter new generations of Russian and Chinese advanced nuclear missiles.
For example, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons have been reduced to a few hundred old gravity bombs stored in Germany, while Russia has at least 3,000 and perhaps as many as 20,000 tactical nuclear weapons. Many of these reportedly are high-tech third-generation nuclear weapons — such as surgical, “clean” nukes for the battlefield that make no radioactive fallout or other unwanted collateral effects, improved neutron warheads and Super-EMP weapons — that have no counterparts in the legacy U.S. nuclear deterrent.
Today, 1,000 U.S. troops in Lithuania may be less a deterrent and more of a temptation to Moscow — 1,000 potential POWs to serve as hostages if Russia snaps up the Baltics.
What message is being sent to Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, ISIS and al Qaeda when:
• President Obama’s response to a terror attack on San Bernardino is more gun control?
• Mr. Obama’s response to a terror attack on Paris is a summit on climate change?
• Draconian cuts in the defense budget reduce the capability and readiness of the U.S. armed forces in many critical categories to the lowest levels since before World War II?
• The president’s 18-month air war against ISIS fails to achieve any noticeable results?
• The Defense Department spends $500 million to train merely four or five rebels for the war against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad?
• Mr. Obama’s “leading from behind” during his Libyan war has created another haven for terrorists?
• The military culture is being used as a social experiment in gay rights and gender equality?
The bad guys are getting the message, which is why they are becoming more aggressive.
Republicans, Democrats and all Americans who would have Mr. Obama take a harder line — sending more troops into the Middle East, confronting Moscow in Ukraine, and challenging Beijing in the South China Sea — need to get the message. The president and his national security team are “the gang that cannot shoot straight.” And after nearly eight years of Mr. Obama, incompetence has spread like a cancer through the whole body of U.S. national security institutions.
If the United States gets into a war under the leadership of Team Obama, we will lose.
Americans who care deeply about national security must endure the further decline of U.S. power and influence, and the worldwide advance of terrorism and tyranny, until a new team arrives in the White House. In the meantime, Congress and independent think tanks need to start planning now for that transition, to have legislation and programs ready to quickly rebuild American strength and competence after Mr. Obama, in order to survive the growing world crisis that is his legacy.
• Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA.