The headline may state the obvious but we should sometimes remind ourselves of important truths.
Whatever one thinks of President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan it is worth noting that America is alone in the free world in having the capacity to mount such massive military deployments. Only Britain comes close to America in demonstrating a willingness and ability to deploy troops overseas but the gap between the two nations' commitments to the two theatres of Afghanistan and Iraq tells its own story:
America also maintains massive commitments in other parts of the world: there are over 85,000 American troops in Europe, for example, and over 70,000 in East Asia and the Pacific.
America still accounts for 45% of global defence expenditure despite Chinese and Russian rearmament.
> AmericaInTheWorld briefing: The American military and its role in the world
A little while ago I commissioned the drawing on the right to accompany this piece on Barack Obama's 'disarming' foreign policy. I feared that Obama has decided that it is more important that the world's policeman is popular than it is strong. In a withering cover piece for this week's Spectator (above) Con Coughlin accuses President Obama of mistreating Britain in the much delayed decision about strategy in Afghanistan:
"The astonishing disregard with which Mr Obama treats Britain has been made clear by his deliberations over the Afghan issue. As he decides how many more troops to send to Afghanistan — a decision which will fundamentally affect the scope of the mission — Britain is reduced to guesswork. The White House does not even pretend to portray this as a joint decision. It is a diplomatic cold-shouldering that stands in contrast not just to the Blair–Bush era, but to the togetherness of the soldiers on the ground... There will, though, inevitably come a time when Obama discovers who America’s true friends really are. Sooner or later he will have to deal with the considerably more taxing issues of Islamist militancy, rogue nuclear states and other tangible threats to the West’s security. At that point, Obama will discover a simple but essential truth. The world divides between those who support American values of freedom and democracy, and those who seek to destroy them. Few nations have been more committed to supporting those values with both blood and treasure than Britain. This country, and especially those British troops fighting alongside their American counterparts, deserve far better than this president’s disregard."
Fraser Nelson, The Spectator's new Editor, bigs up the piece: "Obama is simply not there. And in this respect he is, as we say on the cover, the worst kind of ally."
George W Bush was not himself consistent in foreign policy. As I've written before, he pursued something resembling neoconservatism in Iraq and then realpolitik in Pakistan, multilateralism in Iran and traditional appeasement towards Saudi Arabia. These strategic approaches - particularly in Iraq - were not always pursued competently. Nonetheless, when Obama beat McCain, one of the big messages taken by the world was that the 'war party' (the Republicans) had lost to the 'peace party' (the Democrats).
Since the victory of 'the peace party' anti-Americanism has gone into reverse in most parts of the world. The decline of anti-Americanism has not, however, translated into tangible benefits for America. Europe has not given more troops to the Afghan campaign. Russia has not signed up to sanctions against Iran. Scotland released the Lockerbie bomber, ignoring Hillary Clinton's objections. And, less seriously, the IOC did not give Chicago the Olympics despite Obama's best efforts.
A year since Obama was elected it is possible to see a consistent pattern in his foreign policy. Individual decisions may be justifiable but, added up, they send a message that the world's policeman has largely disarmed:
On Afghanistan, the President has delayed and delayed deciding what to do in response to a report submitted to him by his own commander-on-the-ground, General Stanley McChrystal. Sources in the British government are worried that the "dithering" is now hurting the mission. The people of Afghanistan will not co-operate with NATO troops so long as they think the commitment is weak but will tie their fortunes to "the strong horse" of anti-western militants.
On Iraq, Obama accelerated George W Bush's more gradual troop withdrawal.
On Iran, Obama hesitated to support the peoples' protests against the widely-questioned re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within the last week he hesitated again to back pro-democracy protestors in Tehran. A decision condemned inside the pages of the Wall Street Journal.
The White House cancelled George W Bush's missile defend shield for the Czech Republic and Poland in the hope that Moscow would help force Tehran to end its nuclear programme. The concession was made to Russia but to no effect.
Barack Obama declined to meet the Dalai Lama for fear of offending Beijing.
Rather than isolating the government of Sudan for its genocidal abuses in Darfur, the Obama administration has proposed a mix of “incentives and pressure” in future relations. Even the New York Times gasped: "We have difficulty accepting the idea of any outreach to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for directing the genocide in Darfur."
The biggest sign of disarmanent has been in the new respect for the United Nations. The UN is a great talking shop with a terrible track record of confronting evil regimes or threats to security.
Obama has apologised for America on many occasions - particularly to the Muslim world.
The Wall Street Journal's overall view is that America has been more keen to truck with America's enemies than its friends:
"His Administration has sought warmer ties with Iran, Burma, North Korea, Russia and even Venezuela. But it has picked trade fights with Canada and Mexico, sat on trade treaties with Colombia and South Korea, battled Israel over West Bank settlements, ignored Japan in deciding to talk with North Korea, and sanctioned Honduras for its sin of resisting the encroachments of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez."
