Richard Fernandez, as usual, has a good thought on where we are likely to be at the end of Obama’s presidency.
Even as America’s rivals are probing its defenses all across the globe, the Pentagon seems decidedly leery over taking on any new missions in the Middle East. “The Obama administration and the Iraqi government are eager to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from the Islamic State, which would allow President Barack Obama to claim a major victory over the terror group before he leaves office. But the top U.S. military brass says not so fast.”
The debate over the timetable for taking Mosul … highlights the competing pressures of an administration seeking to craft its legacy and military professionals worried about rushing into a bloody urban war.
It may also suggest an implicit consensus that it would be best to avoid risky undertakings for the remainder of the Obama administration and prepare instead for the serious threats that the administration’s mistakes have unleashed.
I just finished Robert Gates Memoir of his time as Sec Def for both Bush and Obama.
My own review of his book is here and I consider it excellent. He liked and respected Obama although some of that may be diplomacy. He disliked and did not respect Obama’s staff, who probably reflected his disinterested attitude toward governing. Obama told Gates that he liked making decisions but Gates believed he showed little interest in making them work.
Foreign Policy writes, it’s “crunch time for Washington and Beijing in the South China Sea” as satellite photos showed China fortifying its new island bastions with missiles.
“Is there anything Washington can do to slow China’s land grab?” it rhetorically asks? The answer is: probably not with the current leadership of the free world. Nobody really wants to follow president Obama into a crisis.
There is about the current international situation the atmosphere of fiasco. The Russia/Iran buildup continues, fueled as the Free Beacon notes by cash the Obama administration gave Tehran itself. Russia is now increasingly in command of the Syrian Army fighting beside an Iranian “foreign legion”, eliciting nothing more than a squeak from the president. There are warnings it is now time to start preparing for the collapse of Saudi Arabia without the expectation of being able to prevent it.
No solutions appear possible for the present. Plans appear to focus on the world after Obama.
This is exceedingly dangerous. The collapse of Saudi Arabia is one crisis that faces us.
For half a century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been the linchpin of U.S. Mideast policy. A guaranteed supply of oil has bought a guaranteed supply of security. Ignoring autocratic practices and the export of Wahhabi extremism, Washington stubbornly dubs its ally “moderate.” So tight is the trust that U.S. special operators dip into Saudi petrodollars as a counterterrorism slush fund without a second thought. In a sea of chaos, goes the refrain, the kingdom is one state that’s stable.
But is it?
In fact, Saudi Arabia is no state at all. There are two ways to describe it: as a political enterprise with a clever but ultimately unsustainable business model, or so corrupt as to resemble in its functioning a vertically and horizontally integrated criminal organization. Either way, it can’t last. It’s past time U.S. decision-makers began planning for the collapse of the Saudi kingdom.
Fortunately, and contrary to the policies of Obama, the US is now self-sufficient in energy. The Obama aid to Iran has further destabilized the Saudis.
Everyone is making shift for themselves because that is all that is possible. But the most significant actions have been undertaken by the Pentagon itself. It has proposed the largest budget in years for the express purpose of rebuilding the deterrent force against Russia. The New York Times reported plans to “fortify” Eastern Europe. Real Clear Defense reports a crash program called the Third Offset Strategy to boost up the combat power of the US military in the short term. The current Defense Budget is a tacit mea admission of a need to make up for ground squandered in the last 7 years.
Gates has high praise for Ash Carter so Defense is probably in as good hands as is possible now.
It seems clear there is widespread consensus there will be a major period of instability or conflict after Obama leaves office, perhaps even before he departs. Conflicts in Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa, China, etc. are not only possible, they have actually started and each is escalating.
What is still unclear is how bad it will get. That depends on two things: the extent to which Western defenses can be rebuilt and the judiciousness with which foreign and security policy leadership is exercised. Political events in 2016 are crucial not only in America, but all over the world because they will determine, more or less, who is in charge when the balloon goes up. If the West can prepare in time and uses its assets properly, the worst of the crisis can still be avoided and a general peace might still be preserved. If nothing intelligent replaces the last seven years of foolishness then the embers now smoldering may burst into open flame, merge and threaten everybody with the major conflict Dmitry Medvedev warned against.
There will still be some calls in the next few months for president Obama to “do something” but there will be fewer than you would expect. The word is out, even among allies. He’s a busted flush. For the moment, the consensus appears to sit tight, get ready, take no chances and wait out Obama’s term.
That seems to be all we can do.