Listening to Barack Obama laying out what he calls his new defense strategy, my first reaction was, "Here we go again." Having basically written off the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Obama is falling prey to a temptation several of his predecessors found irresistible in peacetime: Cut defense expenditures. Shrink the military. And hope the rest of the world will neither notice nor take advantage of our weakness.
Something is decidedly different, however. This is the first time in memory that a president has voluntarily eviscerated the armed forces of the United States and redeployed what remains so as to create acute vacuums of power in time of war. Unfortunately, I am referring not just to the war in Afghanistan that we continue to be engaged in, for the time being at least.
There is also the war now developing as what might best be described as "Shariah Spring" metastasizes into grave new perils for America's allies and interests in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. All other things being equal, "beyond" may include: the Far East, where China and North Korea are responding to domestic turmoil with outward truculence; Russia, where Vladimir Putin has already blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for demonstrations against his kleptocracy; and our own hemisphere, where a dying Venezuelan dictator blames us for his cancer and is working feverishly with our adversaries in Latin America and the rest of the world to turn our front-yard into a staging area for a greatly expanded "axis of evil."
Under such circumstances Mr. Obama's "revised defense strategy" is a formula for disaster. If even the defense reductions, downsizing and disengagement that it envisions come to pass - let alone those in prospect if the cuts associated with the pending sequestration legislation are imposed, the United States will not simply expose its people, allies and vital interests to attack. It will invite such attack.
While the details of the Obama unilateral disarmament program remain to be fully fleshed out, the broad outlines are bad enough:
Our military will be cut sharply in size.
It will be denied vital modernization programs - the absence of which ensures the remaining force will be ill-equipped to contend with present dangers, letalone those in the offing.
The retrofitting of existing equipment, much of it badly degraded in the course of a decade of war, will be stretched out or abandoned altogether. This willexacerbate the risks associated with the Obama failure to modernize the armed forces' kit.
The United States will no longer be present in the places and/or numbers necessary to safeguard our interests around the world. It is predictable that the resulting power vacuums will be filled as such "peace dividend"-induced vacuums have in the past: at our expense and to our detriment.
The administration risks breaking faith with the men and women in uniform by reneging on commitments made in the way of health care, pensions and other benefits. When combined with other assaults on the culture of the military, pursued in furtherance of the administration's domestic political agenda (and without regard for the impact on readiness, recruitment or retention), these changes may make a continuedreliance on an all-volunteer force unsustainable.
The nation's nuclear forces will be allowed to atrophy further through 1) a failure to modernize, test and properly maintain them and 2) as a result of further cuts in their numbers. The latter will probably include the elimination of an entire "leg" of the Strategic Triad. The result will be not the President's publicly stated goal, namely of "ridding the world of nuclear weapons." Rather, it will simply be to rid the United States of its deterrent forces at a time when they are likely to be more needed than ever.
This potentially disastrous aspect of the Obama program for unilateral disarmament is being compounded by one other phenomenon: the President's continuing and deeply ideological hostility towards missile defenses that might mitigate the danger posed by ballistic missiles now proliferating among states - and even terrorist groups like Hezbollah - that are virulently hostile to this country and our friends. Worse yet, the administration is reportedly determined to flout a statute governing the sharing of missile defense-related information and technology with the Russians. In the process, Team Obama will almost surely compromise what little there is of our capabilities to provide defenses against missiles delivering electro-magnetic and other weapons of mass destruction.
We shouldn't kid ourselves. We can walk away from conflicts, but that does not mean they are over. We can hollow out our military but that does not mean that others won't see it as an invitation to pursue their interests - at our expense.
In the past, our so-called "peace dividends" have proven illusory. And we paid not just in national treasure but lives. We literally can't afford to do that again.
The American people and their elected representatives - and those who seek to represent them - must categorically reject the plan for unilateral U.S. disarmament espoused last week by President Obama. If ever there were a time for "peace through strength," this is it.