Is the world more dangerous today than a year ago? Not noticeably but there is a real danger that under Obama's disarming watch the forces that grew during the equally disarming Clinton years will grow again. The final word to Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:
"It was one of the very greatest American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, who said the duty of America abroad was to "speak softly but carry a big stick". George Bush forgot the "speak softly" bit. But Obama needs to remember the vital importance of continuing to carry a big stick. That is because the job of America is still pretty much what it was when Fleming wrote Goldfinger in 1959 - to take on the bad guys in a way that no other country is able or willing to do."
Read the full speech here.
President Obama gave the speech on the day when the New York Times reported that the White House was reconsidering its strategy in Afghanistan. Vice President Joe Biden disagrees with US generals on the ground that more troops are needed. "Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban," the New York Times suggested, "American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics."
It is not clear if the consideration of alternatives represents a real change of heart since Obama promised an Iraq-style troops surge or is a necessary exercise to reassure Democrats that all alternative options have been explored.
Critics of President Bush's invasion of Iraq often complained that the necessary war in Afghanistan was being starved of resources because of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. AmericaInTheWorld has always supported the Iraq war but it is difficult to argue with the contention that the campaign in Afghanistan was neglected. Barack Obama vowed to correct that while a candidate for the White House and has already committed another 21,000 US troops to the country.
He will soon receive another request for more troops from his commander in the field, General Stanley McChrystal, but that request will come at a time of mounting opposition to the campaign among US voters. A recent Washington Post opinion poll found 51% of Americans believing that the war is not worth fighting. Among the President's own Democratic party opposition is even higher, at 70%. Nearly twice as many voters want troop numbers reduced as support extra troops.
All this comes at a terrible time for Obama. The politician who could do no wrong is facing difficulties on multiple fronts. His flagship domestic reform - on healthcare - is unpopular. Earlier today unemployment hit at 26-year high of 9.7%. The budget deficit is exceeding the Obama White House's own forecasts. His net approval rating is down to 11.7%.
- Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times
"Europe listens with shining eyes, it mobs him in its thousands and claps and cheers – but when he says it's time they shared a bit more of the burden, they stare at their shoes."
- Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph
Although Barack Obama has been greeted with adoring crowds in EVERY European capital, the warmth has not translated into tangible policy results.
European nations have made no long-term additional commitments to Afghanistan and very few combat troops. Only Britain is ready to increase its commitment of frontline forces - a reminder to the American President of the special relationship.
France and Germany vetoed the President's hope for a more expansionary fiscal policy from Europe.
France and Germany also poured cold water on President Obama's hope for a speedy accession of Turkey into the European Union.
In Ankara yesterday Mr Obama set out the case for accession:
Now, of course, Turkey has its own responsibilities. And you've made important progress towards membership. But I also know that Turkey has pursued difficult political reforms not simply because it's good for EU membership, but because it's right for Turkey.
In the last several years, you've abolished state security courts, you've expanded the right to counsel. You've reformed the penal code and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly. You've lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new state Kurdish television station.
These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static -- they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens."
Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail, believes that that will be much easier when the American economy is motoring again: "Once the U.S. is back doing what it does best, providing the engine and inspiration for the world's economic growth, much else will become possible." We shall have to see if Mr Hastings is right. Bush was the excuse for European indifference. Now the excuse is the economy. At some point Europe will run out of excuses.
The defining characteristic of NATO's commitment to the Afghanistan campaign has been a lack of commitment. Most European nations have not sent many troops and the troops that have been sent have been restricted in what they can do (by so-called caveats). Even the most committed nations are now showing hesitancy. Canada, for example, has set a timetable for withdrawal. Britain is reluctant to send the scale of troops requested by Obama (although The Times thinks it should).
Fouad Ajami, writing in the Wall Street Journal, worries that President Obama has not learnt the lessons of the Iraq turnaround (our emphasis):
* This was what George W Bush said in his January 2008 State of the Union address: "One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. So we reviewed our strategy and changed course. We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. We gave our troops a new mission: Work with the Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in its strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country. The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened. Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw tens of thousands of American forces flowing into their country. They saw our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists, and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return."
President Barack Obama has announced that he will be sending 17,000 more American troops to southern Afghanistan. They will join the current US Afghan-wide deployment of 33,000 servicemen and 30,000 other troops from NATO allies. The troop announcement came before the completion of a sixty day review of policy in the nation.
Frederick W Kagan wrote for National Review, setting out nine principles for victory in Afghanistan. They are summarised below: