At Large

Troubles on the Horizon

Islamists running amok is hardly the only national security crisis the U.S. is going to face in the coming months.

By 9.14.12

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By December of this year the Legislative and Executive departments of the United States Government will have to do what they hate. They must settle the financial ramifications of defending this country -- and if it wishes -- its allies also. As little as it has been profitable politically to address or even take notice of these issues during the campaign season, these matters will be front and center by January 1. We might as well prepare for them right now.

To begin with, there is the real possibility that Israel will launch a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear weapon development facilities. Some say this will occur before the U.S. elections and others say it will be afterward. In any case, the personal animosity between Obama and Netanyahu has not helped thoughtful coordination between Israel and the U.S. The Iranian response to the Israeli action we already know or reasonably suspect: an attempt will be made to close the Strait of Hormuz and strangle petroleum transport from Persian Gulf countries. And, of course, a furious counter-strike by Iranian air assets and missiles on Israel. The entire Middle East would be in danger of conflagration.

The killing of the American ambassador and three staffers in Benghazi came only briefly after the well-organized attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on 9/11/12. Purportedly these activities were due to an insulting depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in an American internet film trailer. The calculus of Washington's diplomatic relations in North Africa and throughout the Islamic world has become far less stable.

Not necessarily in any order of importance, but certainly appropriate in relative terms, is the already in process Syrian internal conflict in which Russia and China refuse to assist the U.N. in forcing a ceasefire as a precursor to negotiations. The Sunni/Shia traditional animosity that infuses the political environment of this civil war acts as both a stimulant and inhibitor for expansion of the fighting. Hezbollah is waiting to defend Shia interests while simultaneously Hamas would like to embrace a broad Sunni uprising. But neither wants the losses associated with another war with Israel that quite possibly would follow.

Chet Nagle broke the story in the Daily Caller that the Russians have been caught sending a nuclear sub covertly into the Gulf of Mexico while they resume their Cold War practice of long range bomber intrusion of U.S. air space. They even have boasted of their ability to launch EMP attacks on the U.S. any time they wish. Meanwhile China refuses to compromise on its position against the international standing of the South China Sea and seeks to press its claims to oil and mineral rights with the aid of ostentatious surface and submarine naval maneuvers.

The impression is created around the world that the United States is not overly concerned about what is going on. Apparently Mr. Putin in Moscow doesn't think much about American alertness. He is preoccupied with his own plans for rebuilding Russia's status in the global power arena. President Obama has done what the Russian president had insisted upon in indicating "flexibility " on the issue of negotiating withdrawal of American anti-missile facilities from Eastern Europe. This was in spite of the fact that the world had to learn about this potential strategic capitulation through an inadvertent "open mike" message sent by Obama sotto voce via Dmitry Medvedev.

While the U.S. becomes an increasingly less influential factor in Middle East politics and strategic affairs -- except as a target -- Russia and China have grown in political involvement and influence. Beijing views its diplomatic activities in Africa and the Middle East as part of its broader political thrusts in support of its economic ambitions. Moscow, on the other hand, focuses on the Middle East primarily to regain its regional role that had existed during Soviet days. Vladimir Putin seeks to use an increased participation in Middle Eastern affairs as the mechanism to reassert leverage within the entire Islamic world, but most importantly among the Muslim regions of the North Caucasus and former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

The consternation and fear that pervades Europe's financial centers rises and falls as if an invading army is marching in its direction. The generals of the economic world meet regularly to monitor the monetary battlefield. Greece would appear already to have been counted out even though the Germans continue begrudgingly to pour more resources into the battle to maintain the principal lines of resistance for the European Union and its beleaguered euro. The U.S. dollar remains relatively strong for the moment, but technical experts agree that if any new blows occur to the European theater -- such as a new Middle Eastern battlefront with an expected negative impact on oil markets -- the American economy also will be adversely affected to a serious degree.

The new American president, whether its Romney or once again Obama, will have to operate within an international environment that does not allow for simplistic solutions to complex economic problems -- as is the case during the election season. The "arithmetic" (his term) of ex-president Clinton has no pertinence in this real world of global contest. His views, and others of one time importance but who now are politically irrelevant, will hold no value. The American public -- and its leaders on all levels -- will have to deal with reality.

A major factor in this reality is the need to maintain high defense expenditures to balance the energized effort being put forth by both Russia and China regarding the military aspects of their science and technology. This outlay will be matched by the high cost of maintaining a combat-ready volunteer armed force -- a factor that cannot be substantially reduced without reducing effectiveness and versatility. That's the real world, and it will be upon us shortly. 

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.