- - Sunday, November 8, 2015


Nowhere in the muddle of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, such as it is, are contradictions so apparent as in America’s relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. What has been the world’s most successful alliance is now in jeopardy, in part from new and difficult strategic and tactical circumstances of the world, but the roots of ruin lie in the fundamental contradictions in Mr. Obama’s naive approach to the world and its problems.

His fundamental worldview consists of a simplified notion that the United States is overextended overseas, particularly through its military, and the remedy begins with dramatic cutbacks in U.S. commitments, such as in Iraq, and these should be answered by a similar response from the troublemakers of the world. The answer he got, beginning soon after he took his oath of office, is chaos in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and followed by Vladimir Putin’s drive to restore Soviet glory to Russia as a superpower.

Rushing to meet Mr. Putin’s thrust into Ukraine, senior NATO officials see that they may have neglected the Mediterranean flank, a vulnerability laid bare by Russia’s muscular intervention in Syria. Mr. Obama’s reluctant turnaround to meet the threat of the Islamic State, or ISIS, has been slow and ineffective. In fact, ISIS is now attempting to lead terrorists throughout the Arab and Islamic world, however discordant the terrorist voices are.

The United States only now faces the challenges that Mr. Obama refused to see. In his opening speech to the Islamic world from Cairo shortly after he took office, he signaled that he would eliminate antagonisms between Islam and the West. So far he hasn’t done more than view with alarm and point with pride to himself. A modest and inadequate bombing campaign against ISIS has not only failed to raise more than a little dust on the ground, and the Islamic State’s tactical victories in the region continue, and more frightening, its appeal to violent troublemakers is growing.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledges the organization’s strategic failures. He says that delegates to a meeting on Dec. 1 will take up new strategic implications for the alliance’s southern flank, brought on by the Russian plunge into Syria, as well as surveillance and reconnaissance, deployments of military advisers to the crisis countries of North Africa and the Middle East. There are “many threats to the south of the alliance” that must be met now. Even as he spoke NATO’s largest war game in a decade was unfolding in Spain.

Adm. John Richardson, the new U.S. chief of naval operations, is considering sending more ships, including submarines, to deter Russian adventurism. But growing demands on the U.S. fleet, however impressive its gains in technology and firepower, make such deployment difficult.

But “freedom of navigation [in the Mediterranean] is fundamentally important to NATO,” Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander, has said. “As we observe the deployment of more sophisticated [Russian] capabilities with considerable reach, it becomes more and more important that we refresh our deterrence.” NATO advisers are already in Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia to bolster the alliance’s regional influence, and will be dispatched to Libya once a reliable government is established there.

The question hanging over these strategic and tactical proposals is whether the president has the will to reverse his drastic reduction of the American military. New demands competing for the president’s attention include the growing aggression of China, and the important question is not only whether he will do what must be done, but whether the European allies will rise to the challenge of a world in chaos. The record is not reassuring.



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