After President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office and Hillary Clinton supporters finally accept it, an important question will confront a divided America: Can a once-great nation recover the greatness it has surrendered?
A group of U.S. government analysts meets every four years to forecast where America is going, based not on who is president but on rising international influences impacting future American influence.
That group found that, just like the sun set on the British Empire giving rise to the “American Era,” we are witnessing the beginning of the end of American global influence at its peak. Analysts predict a massive shift in international affairs occurring over the next five years. “For better or worse,” they suggest, “the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War.”
It should come as no surprise this forecast follows an Obama presidency based from the outset on promised change. But the change Obama has won is not that for which we had hoped. Apparently, the America our fathers and forefathers built, fought for, and made great was an America Obama resented.
Historians will look back on Obama’s presidency and see what most Americans at the time failed to. Effecting his change demanded reining in American influence so it no longer became a factor with which those who embraced interests contrary to ours needed to contend.
In 1926, political commentator Walter Lippman ascribed to President Calvin Coolidge a talent for effectively doing nothing on the domestic front. The title is most appropriate for Obama on the foreign policy front. And, unfortunately, in those few situations where he did take action, Obama managed to undermine U.S. national security. This was evidenced by a nuclear agreement with Iran paving the way for it to have a weapons arsenal.
But it is Obama’s inaction that has encouraged our adversaries to act more aggressively, minimizing U.S. global influence in the process.
The world was given an early taste for American inaction in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election. While it led to anti-government demonstrations known as the “Green Movement,” Obama did virtually nothing to show U.S. support for the public uprising.
Such abandonment of responsibility by the Free World leader caused a feeding frenzy among others seeking to take advantage of it.
It undoubtedly triggered China’s initiative to build artificial islands, as well as to claim existing ones that were the subject of competing interests, in the South China Sea. Beijing’s actions were completely contrary to international law and increased regional tensions. Not only did Beijing gradually expand this initiative once the U.S. failed actively to challenge it, but the Chinese then began militarizing some of these islands, as well.
Even in threatening international action, as Obama did establishing a “red line” over which Syrian President Bashar Assad would step if he continued using chemical weapons against his people, he later backed off. Understanding Obama’s bark had no bite, Russian leader Vladimir Putin then proved able to initiate a power play in Syria that demonstrated to the world no one had anything to fear from an American foreign policy lacking an enforcer with a backbone. Obama weakly explained his inaction, claiming, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”
Nowhere has Obama’s inaction been more devastating than his failure to act presidential in stopping the humanitarian nightmare in Syria. An estimated half million lives have been claimed there, many at the hands of the Islamic State.
The Syrian situation calls to mind an observation made before Obama’s presidency: “From the Armenian Genocide to the ethnic cleansings of Kosovo and Darfur, modern history is haunted by acts of brutal violence. Yet American leaders who vow ‘never again’ repeatedly fail to stop genocide.”
This observation promotes the book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. The authority for understanding genocide and the need to take action to stop it detailed therein was good enough to get its author, Samantha Power, selected by Obama as his U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. It is a sad irony that neither Power nor her boss have proved able to put that knowledge to use to stop what now is deemed the greatest indictment against humanity in the 21st century.
Ironic, too, is Obama’s sudden willingness to confront Putin about his alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, inferring he caused Hillary to lose it. This is a president who refused to take decisive action, other than minor sanctions, against the Russian leader in 2014 after he illegally annexed Crimea and began funding separatist rebel groups in the Ukraine. Nor was such action forthcoming during the years of cyberattacks against the U.S. that have plagued Obama’s tenure; nor after Moscow’s affiliates shot down a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane in 2014 over the Ukraine.
It is no wonder Hillary Clinton’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia backfired as Putin saw an opportunity to milk U.S. inaction for all he could.
Obama’s naiveté about Putin is obvious too from his on-again/off-again bromance with the Russian leader. In 2012, when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney raised concerns about Putin during the campaign, Obama dismissed them, chastising Romney for reliving the Cold War. It is Obama’s weak-kneed leadership that encouraged Putin to become more aggressive over the past four years.
Meanwhile, Obama’s non-actions in the Middle East to support long-time allies Israel and Saudi Arabia have contributed to accomplishing a goal he made clear in an interview last year. It was his intent for our allies to “share the neighborhood” with Iran. Tehran now does so at our expense.
Clearly, American influence has been in an eight-year race it has been losing. It will not, however, prevent Obama, who believes America’s greatness is not recoverable, from running a victory lap.
Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of “Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields,” “Living the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty” and “Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking.” He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.