by Joe Shea
May 10, 2014
IN A CHANGING WORLD, WHAT IS OURS TO DO?
President Barack Obama is a foe of war and violence. One suspects he would have been a conscientious objector if his name came up in the draft lottery during the Vietnam War, and that he would have refused to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan if he entered the armed forces of the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.
We have grown accustomed to his approach to warfare and warlike violence. He seeks to use diplomacy and peaceful means of coercion, such as economic sanctions, instead of sending American troops to fight and die. Where he has had to make decisions concerning wars that were already underway when he took office, he has sought to end them as quickly and as peacefully as possible.
As new opportunities to fight wars and other lesser conflagrations arise, he has always chosen a more peaceful path, as he did in Libya and, most recently, Syria.
He has resisted warlike rhetoric and large-scale troop deployment in the Ukraine, instead sending 600 troops to the now-peaceful neighbor of the Ukraine, Poland.
His latest challenge has been how to help in the rescue of 270 abducted young girls whom a madman has vowed to sell into sex slavery. His response has been to send a small team of FBI experts and military advisers to help the Nigerian Army and the deployed British and Chinese resources.
We suspect that it has become clear to our present and former enemies that Mr. Obama will resort to military violence only in the most extreme of circumstances.
Regrettably, his posture has been taken advantage of by Russian leader Vladimir Putin and China's Premier Jiabao.
Putin, of course, is the puppet master of an anti-Ukrainian, pro-Russian militancy in the eastern Ukraine, and seems likely to harbor similar plans FOR the southern port of Odessa, very much part of the southern Ukraine and 800 miles away from Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquartered in Sevastopol.
To prove that he is not behind the militants, President Putin has asked separatists in key eastern Ukraine cities to delay a referendum on their future autonomy and alignment with Russia that is scheduled to take place soon, and they have refused his request. Many see dupolicity in his gesture.
As we turn the pages of major newspapers today, we see that China is growing expansive. It is moving on islands that our ally Japan has claimed, and now into areas of the South China Sea claimed by our former enemy Vietnam, which has gone so far as to ram Chinese ships in an effort to dissuade China's erection of a huge oil rig in what Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone.
Boko Haram, in the wake of its kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls, has moved on to the murder of innocent adults and whole villages. Without mercy, they have shot, burned, stabbed and poisoned hundreds of peaceful villagers in the northern Nigerian state of Borno, whose majority is Muslim, as the fighters of Boko Haram claim to be.
Doing its part to destabilize the world, the Taliban has announced a new summer military offensive against the Afghan government and NATO and U.S. forces. North Korea, too, has begun firing missiles into the sea off South Korea and says it plans a "new kind" of nuclear test. Perhaps it will be the first since Nagasaki to be aimed at a foreign country; we doubt it very much, but with madmen, it is always hard to feel secure predicting the next move.
The question becomes, what level of provocation - versus what level of other means, including diplomacy and economic sanctions - can preserve the tenuous peace that has been achieved with our former Cold War foes, Russia and China, and can also address the challenges presented by North Korea and Iran and their constant movement toward nuclearization, as well as control dangerous "non-state actors" like Al Qaeda and Boko Haram?
How much of this "soft aggression" is the result of a perception that the United States will not act militarily to enforce the norms of civilized behavior?
Ask the Republicans, of course, and the answer will be, "All of it." Democrats will demur, and the White House will say "None."
The American Reporter has asked the President to lease a port in the Odessa region to counter the Russian presence in Sevastopol and to make it more likely that Odessa, and the Ukraine's remaining unfettered access to the Black Sea, will survive Russian ambitions. He has not taken us up on that, so far.
As our navy is reduced by attrition and the lack of new ships, we would hesitate to support the Vietnamese claim to its portion of the South China Sea. It's hard to say what we would or could do even if we were able.
We certainly won't pose a great threat to Boko Haram in Nigeria with a handful of FBI agents and military advisers. Their bloody march to anarchy and oblivion is likely to continue.
Dennis Rodman will be unable to carry the burden of our diplomatic relationship with North Korea much further.
It's very unlikely that the President will choose to avenge the deaths of 100,000 people around the globe each year - and some 16,000 in the United States - by destroying the opium fields of Afghanistan before we leave there, as The American Reporter has also asked.
All in all, America today is like a strong and sturdy young boy confronted by a really big and strong bully in a schoolyard. Some say we are accustomed to being that bully; we do not agree. But like that young boy and the schoolyard bully, our options are becoming very limited.
We "can't" - because it is morally wrong or politically impossible - and won't fight, so we can either get beaten up or depart the field. That seems to be the emerging posture of President Obama. He would have us live "to fight another day," as the old saying goes. Or not.
It is not in the American tradition, but this posture is what many Americans, hawks and doves alike, have theoretically preferred in recent decades.
After all, we fought 10 years in Vietnam and came away without victory or satisfaction, and 50,000 dead; we fought 10 years in Iraq and came away with a country that is more akin to an enemy than a friend, and 3,500 dead; we have been almost 12 years in Afghanistan, and nothing has really changed at all, except that we have another 2,200 dead; we will come away from all these adventures with nothing except a valuable lesson.
That lesson is that the world has changed, and the United States is no longer the glad servant and guarantor of burgeoning democracy. The world's newer democracies can no longer count on us to come to their aid when a more powerful nation approaches, encroaches, oppresses and steals. Certain exceptions, such as Israel, will always exist, but many old certainties will not.
If this posture is a certainty, it is also a certainty that it will engender a backlash against its proponents. Our posture risks the election of a much more militaristic Administration of the kind President George W. Bush represented.
It takes the risk of seeing Democrats, and all the beneficial social measures they have achieved, being overtaken in both houses of Congress and seeing all of their social improvements reversed or destroyed.
That is the downside of a longing for peace.
Yet other challenges may still call for our leadership and may be more important and coercive. As Randolph Holhut points out in this edition of The American Reporter, it is at least possible that alleviating climate change will become, on a desperation basis, the de facto agenda for the entire world, requiring common, concerted action among former enemies.
As we have pointed out in other articles, it may soon be possible, too, to provide electricity - light, power, communications, and fuel for transport - to the entire world at a very, very low cost that also makes fossil fuel domination of our politics a thing of the past.
So, there is hope as well as challenge.
On the other side of the dark tunnel we seem to be entering, there may be a far better, fairer world than the one we now inhabit.
In that world, all people will be empowered, not just a few, and freedom will become not just the ideal but the reality for all of humanity.
The Al Qaedas and Boko Harams of the world will become marginalized and irrelevant, bereft of a cause substantiated by claims of economic hardship.
Not many leaders would choose to enter such a tunnel without assurances about what is on the other side, and it is either an act of idiocy or incredible courage to do so.
For our part, we hold that faith that has driven Americans courageously forward for ten generations or more, the faith that a dawn awaits at the end of night, and that America will survive its challenges and remain a beacon of hope.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.