Obama's Wild Domestic Spending Crimps Foreign Policy

Tuesday, 29 Dec 2009 11:12 AM

By Herbert London

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As the plans for American foreign policy are being debated in the White House and the corridors of Congress, it is increasingly apparent that the options are limited.

It is not that lack of imagination limits the options, albeit that is a factor. The overarching concern is that the lack of resources limits foreign policy options.

The Obama initiatives to stimulate the economy and insinuate the government into the banking, financial services, automobile, insurance, and healthcare industries are tied inextricably to the decisions on the foreign policy front.

It would appear that domestic decisions are driving national security and foreign policy goals, either intentionally or inadvertently. How can you build a 300-ship navy when you require resources for universal healthcare? And how can you pay for sustained military deployments when the deficit is 10 percent of gross domestic product?

It may be convenient for this administration to have an aggressive domestic stance, one that devours the bulk of the budget so that the president can pursue his desire for the incremental withdrawal of forces abroad and the cessation of new military hardware. Why even consider the F22, for example, when there are insufficient funds for the construction of this aircraft?

This is the pursuit of a global strategy using capital limitation as its justification. Just as it was fashionable in the 1990s to discuss overreach (the worldwide deployment of troops that drained our resources), it is now appropriate to describe present policy as underreach (the belief that any deployment is beyond our present resource capability).

Where this strategy leads is obvious. The United States is on the highway to Great Britain of 1990, a once-great power that ruled the seas but now is relegated to marginal military status. Should the United States pursue this goal to its logical conclusion, there will no longer be a global hegemon capable of shaping world affairs; there will only be regional powers and international instability.

Of course, it should be noted that money constrains all foreign policy decisions. A nation incapable of generating wealth can be a military power only if it impoverishes its people. This tactic is unacceptable for democracies. If we have guns, we insist on butter as well.

Thus, an Obama plan that promises a lot of butter limits and eliminates guns.

What differentiates President Obama from his predecessors is that domestic spending drives his agenda and offers a rationale for international timidity and conciliation. He embraces a view of U.S. imperial impulses that must be subdued, and he seeks to do so by spending on the domestic front, thereby forcing decisions on the international stage.


As the president has noted, “We have run out of money.”

But we have run out of money only for defense preparations. The domestic agenda proceeds in an unrelenting fashion, oblivious to asymptotes. One Obama aide noted the only limit to our spending is in our imagination. Presumably, that imagination has the dollar printing presses working overtime.

This condition has alarmed our putative allies and given comfort to our enemies. The president may appear as a sensible man doing only what the budget dictates. But in truth, the budget is a political instrument that can be used to drive policy decisions.

The nexus between domestic and foreign spending is palpable. In the Obama age, only the former counts, for it is the manifestation of his philosophical underpinnings and the rationale for his foreign policy decisions.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" and "America's Secular Challenge."


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