- - Monday, February 9, 2015


To believe and accept any part of President Obama’s new national security strategy requires the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s a statement of bold leadership, in almost Churchillian terms, but it bears no relationship to the president’s actions or the current state of the world.

The “strategy” blueprint, released by the White House on Friday and outlined by national security adviser Susan Rice during a speech at the Brookings Institution, promises we will “lead with strength,” “lead by example,” and “lead with capable partners.” That sort of leadership is nowhere in evidence, and has not been in Mr. Obama’s entire presidency. Allies such as Saudi Arabia have renounced American foreign policy and have gone their own way. Ukraine, which the strategy promises to defend not with arms shipments but with more sanctions, is being gradually conquered by Russian “little green men,” soldiers disguised as insurgents and supported by identified Russian troops.

Apparently stung by criticism of his weak leadership, Mr. Obama establishes a theme promising to “lead with purpose” to secure the United States, our allies and partners. He says the strategy will establish “strong, innovative and growing U.S. economy,” “respect for universal values and “a rules-based international order advanced by U.S. leadership.” There are so many mentions of leadership — praise for it in the present and promises for the future — in contexts where it isn’t exercised — that it’s apparent that the White House has spun a fable around it to avoid the concept.

When you read, “Our military will remain ready to deter and defeat threats to the homeland, including against missile, cyber and terrorist attacks,” you need to recall that last March Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of United States Cyber Command, told Congress, “We are finding that we do not have the capacity to do everything we need to accomplish.” When you read that in response to Russian aggression, “we have led an international effort to support the Ukrainian people as they choose their own future,” you need to recall the renewed fighting there. And owing to Mr. Obama’s lack of action to support Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have, in desperation, undertaken their own peace initiative with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They will fail because Mr. Putin knows he can conquer Ukraine regardless of Mr. Obama’s sanctions.

There are a lot of other statements in the fable Mr. Obama has spun that leave us shaking our heads. His “strategy” characterizes the struggles for power in the Middle East as a “generational struggle,” not the war it really is, between the two main Islamic sects, the Sunni and the Shia. The document doesn’t, of course, mention the fact that Libya has become a terrorist safe haven as a result of Mr. Obama’s military intervention that overthrew the quiescent Moammar Gadhafi regime. Or that the only threat to the Islamic State is the Jordanian king, whose long-term determination to fight remains in doubt.

Perhaps the strangest parts of the “strategy” are the ones that address Iran directly and indirectly. The president asserts that our negotiations with Iran have already stopped the progress of its nuclear weapons program. That proposition is refuted by the facts we know and is entirely unverified. He argues that the best way to advance our interests is to continue along the path the Iranians and he have charted for the negotiations.

If that is true, why is Mr. Obama going to such great lengths to ensure that the agreement, whenever it is finalized, will never be submitted to the Senate for ratification?

Under this “strategy,” Mr. Obama says we will not hesitate to take “decisive action,” but only “legally, discriminately, proportionally, and bound by strict accountability .” This is the heart of the president’s policy. He restricts us to acting proportionally, which means that the enemy can dictate the terms of any war. As I wrote on Sept. 11, 2001, in a column that appeared on this page the following day, that is a policy of appeasement. It promises our enemies that we will never take sufficient action to defeat them decisively.

Mr. Obama presumably means we will function in what he describes as “a rules-based international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace .” Perhaps he hasn’t read Henry Kissinger’s recent book “World Order.” Our most senior statesman wrote that because Iran is a revolutionary power, we must realize that it rejects such a rules-based order and, in fact, seeks to overthrow anything that resembles it.

Mr. Obama’s strategy document says we have to “live our values at home while promoting universal values abroad.” To do so, he promises to work harder to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The president doesn’t mention, though, that the five top Taliban commanders released in a trade for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon finish their parole in Qatar and be able to return to their leadership of the Taliban movement in time to retake the government of Afghanistan.

The paper, as expected, continues to assert that climate change is a top strategic threat to American security. That insistence led to the “Climate Change Adaption Roadmap” released by the Pentagon last year. It mandates that “climate change” considerations will be included in every aspect of defense planning, including plans for military operations. (I can just see the press release: “The Marines have landed and have beach erosion well in hand.”)

We and our allies need a detailed national security strategy that deals effectively with the realities we face. This isn’t it. It’s a parody of policy, but no one should be laughing.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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