Obama’s security triplets: U.S. soft power may have unintended hard consequences

Sol W. Sanders  

The President’s nominations for his second security cabinet – State, Defense and CIA – mark a break with America’s post-World War II strategies.

Now that the first shoe has dropped, his nomination of favorites for the jobs, it remains to be seen what allies in Europe and Asia will make of his indirect attempt to reorder relations with them as well as our adversaries.

Sen. John Kerry, although he somewhat muffled it as a candidate for president, is an exponent of a soft-soft approach to all foreign policy. He was one of the advocates for an American rapprochement with Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, until that tyrant began to mow down his own people by the tens of thousands.

President Obama and Chuck Hagel, listen as his nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, speaks at the White House. /Charles Dharapak/AP

His past includes all the 1960s childish left-wing antics despite his somewhat exaggerated reputation for service in Vietnam. He can be expected to toady to President Obama’s line: one makes peace only with enemies, no adversary is less than worthy of concessions and the attempt to negotiate must be pursued however obstreperous the interlocutor or however much it weakens our position.

Pentagon pick Chuck Hagel, even setting aside from his views on Israel and Jews, has been all over the lot — on military strategy as well as foreign policy. But his most consistent attitude (and consistency is not his strong suit) has been toward our ally Israel and what he has termed “the Jewish lobby” soliciting Congress. Although Mr. Hagel early on made a small fortune with a monopoly cable concession in his native Nebraska, he has little experience that qualifies him to run one of the world’s largest and most expensive bureaucracies, the Pentagon.

John O. Brennan is Mr. Obama’s nominee for head of the CIA — and presumably a candidate to take back whatever power was handed to his nominal boss, the director of national intelligence, in the last confused attempt to reorganize the nation’s intelligence bureaucracy.

He is known in some circles as “Brennan of Arabia,” the closest thing America probably will ever come to the late fabled British exponent of Arabism, T.E. Lawrence. Mr. Brennan has written and expressed opinions about Arab and Muslim issues that only someone enthralled by the lure of the desert ethos could possibly utter. His parsing of “jihad,” for example, to mean Islamic soul-searching, valid for religion students, ignores that the concept has been and is again today the battle cry of fanatic Muslim murderers.

Wrapped all together, what is on view in Mr. Obama’s selections is a new version of “leading from behind.”

All three of these gentlemen, for example, believe “diplomacy” can defuse the growing threat of a fanatical Iranian state about to acquire weapons of mass destruction. All hint at a position that ultimately might be the president’s — that the U.S., Israel and the West should make a distinction between Teheran’s capacity to build a nuclear bomb and its actual weaponization. That’s a stretch for an Iranian regime that for 17 years hid its nuclear activity from an incredibly naive United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency and a blind CIA.

The likelihood is that the president will attempt to pursue this course, whatever the unanticipated consequences and unexpected events. He proved that determination when the Arab Spring upturned his whole Middle East appraisal, blithely ignoring the consequences for his policies.

Now we must wait for the other shoe to drop: the actions of our European and East Asian allies who for so long have depended not only on American power but also the bulwark of U.S. conviction to maintain world stability and peace.

The European Union, which has been steadily downgrading its military and is in the midst of a financial debacle, hasn’t yet cottoned to the new American environment.

Japan, keystone of America’s Asia strategy since 1950 and the outbreak of the Korean War, has just thrown out an Obama-like administration, suggesting that the Japanese electorate now understands that it must take on the threat of growing Chinese and North Korean aggression. Something similar has happened in recent South Korean elections.

It may not have occurred to the outside world yet, being so accustomed to American leadership and either cooperation or opposition to it, just what is happening in Washington. When it does Japanese plutonium stocks are bulging.

The Obama security triplets may just do what happens so often: set off unanticipated consequences with their attempt to reduce the American image and its traditional leadership on the world stage.

Sol W. Sanders, (solsanders@cox.net), writes the ‘Follow the Money’ column for The Washington Times on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He is also a contributing editor for WorldTribune.com and East-Asia-Intel.com.