Opinion

Abdication of a superpower

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Photo - Mohammed Morsi, President of Egypt, addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Mohammed Morsi, President of Egypt, addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Opinion,Op-Eds

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has abandoned its limited goal of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, leaving the Afghans to do it in the years after we leave. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi rebuffed President Obama's call for free speech in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, calling in his United Nations speech for repression of any speech that offends Islam.

President Obama intervened militarily in Libya after his then-defense secretary, Bob Gates, said America had no national security stake in that nation. The result, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is that "[n]ow with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions."

Iran's nuclear weapons program proceeds at full speed under the protection of China and Russia. China and Japan are jousting over some uninhabited islands off Okinawa. And Pakistan, having been caught red-handed hiding Osama bin Laden, continues to support the Taliban and other terrorist networks.

Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had it right when he said on "Fox News Sunday," "We're seeing the ugly fruits of the Obama foreign policy unravel around the world on our TV screens."

These developments have one factor in common: the ceding of American influence over the outcome. In most of these cases, we have already ceded the power to influence the parties involved; in some, President Obama is continuing to abandon our position. He is abdicating our global superpower role.

Throughout history, superpowers have been brought down by internal decay. The British Empire lost the power to protect its interests abroad by exhausting itself in wars. The Soviet Union lost through powerful ideological conflicts and military stalemates. Our voluntary abdication may be unique.

America became a superpower in World War II by mobilizing resources no other nation could to defeat the Axis. In the war's aftermath, only we had the ability to project power around the world to stop Soviet aggression.

Obama inherited a nation weary of war but not debilitated by it. We were a superpower, able to defend our homeland, allies and global interests. Our economy, the world's engine of freedom, had been damaged, but with wiser stewardship could have recovered to historic growth rates.

But Obama is not committed to this role for America in the world. His defining moment came in 2009, when the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court ousted President Manuel Zelaya for trying to break that nation's laws and keep himself in power. Instead of standing for democracy, Obama sided with Fidel Castro in denouncing Zelaya's ouster as a coup.

Since then, Obama has failed to exercise American power for American principles and interests. As in domestic affairs, Obama announces a broad policy goal and expects others to carry them out -- he "leads from behind." But this fails because leadership is more than just speech-giving.

Leadership requires hard work that Obama neglects. He doesn't work constantly with foreign leaders to develop alliances, ad-hoc coalitions or cooperate in even the smallest efforts.

The result is America's abdication as a superpower. We now lack the influence over world events that were within our grasp only a few years ago. Our adversaries ignore Obama. Take, for example, his announcement that we were shifting our military's focus to the Pacific. China, our principal adversary in the region, hasn't reacted as the Russians do whenever we announce any initiative affecting Europe or the Middle East. The Chinese know that Obama's cuts to military spending and cancelation of future weapons development will render this Pacific shift meaningless. They know we aren't going to build the ships and aircraft necessary to make it a reality.

As Obama withdraws America from its superpower role, he creates a geopolitical vacuum. NATO will not fill it, nor will the U.N. The vacuum will be filled, though, and most likely by our adversaries. There will be more wars, not fewer, than there would be if America remained the guarantor of security and stability for ourselves and our allies.

Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as "Inside the Asylum" and "In the Words of Our Enemies."

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