Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Absence Of True Leadership Is A Bad, Bad Thing

It astounds me, but it's true - an increasing number of Americans think that America is too big for its britches, wields too much power, or needs to be taken down a notch on the world stage.  The litany of liberal sound bytes and quotes (along with the accompanying policies and actions) illustrating that point would fill an entire library, and you have but to do some modest searching on this blog to find any number of examples, so I won't go into that here.  Instead, I want to focus on a great perspective piece in the WSJ on this subject.  It would be a shame to excerpt it, so take a minute to read the whole thing:

Not so long ago much of the world griped about an America that was too assertive, a "hyperpower" that attempted to lead with too little deference to the desires of those attending the G-20 meeting today in Mexico. Well, congratulations. A world without U.S. leadership is arriving faster than even the French hoped. How do you like it?

• In Syria, a populist revolt against a dictator threatens to become a civil war as Russia and Iran back their client in Damascus and the West defaults to a useless United Nations. The conflict threatens to spill into neighboring countries.

• Iran continues its march toward a nuclear weapon despite more than three years of Western pleading and (until recently) weak sanctions. Israel may conclude it must strike Iran first to defend itself, despite the military risks, because it lacks confidence about America's will to act. If Iran does succeed, a nuclear proliferation breakout throughout the Middle East is likely.

• Again President of Russia, Vladimir Putin snubbed President Obama's invitation to the G-8 summit at Camp David and is complicating U.S. diplomacy at every turn. He is sending arms and antiaircraft missiles to Syria, blocking sanctions at the U.N. and reasserting Russian influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Mr. Obama's "reset" in relations has little to show for it.

• In Egypt, the military and Muslim Brotherhood vie for power after the Arab spring—with the U.S. largely a bystander. The democrats don't trust an America that helped them too little in the Mubarak days, while the military doesn't trust a U.S. Administration that abandoned Mubarak at the end. Egypt is increasingly unwilling to police its own border with Israel or the flow of arms into Gaza.

• The countries of the euro zone stumble from one failed bailout to the next, jeopardizing a still-fragile global economy. The world's most impressive current leader, Germany's Angela Merkel, rejected Mr. Obama's advice to blow out her country's balance sheet with stimulus spending in 2009 and is thankful she did. Her economy is stronger for it.

The Obama Administration has since played the role mainly of Keynesian kibitzer, privately taking the side of Europe's debtors in urging Germany to write bigger checks and ease monetary policy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner elbowed his way into a euro-zone finance ministers meeting last September and then criticized European policies, and lately Messrs. Obama and Geithner have been blaming Europe for America's economic problems. No wonder Frau Merkel doesn't much care what the U.S. thinks.

• The countries of South Asia are recalculating their interests as the U.S. heads for the exits in Afghanistan. Pakistan demands the extortion of $5,000 a truck to carry supplies to U.S. forces, while continuing to provide sanctuary for Taliban leaders. Iran extends its own influence in Western Afghanistan, while the Taliban resist U.S. entreaties to negotiate a cease-fire, figuring they can wait out the departure.

For the Putins of the world and many American liberals, these signs of fading U.S. influence are welcome. They have finally tied down the American Gulliver. The era of "collective security" through the U.N. has arrived, and, whatever the future difficulties, at least there will be no more Iraqs.

But note well that the substitute for U.S. leadership is not a new era of U.N.-administered peace. It is often a vacuum filled by the world's nastiest actors. That is nowhere clearer than in Syria, where Russia and Iran have a free run to fortify the Assad dictatorship. The price is high in human slaughter, but it may be higher still in showing other dictators that it hardly matters anymore if an American President declares that you "must go." What matters is if you have patrons in Moscow, Beijing or Tehran.

The other claim, especially popular in Europe and China, is that this American retreat is inevitable because the U.S. is weaker economically. There's no doubt the recession and tepid recovery have sapped U.S. resources and confidence, but economic decline is not inevitable. It is, as Charles Krauthammer put it in 2009, "a choice."

America can choose to stay on its current path toward a slow-growth entitlement society that spends its patrimony on domestic handouts, or it can resolve to once again be a dynamic, risk-taking society that grows at 3% or more a year.

