As President Obama was traversing Alaska last week sounding the alarm about the theoretical consequences of global warming, a more concrete threat loomed just off the coast, in the Bering Sea.
Five Chinese naval ships suddenly materialized and were cruising about, symbols of China’s growing military might and its challenge to America’s naval hegemony in the Pacific.
That Chinese warships had appeared on U.S. radar in the Bering for the first time ever during a rare Obama visit to Alaska could be no coincidence. It was an obvious challenge to the president, and to be sure, an unmistakable sign of disrespect.
Meantime, halfway around the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin was toying with sending troops into Syria. Iran, which had just signed a nuclear deal with the United States, was continuing its rhetoric of open contempt for its new “partner.”
America’s enemies and rivals seem to have little fear with Obama at the helm. Would such derision, particularly by the Chinese, be offered up were Ronald Reagan president? Or even George W. Bush?
Obama’s naive policy of “outreach,” his grave affliction with indecision, and his ardent commitment to tentative half-measures have earned him the disrespect of the rest of the world.
Overseas, jackals reign in a Darwinian struggle for power and survival. They have a finely tuned nose for weakness, and with Obama, they sense it in abundance.
The problem is not so much that Obama refuses to launch the kind of military engagements Bush did. It is that he fails to understand the symbols of power and dithers instead of acting.
Obama didn’t do the wrong thing in Syria. He did nothing, refusing to decide whether to arm the Syrian rebels.
At the same time, he withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq and crowed about it on the campaign trail in 2012. The result of his Syria and Iraq policies was opportunity knocking for extremists in the absence of U.S. policy, and the rise of ISIS.
In Libya, Obama “led from behind” and then abandoned the scene once Qaddafi had been removed, resulting in anarchy exploited by Islamists. He drew a red line in Syria and then backed away. He set a deadline for ending the war in Afghanistan, win or lose. He demanded that Iran dismantle its nuclear infrastructure, only to reach an agreement that permits Iran to develop nuclear weapons in 15 years.
He abandoned a stalwart ally, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and expressed optimism as the radical Islamist Egyptian Brotherhood seized power. Soon, he quietly acquiesced as the Egyptian generals took power back and slaughtered and imprisoned their opponents.
These are only a few of the exhibits in the Obama gallery of indecisiveness and timidity. Pair all this with the incessant golf, the long, luxurious vacations, and the indulgent White House parties, and America’s enemies know they are not dealing with a serious opponent.
Ronald Reagan understood that he had to be perceived as unrelenting, and it was this that allowed him to win the Cold War without firing a shot.
One of the most significant foreign policy decisions of his presidency was made on the domestic front, when Reagan opted in 1981 to fire most of the illegally striking air traffic controllers. The Soviet politburo took notice and understood that they were dealing with a resolute force.
It was Reagan’s same stubborn conviction not to abandon his anti-missile defense program, even as the initiative was ridiculed as “Star Wars” by the left and in the press, that made the Soviets realize they could not compete with American power on an equal footing, hastening the dissolution of their empire.
Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 is still debated today. But his resolve is not, and the flexing of American might caused the Libyans to abandon their nuclear aspirations and may have helped keep a temporary lid on the Iranian nuclear arms program. After all, why invite trouble?
Nobody fears trouble from Obama, least of all the Iranians, who will have their nuclear arsenal, obtain billions of dollars that had been frozen overseas, and keep the American hostages they have taken.
And not the Chinese either, who will send their warships close to American shores and grow their power in the Pacific, knowing the worst they have to fear is a lecture from the president.
This piece was first published in Polizette.