The New START agreement embodies, in my judgment, the emerging mood in American security policy circa 2011.
As the preamble to the treaty indicates, the Russians will have a veto over the deployment of anti-missile systems. Despite President Barack Obama’s assurance to the Senate that this will not be a unilateral concession, the Russian diplomats see it differently. After all, this is not a treaty between the United States Senate and the president.
Since the Reagan negotiations in Iceland, missile defense has been a U.S. trump card in all strategic discussions. Defense changes the correlation of forces, a point made axiomatic by the Russian unwillingness to accept deployment. But Reagan remained steadfast as did his successors — until now.
The pre-emptive capitulation on radars in Poland and the Czech Republic was the first sign of a new strategic direction and the resistance to force modernization is confirmation of the president’s tack.
On a larger global stage these decisions suggest American withdrawal, both a physical withdrawal from international commitments and a psychological withdrawal from the U.S. role as world policeman.
It is already clear that the withdrawal from Iraq will soon be completed and the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be accelerated this year. What this military vacuum creates may be in the realm of speculation at this point, but surely Iran, as the region’s “strong horse,” will gain advantage at our expense.
While a butterfly fluttering its wings in one part of the globe, may not affect events in another region, this can, and often does, occur. You can be sure that the Chinese, who have developed a formidable blue water navy, have been biding their time, waiting for a downgrade in U.S. capability and our willingness to influence Asian affairs.
In an effort to compensate for the lack of U.S. assertiveness, the Obama administration — inclined to a form of transnational progressivism — has relied more heavily than was previously the case on U.N. intervention.
Yet it is clear from the use of the veto in the Security Council to an air of anti-Americanism in the General Assembly that U.S. interests cannot be promoted in this multilateral body. The consequence, of course, is that a new world order is emerging without American leadership or a clear design.
This is most effectively seen in American paralysis over prospective Iranian nuclear weapons. Torn between roll back and deterrence, confused over sanctions and negotiations, the U.S. seems unsure of its position. Moreover, this Obama administration has convinced itself and several Arab states that a peace treaty between the Palestinian territory and Israel will make it easier to clamp down on Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Of course, this is fatuous on several levels. Iran’s surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas, do not want peace with Israel and Iran can use this anti-Zionist sentiment to foster alliances within radical political groups in the region.
While I am both perplexed and pessimistic about directions in American foreign policy, the hearings announced with the new Republican House leadership are a welcome additions to the national debate.
It is doubtful the Obama administration will adopt a new course of action, but it is noteworthy that the American people will have the opportunity to consider alternative tactics.
Foreign policy may not be the bread and butter issue that determines campaign success. However, it is the matter that can determine the triumph of nations and international stability.
This is a moment to revisit the deployments that served American interests with an honest discussion of pros and cons. In an atmosphere uniformly bleak, this may be all that passes for a ray of sunshine.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Publishers).
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