What the U.S. can't do is expect to grow at the 2% annual rate of the Obama era and somehow finance both ObamaCare and the current American military. On present trend, America's defense budget will inevitably shrink as Europe's military spending has to 3%, then 2% or less, of GDP.

There are always limits to U.S. power, and American leadership does not mean intervening willy-nilly or militarily. It does require, however, that an American President believe that U.S. pre-eminence is desirable and a source for good, and that sometimes this means leading forcefully from the front even if others object.

Without that American leadership, the increasing signs of world disorder will be portents of much worse to come.

That's precisely the point.  I used to be uneasy about the fact that America provides the bulk of the military defense for most of Western civilization...until I realized that if we don't do it, no one else will.  No one else can.  For those who think America's military is eeeeeevil and brutal, I ask you: when was the last time America invaded another nation with the intent of claiming it?  Go ahead, drop me a comment if you can pinpoint it.

Don't talk to me about Iraqi oil - if we actually got a portion of the proceeds from that invasion our 'war debt' would be far smaller than it is.  That revenue was pumped right back into Iraq itself to put the country back together.  Afghanistan?  We're pumping billions into that sinkhole every year, and few can intelligently explain why at this point.  Kuwait?  We're the ones who stopped the raging oil fires that Saddam Hussein started during his retreat, saving that nation's prosperity for years to come.  Got any other guesses?

The point is that we don't work that way.  We could, but we don't.  America has been the bastion of freedom, and the primary spreading mechanism for liberty throughout the world for decades.  When we go to war, it's to free someone, not to take over their nation.  Oh, we've done it imperfectly, to be sure, and there's still so much oppression, slavery, and death around the world that it's heartbreaking.  But even a superpower like the U.S. can only do so much.  Still, if we didn't have the power to push freedom the way we have...what is the alternative?

Russia?  Since when has Russia ever been anything but cold and heartless to its own people?  The Holocaust defined what an atrocity is, but the actual numbers are scant compared to Stalin's purge of 50 million Russians.  Czar Putin -- the former KGB leader -- doesn't appear to be breaking any new ground other than lengthening his own rule by whatever means necessary.

China?  Communists are brainwashed from birth to be subjects of the state, serving, living and dying on the whims of those in power.  On the whole, it's a society that has so severely devalued human life that it embraces infanticide, especially in the case of baby girls (if you want a war on women, there you go).  Just a few weeks ago I watched a (censored) video of a 6-year old Chinese girl get run down in the street by a car, to lay there while 20 adults passed by in other vehicles or on foot before someone stopped to help her.  Do you really want China dictating world affairs?

How about the Middle East?  Islamic nations practice Sharia law, where homosexuals are executed, women are forced to cover every square inch of their bodies and treated like animals, and the slightest offense (be it as harmless as a cartoon) results in a fatwa calling for death and mayhem.  There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom of expression.  Radical Islam sees the murder of innocent people (even children) as the highest form of honor if done in the name of Allah, and promises 72 virgins in the afterlife to those who successfully perpetrate it.

The soft socialist nations of Western Europe couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag anymore, and seem content to fade quietly into the night, as long as no one bothers them during their afternoon tea.  Most of them have been half overrun by radical Islamics anyway.

Who else is there?  Where else in the world can you voice dissent without fear of imprisonment, torture, or death?  I'm not being rhetorical...if you have a thought on who else might be as gentle a world superpower as the U.S., drop a comment and enlighten me.

I submit to you that there isn't anyone else.  Not only is no one else capable of such world leadership in terms of military and economic power, but no one is up to it from a benevolence standpoint, either.  Once again, I'm not suggesting that America is without fault...far from it!  It is disheartening to watch the decline of moral and ethical values right here at home, the corruption of once-proud institutions (often brought on by themselves), and the creep of liberalism that is eating the heart and strength out of this nation nibble by tiny nibble.  But many Americans remain true to what made this nation great, and that's cause for hope.  Even so, again I ask you: if not America, then who?

So, for those of you who think America needs to be taught a lesson, be careful what you wish for.  America isn't quite the tyrant it's perpetrated to be by the liberal Left.  If America loses its ability -- and will -- to influence the world toward freedom and prosperity, we will not like what replaces it.

If America doesn't lead...someone else will.

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