A LESSER SUPERPOWER THAN WE USED TO BE
by Shoshana Bryen October 24, 2013
The traditional American posture as the guarantor of freedom and protector of allies, and the scourge of Nazis, Communists and al Qaeda is headed toward a less manageable, every-man-for-himself series of ad hoc arrangements that portend greater international instability in which terrorism and warfare thrive.
Here is what happens when the United States is weakened in the eyes of the world:
- China derides U.S. economic leadership, posits itself a "source of financial stability," and suggests the yuan as a replacement for the dollar. China also announces plans to sell Pakistan two more nuclear reactors. Russia doubles down by offering Iran an anti-aircraft system and another reactor.
- Iran announces a willingness to reach a deal for the elimination of Western sanctions, but maintains that Tehran will never give up its capability to enrich uranium, a key Israeli demand, and formerly a key demand of the U.S. and its allies. Russia further undermines the U.S. by announcing Iran has a "right" to enrichment and urging the U.S. to lift sanctions.
- The Syrian opposition announces it will not come to talks in Geneva because its patron – the United States – has no plan and because it is opposed to talks while Assad continues to rule. Assad, in the meantime, announces that he should have won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize (OK, it was a joke) and sees no impediment to his running for re-election in 2014 (that's not).
- Saudi Arabia declines a previously sought-after seat on the UN Security Council because, "Allowing the ruling regime in Syria to kill its people and burn them with chemical weapons in front of the entire world and without any deterrent or punishment is clear proof and evidence of the UN Security Council's inability to perform its duties and shoulder its responsibilities."
- NATO ally Turkey appears to have exposed Iranians who met with Israeli intelligence in Turkey, ensuring that the Iranians are burned at home and an information flow to the West about Iranian activities is cut off. It is also possible that Turkey has been arming al Qaeda militias in Syria to fight against Syrian Kurds.
- "Insider attacks" by the Taliban against U.S. and NATO troops increase, as do attacks against Afghan officials, interpreters and others who have cooperated with the coalition.
- A 16-year-old girl tells the President how to run U.S. national security policy. Malala Yousefzai told reporters after her meeting in the Oval Office, "I expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."
In response, the administration has:
- Suspended military aid and some budgetary support to Egypt, risking priority passage through the Suez Canal for U.S. naval vessels; overflight rights above the Red Sea; efforts in the Sinai to oust Iranian-supported jihadists and arms smugglers; the destruction of Hamas smuggling tunnels; and Egypt's regional weight, in the hope that Egypt would find Jeffersonian democracy.
- Remained mute on the Turkish intelligence revelation, except, apparently, to leak the fact of it to The Washington Post. Remained mute on Turkish support for rebel factions all together.
- Focused on the operations of the OPCW in Syria aimed at getting rid of chemical weapons, while conventional killings continue apace and hunger has become a real threat to civilians.
- Had the Secretary of State praise Assad's cooperation with the OPCW.
- Considered a proposal to ease sanctions on Tehran by offering it access to billions of dollars in frozen funds as a gesture, despite the opinion of negotiators that a deal is not close. The reopening of bank accounts in the U.S. could be done by Executive Order without Congressional approval.
- Denounced the recent election in Azerbaijan, an American and Israeli ally. Fair enough, in that Western democratic norms were not adhered to. But U.S. response to fully rigged Iranian and Russian elections was much gentler. At least Azerbaijan doesn't seem to be threatened with a cutoff of the approximately $20 million in U.S. aid it is scheduled to receive in 2013. (See Egypt, below)
The suspension of aid to Egypt tossed a lifeline to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is roiling politics in Egypt by seeking violent confrontation with the government, and undermining the U.S. ally Jordan and the previously secular Turkish democracy. Notably, the suspension did not seem to presage the collapse of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty despite the insistence of many that Egypt kept the treaty only because the U.S. bribed it to do so. Cooperation against jihadists in Sinai and against Hamas in Gaza appears to indicate that there is at least some self-interest in the Treaty on both sides. Israeli officials have expressed "concern" about the aid suspension.
The President appears to be working overtime to improve relations with America's adversaries, which would not necessarily be a bad idea, except for the number of times that it has come at the expense of America's interests and allies. Even our neighbor and good friend Canada has felt the President's cold shoulder:
- Unwilling to wait much longer for an American decision on the Keystone Pipeline that could carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day to the U.S. and, according to the U.S. State Department, create as many as 42,000 permanent American jobs, Canada is consider shipping the oil to China.
- In response, Mr. Obama told The New York Times that the Keystone Pipeline would create only 50-100 jobs in the United States, and sniffed that Canada should do more to clean up carbon emissions.
When the United States is weak, as it is when it vacillates between threats to its allies and bribes to its adversaries, neither allies nor adversaries have any incentive to follow the American lead. The traditional American post-WWII posture as the guarantor of freedom of navigation and protector of a network of allies – in the Pacific, in the Middle East, in South America – and scourge of Nazis, Chinese Communists, Soviets and al Qaeda, is headed toward a less manageable "every man for himself" series of ad hoc arrangements that portend greater international instability in which terror and warfare thrive.