When you can’t fix stupid

Obama’s de­fense bill veto risks mil­i­tary supremacy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Ken Al­lard

Prov­ing he has learned noth­ing, our chief ex­ec­u­tive last week ve­toed the new De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act. That en­act­ment pays the salaries of our troops and buys the bul­lets, beans and black oil they use to fight ISIS and al Qaeda. Un­schooled and un­skilled in de­fense mat­ters, Pres­i­dent Obama is a Grimm fairy tale of what hap­pens when a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer in chief is hor­ri­bly mis­cast as the com­man­der in chief.

For one thing, Mr. Obama is not the sort of leader who plays nicely with oth­ers, like the bi­par­ti­san House and Sen­ate ma­jori­ties that passed the leg­is­la­tion. His lack of strate­gic vi­sion is high­lighted by the bill he just ve­toed, which pro­vides pre­cisely the same $621 bil­lion he orig­i­nally re­quested. At just over 3 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, that is the low­est per­cent­age of de­fense spend­ing since the end of the Cold War, which — as you may have heard — is back again. If Mr. Obama con­sid­ers it pru­dent to spend only three cents out of ev­ery dol­lar on our de­fenses, is he re­ally fit to com­mand at all? For that mat­ter, if his bud­getary judg­ments are left un­chal­lenged by “we the peo­ple,” then does this na­tion re­ally de­serve the free­dom we cus­tom­ar­ily take for granted?

It is far from clear whether we can even sur­vive the re­main­ing 15 months of an ad­min­is­tra­tion that ig­nores our in­creas­ingly out­gunned and at-risk mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment in fa­vor of yet more so­cial spend­ing. As Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thorn­berry re­cently pointed out in The Wall Street Jour­nal, the real is­sue is about more but­ter and even fewer guns: “The pres­i­dent is hold­ing the mil­i­tary hostage to in­crease fund­ing for Wash­ing­ton bu­reau­cra­cies like the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.” They also ar­gue that fis­cal im­passe has be­come an en­trenched part of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cul­ture, with se­ques­tra­tion cut­ting “$1 tril­lion over ten years with no mil­i­tary ra­tio­nale what­so­ever.”

This is wretched pub­lic pol­icy, of course, even dur­ing the best of times, but flat-out sui­ci­dal with our for­eign pol­icy col­laps­ing and our en­e­mies on the march.

If your name hap­pens to be Vladimir Putin, Xi Jin­ping, Ali Khamenei or Kim Jong-un, what new judg­ments might you reach when de­bat­ing whether to con­front the once-vaunted Amer­i­can de­fense es­tab­lish­ment? Would you still stand in awe of the tra­di­tional global su­per­power or would you, to adopt Chi­nese strate­gic par­lance, dis­count Amer­i­can power as “a de­clin­ing hege­mon,” a pa­per tiger whose lime­light has come and gone?

Would you be de­terred by our high-tech weaponry or write it off as hope­lessly ham­strung and hide­bound against swarms of fa­nat­i­cal, elu­sive, low-tech chal­lengers? Why not sim­ply fix bay­o­nets and press for­ward, per­suaded by the in­evitable hot­heads that “we can take th­ese guys”? When fis­cal in­com­pe­tence hard­ens into tra­di­tion, the only re­main­ing ques­tions are whether our de­fenses burn down or crum­ble at the first de­ter­mined chal­lenge.

Re­cent his­tory con­tains abun­dant warn­ings about what can hap­pen next, es­pe­cially when or­di­nary de­ci­sions sud­denly have life-or-death con­se­quences. Egypt had been our strate­gic part­ner since the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger made nice with An­war Sa­dat, adroitly snatched them out of the Soviet or­bit and ush­ered in 40 years of peace be­tween Egypt and Is­rael. But Barack Obama had barely taken of­fice when he changed all that, em­brac­ing the Arab Spring and even­tu­ally back­ing the elec­tion of Mus­lim Brother­hood leader Mo­hammed Morsi. By 2013, Mr. Morsi’s regime had de­te­ri­o­rated into an Is­lamist dic­ta­tor­ship.

I was in Cairo shortly af­ter 30 mil­lion Egyp­tians took to the streets and sparked a mil­i­tary over­throw of Mr. Morsi’s gov­ern­ment. Over and over, or­di­nary Egyp­tians asked me, “What has hap­pened to our friend­ship with the United States when Barack Obama oc­cu­pies the Oval Of­fice and sup­ports our Mus­lim Brother­hood en­e­mies? Doesn’t he know that th­ese peo­ple are ter­ror­ists and your en­e­mies too?” Nat­u­rally, the Obama White House took of­fense and, for a time, sus­pended all U.S. mil­i­tary aid. To­day Egypt’s new­found friend and clos­est ally is Vladimir Putin. Hav­ing built the pyra­mids, the Egyp­tians are the first to un­der­stand that you can’t fix stupid.

The only thing you can do with stupid is change it, along with the se­duc­tive mind­set that you can avoid its life-chang­ing con­se­quences. If you doubt that, then check out “I Re­mem­ber Mama,” Ge­orge Stevens’ clas­sic movie of a poor Nor­we­gian im­mi­grant fam­ily. It cel­e­brates what were once con­sid­ered ba­sic Amer­i­can val­ues: love of fam­ily, hard work, re­spect and fru­gal­ity. So why did Stevens pro­duce his Os­car-win­ning film in 1948, when Amer­i­cans were just be­gin­ning their post­war re­cov­ery? Maybe be­cause he re­al­ized that Mama and her fam­ily val­ues had forged the char­ac­ter of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion — and vic­tory in World War II. Ken Al­lard, a re­tired Army colonel, is a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst and author on na­tional-se­cu­rity is­sues.

ILLUSTRATION BY ALEXAN­DER HUNTER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

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