In his debate with Jimmy Carter on October 28, 1980, Ronald Reagan looked at the television cameras and said, “Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?'” It’s always a good political question, but it’s too often not asked outside the context of our domestic issues.
The question is equally important if it’s focused outward: who among our enemies and allies are better off now than they were on the day President Obama was inaugurated? The answers are a cacophony of bad news, as bad as the answer to the current domestic version of the question.
Let’s go down the list. Since January 2009, how have Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Israel, and our European allies fared? Has Russia or China become less powerful or more aligned with America’s interests?
Iran has become far more powerful and much closer to achieving its nuclear weapons ambitions in the past three years and eight months. Its uranium enrichment facilities are running at full speed, at least one of its Russian-built nuclear power plants has come on line, and a significant portion of the facilities most important to weapons development have been moved far underground. The Iranians are approaching — and will quickly reach — the point at which these facilities are invulnerable to all but the most sophisticated cyberwar attacks and nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear programs have been undeterred — and unaffected — by the several rounds of economic sanctions that we have tried to impose. Its missile force is vastly improved and expanded. And Obama willfully ignored our opportunity to help topple the Iranian kakistocracy in 2009. In sum, Iran is much better off today than it was in 2009.
Israel is worse off in direct proportion to Iran being better off. Actually, Israel is exponentially worse off: because of Obama’s break with Israel and his refusal to take any action that would have ended Iran’s nuclear pursuits (the Stuxnet computer worm notwithstanding, because its effect was brief and temporary). That the Israelis have been abandoned by their most important and powerful ally is clearly illustrated by two recent reports.
First, on August 30 Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Dempsey said, “I don’t want to be complicit if they [the Israelis] choose to do it.” Using the word “complicit,” Dempsey labeled the possible military action illicit. His statement signaled to the Iranians that we would not assist Israel in any way and that we might refuse to come to Israel’s aid if the military action went bad. Contrast this with the 1973 Arab-Israeli War when U.S. Air Force aircraft were being armed and fueled to fly into the fight when the war appeared to be going badly for Israel.
Second, there had been several reports of a blowup between Israeli PM Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro over the Obama administration’s failure to act on Iran. The Obama administration has insisted that there was no disagreement but last week the incident was confirmed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). According to a Washington Post report, “The exchange occurred at an Aug. 24 intelligence cooperation session in Israel and [according to Rogers] it was ‘very tense,’ with sharp, ‘elevated’ exchanges between Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro… ‘It was very, very clear that the Israelis had lost their patience with the administration,’ Rogers said…”
Pakistan fares better since 2009. Its sponsorship of the Taliban and the terrorist Haqqani network (belatedly labeled “terrorist” last week by the Obama administration) is thriving. The Taliban, and the Islamist ideology that pervades both Pakistan and Afghanistan, have combined to pull off so many “green on blue” attacks in which Afghani forces have killed U.S. and coalition troops, that the training of the Afghan security forces has been suspended. In short, the Pakistanis and their surrogates are better off now than they were when Obama came into office.
The comparison of 2009 and 2012 reveals much the same results around the world. China continues its “slow rise,” becoming more powerful militarily even though its economy has slowed. China’s bellicosity has increased considerably in confrontations with the nations in its “near abroad.” The brief military confrontation between Chinese and Japanese forces over the Senkaku Islands off Japan — under which are rich oil and gas fields — passed without an American response. Nations in the “near abroad” from Taiwan to Vietnam to Malaysia face the same growing Chinese threats. China has pursued its strategy consistently and has been undeterred — and unrestrained — in the Obama term.
Russia is no longer the “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” of Churchill’s day. Vladimir Putin has returned to the Russian presidency that he never really gave up. Since Obama’s presidency began, Putin has maneuvered Obama into a new arms control treaty that, for the first time, links our missile defense program with offensive nuclear forces. Obama’s plans to reduce our nuclear forces, his abandonment of Bush’s promised ground-based missile defense deployment to Poland, and Russia’s continuing partnership with Iran’s nuclear power program are all wins for Russia. Russia’s reflexive thwarting of U.S. actions seeking UN action on Iran and every other topic are all wins for Russia. Putin eagerly awaits Obama’s promised “flexibility” if Obama is re-elected.
Geopolitically, our European “allies” are faring no better than their economies. From the beginning, Obama has shunned Britain symbolically — by returning the Churchill bust that had graced the Oval Office — to his declaration of American neutrality in the revived dispute between the U.K. and Argentina over the Falkland Islands. France, as always, is genetically hopeless. Obama’s joining in France’s war for Libyan oil emboldened Sarkozy’s France, but France’s military effort there has exhausted its — and NATO’s — ability to act. NATO member forces will withdraw from Afghanistan before American forces. The security of the former Soviet Bloc nations, especially Poland, has been ignored or, as in the case of Poland, betrayed. American leadership has been absent for all of Obama’s years.
Our worst-faring enemy — Syria — is beset by a civil war from which Obama has remained aloof. Obama’s first defense secretary, Bob Gates, said we had no national security interest in Libya but Obama intervened nevertheless. Syria, in which we have a vital security interest in toppling a terrorist state, is now beyond our reach, supported directly and strongly by both Russia and Iran. The only other enemy that has fared badly under Obama is al Qaeda. SEAL Team 6’s raid that killed Osama bin Laden deprived the terrorist network of its symbolic leader. But, in truth, al Qaeda’s loss hasn’t reduced its abilities below the level achieved under George Bush. Al Qaeda affiliated groups — from al-Shabab in Somalia to al Qaeda in Iraq and more — pose the same kind of deadly local threats that existed in 2009. Other terrorist groups, from Hizballah in Lebanon to the rest of the terrorist networks listed by the State Department, are still thriving with one exception: the Mujahedin e-Khalq, an Iranian group imprisoned and abused by the Maliki government in Iraq. MEK is a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime, and shouldn’t be included in the terrorist list.
Egypt, which was a weak ally, is now in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, an international radical group that is — as Andy McCarthy has written extensively — conducting a silent jihad against us at home.
In sum, who is better off now than they were four years ago? America’s enemies are, not our allies.