When will President Obama see the Present

Posted by By at 24 March, at 10 : 17 AM Print

Back in 2008 I told a number of my friends that the rhetoric you heard regarding Iraq and Gitmo from their champion, the prophet of Hope and Change, was hollow. That is not to say that Candidate Obama didn’t believe he would pull out of Iraq and close Gitmo; rather, I argued that even the most strident peacenik, when faced with the consequences of releasing committed Jihadists into the Middle East or abandoning a fledgling government with a hungry wolf on its doorstep, realizes the right thing to do and that the job requires it, even against his own ideology.

In essence, I was paying the future Commander in Chief a sort of compliment – I was essentially dismissing one of the main reasons to vote against him as illogical because circumstances, and not ideology, dictate such things.

And here we are, more than halfway through the Obama presidency, and Gitmo is open, and Iraq is still secured by US military power.

What I did not count on was the evident frustration these events would cause the President. And as I noted on Tuesday, he is deeply bothered by the way circumstances keep dictating his course in a direction he loathes.

But this is the hand the President has been dealt, and the picture is growing more ominous by the day. Consider where the world is now as opposed to December 16, 2010 – the day before we all learned the name Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad Bouazizi.

On December 16, things looked somewhat up. The lame-duck session was in full swing and vaguely productive as a bipartisan exercise, Iraq looked increasingly stable, and there were signs that the economy was growing, albeit in fits and starts. The president’s job approval was climbing.

Then the Mediterranean caught fire as a result of a 26 year old’s self-immolation. Consider the sequences of events that follow that moment now frozen in time like Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade:

Bouazizi sets himself on fire in December. The Middle East catches fire, first spreading to Yemen and Egypt. Oil prices climb. Food, already at record highs, climbs with increased distribution costs. Pressures on oppressive regimes build with food price increases, spreading the demonstrations to Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Oil prices continue to climbs as pressure builds.

The rising prices of food (up almost 4% in the US last month alone) and oil are lagging impacts — meaning the recovery we are feeling could (will) be wiped out and then some by the effect of rising global prices for oil and rising global demand for food.

If one more domino falls in the Middle East, say, a disruption in the House of Saud’s ability to ship light sweet crude to its biggest customers in the PRC and Japan – and oil prices will skyrocket, take food with them, and throw the global economy into a state of turmoil unlike any most of us have seen.

Japan demonstrates the fragility of conditions – the world’s third largest economy is taking an enormous beating and will have a ripple effect felt around the globe. With no oil to speak of, it is completely at the mercy of world prices, and that fact is now unbelievably complicated by the near certainty that a large swath of productive coastline is going to be fallow for the foreseeable future. They will soon need to import increasing quantities of food to survive, something that will create more pressure on global food and energy prices at a time when both are at or near record highs.

You see where this is headed? These are the types of conditions that one sees right before the REALLY big bad thing happens.

Long Cycle Theory looks at the known world throughout history and says that we have seen a world war every 60-120 years, usually on the low side of that scale (it takes three generations to forget the actual horror, apparently). Viewing WWI and WWII as one conflict fought in two acts, we are now into the area where human memory may have faded enough to allow for a world war again.

The conditions are there – high-food prices, declining living conditions, and desperation across vast swaths of the world’s population. When you watch your child starve to death while a dictator pays Beyonce to play his New Year’s Eve party it is only a matter of time before you take to the streets. And as the theatre of conflict grows, so does the power of the idea and the sense that its “time.” The Arab world may be at that tipping point now – if it isn’t already past it.

Like I said before, it is obvious that this is NOT the Presidency the current occupant of the White House had in mind when he promised hope and change. Its not even the Presidency he had in mind when he started working on his budget in December – that is evident by his de-emphasis on the one thing we absolutely must have in order to maintain and project American power: the US Navy.

The fact of the matter is there’s simply nothing as important to the projection of US power than an aircraft carrier group. The equivalent of almost any other country’s entire air force, a carrier group, can park more firepower off a coast that anything else the world has ever seen.

That is why we need them, and why cutting from the Reagan Era high of over 600 ships to the now proposed number anywhere from 188 to 240 is short sighted; the world is getting MORE dangerous, not less. And we will need the ability to project MORE power in the future, not less.

Recent events bear this out. First it was “just Tunisia,” and it seemed contained. But then it spread. Egypt’s Mubarak fell, Yemen is hurtling toward civil war, and there are US assets attacking Libya right now. In the less than 100 days since this all started we have seen the theatre of conflict widen and oil prices climb steadily.

The President does not seem willing to acknowledge that this means he must change his priorities. He is frustrated by the fact that we have to deploy assets in more locations just as he is trying to justify downsizing those same forces. He appears genuinely upset that he must downsize his domestic dreams because of international realities.

And worse still, it’s making him indecisive. President Obama wants this all to go away, so he can focus on the things he really cares about. He knows that the more involved the US becomes internationally and militarily the more limited his domestic policy options.

This is not the Presidency he had in mind, but it’s the one he’s got. Events often conspire against a President’s dreams, but when he took the oath he took on the toughest job in the world – and the requirement that he make the tough calls.

Mr. President, its time to make those tough calls and do what events demand.

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I won’t do this very often, but the luxury of the Internet is the ability to be long winded. But in light of recent events, I thought it was worthwhile to remember Reagan’s words in April of 1986:

“We Americans are slow to anger. We always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force — and we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qadhafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong. I warned that there should be no place on Earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.”

(You can hear Scott on Lincoln Radio Journal this weekend talking about funding for higher education, show times vary by day and time or you can hear the interview by clicking on Rock The Capital and heading over to the Newsmaker Interview section on the left hand side.)

This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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