As the media continue to scrutinize Mitt Romney’s alleged gaffes, might we spend a moment looking at the world as it actually exists, right now, independent of the presidential campaign? Let’s take a tour.
Russia. When Obama became president he proclaimed a policy of "reset" in U.S.-Russia relations, and tried strenuously to bring Russia within the Atlantic orbit of democracy and the rule of law. To that end he scrapped the proposed land-based missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic, politely ignored Russia’s continuing occupation of Georgian territory, negotiated a nuclear arms reduction treaty that slashes the U.S. stockpile (while failing to implement the modernization commitments he made to pass that treaty), and promised "more flexibility" in further missile talks should he win a second term. He has sought to liberalize trade with Russia by de-linking human rights from commercial exchange, while he quietly opposes the Magnitsky Act, which would ban Russians involved in the abuse of human rights from the United States.
This is the response: The Russian president, when he is not posing shirtless or flying with cranes, has looked not to the West but to other autocracies for influence and friendship. He brooks no dissent. Activists for a truly democratic Russia face imprisonment or worse. Russian bombers have threatened American airspace. A Russian Akula-class nuclear submarine is believed to have entered the Gulf of Mexico. A high-level Russian general threatened the West with a preemptive nuclear strike. Our ambassador, Michael McFaul, is harassed. Russia’s response to the Magnitsky Act, according to a government-funded propaganda website, was to introduce "similar sanctions against an undisclosed group of U.S. officials implicated in violating the rights of certain Russian citizens such as Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko." Bout is the international arms dealer serving 25 years in prison. Yaroshenko is in prison for drug trafficking.
Regrettably not in prison is Bashar Assad in Syria, where he murders his countrymen and pays no price because Putin stands behind him. These are the men the Russian regime defends.
China. Can we really say that President Obama has improved relations with or enhanced America’s standing vis-à-vis this complex and roiling nation of more than a billion people? The Chinese continue their mercantilist trade practices of undervaluing their currency, violating intellectual property laws, and shielding their markets. America does nothing in response. The Chinese continue their military buildup and missile tests and bully Japan and Vietnam and the Philippines. America cuts defense spending while borrowing trillions more from China to pay for goodies for Democratic Party client groups.
China is in trouble as its decennial leadership transition approaches. It helps for example to have a leader to transition to—but Xi Jinping, who is presumed to be China’s next head of state, has neither been seen nor heard for two weeks now. His disappearance only makes stranger one of the most unusual years in Chinese politics (such as they are). After the attempted defection of Wang Lijun to the United States, Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai was stripped of his power. His wife was imprisoned and found guilty of murdering a British businessman. Wang, too, is on trial for attempting to escape the ethno-nationalist police state he served for so long.
The economy is stalling. The party leadership is desperate to stimulate domestic markets because it knows that if it does not fulfill its side of the grand bargain—economic growth for civil order—the great nation may once again come apart at the seams. One cannot really speak of "civil order" anyway. The Charter 08 movement has made celebrities of dissidents Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng, Hu Jia, and Ai Weiwei. The "mass incidents" of civil disorder continue. So does ethnic strife in Xinjiang and Tibet provinces.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, assists campaign donors such as DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg exploit the Chinese market.
Af-Pak. For close to 11 years Americans and our NATO allies have been fighting to protect the possibility of a democratic Afghanistan that controls its territory and is an ally in the war on terror. One of the problems is that our main enemy, the Quetta Shura Taliban, is based not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. That country, a nuclearized Muslim state that sways between military dictatorship and corrupt democracy, harbors elements within its government that would like nothing more than to harm the United States.
President Obama’s major success in Pakistan was ordering the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, who had been living near that nation’s version of West Point for years without complaint. Obama so mistrusts the Pakistanis that he did not bother to inform them of the operation. Pakistan is riven with political unrest, as well as with its own ethno-sectarian conflicts, as it wages a proxy war against Hindu-majority India.
This week, after years of dithering, the United States designated the Haqqani syndicate, which has ties to Pakistan, as a terrorist group. The decision was made as the American president campaigns on promises to remove American troops from Afghanistan by 2014. Those troops are under attack from men who wear the uniform of the Hamid Karzai government they are meant to protect.
What will happen after the Americans leave? President Obama will not say. The most probable occurrence is the balkanization of Afghanistan, and Taliban reclamation of the country’s south. Will America be "safer" then?
This too President Obama will not say.
The Mideast. The Iranian theocracy continues its march to nuclear status. President Obama, though, seems far more interested in preventing Israel from attacking Iran than in ending Iran’s nuclear program. Obama’s combination of diplomacy, sanctions, and espionage has not deterred the Iranians nor really slowed them down. Israel, however, is increasingly isolated from its neighbors and from the rest of the world. This is the fruit of Obama’s "diplomacy" in the region.
Americans have little presence in and hardly any influence over Iraq, where they spent eight years. Iraq’s neighbor Syria is in its death throes: The rebellion that began in the spring of 2011 has devolved into a proxy war between Turkey and the Gulf monarchies on one side and Iran on the other. The number of Syrian dead is estimated at 25,000. A refugee crisis is underway as millions of Syrians try to escape their war-torn country. The United States, which led (from behind) an international coalition to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from assaulting Benghazi in Libya, has done little if anything as Assad assaults every city opposed to his rule. The president has not explained fully or sufficiently why he acted in one place but not in the other.
Our response to anti-authoritarian movements has been confused. It varies from place to place. When the Iranians marched to protest a fraudulent election in 2009, Obama did nothing. When the Egyptians marched against Hosni Mubarak, an American ally, in 2011, the White House hemmed and hawed and finally threw its weight behind people power. Mubarak fell. What we neglected to notice was that the revolution in Egypt had not actually occurred. Other generals simply took over from Mubarak and tried to slow down the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But they could not delay the revolution forever. Indeed, it is just gathering force. The Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi is now the president, and the country is in such tumult that our president is not even sure whether Egypt is an ally. However, we can be sure that the fall of Mubarak energized not only the Brotherhood but also the more radical and more dangerous Salafists, who are conducting pogroms against Coptic Christians, launching terrorist attacks in the Sinai, and (as of Tuesday) storming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
Egyptian politics have assumed a new and terrifying dynamic, with the Brotherhood attempting to triangulate between the Salafists who own the street and the Americans who provide economic and military assistance and debt relief. The casualties of this triangulation may include the peace treaty with Israel and the potential of Egyptian democracy. If the president has a plan to deal with this mess, we have yet to hear it.
The Mideast power vacuum has created multiple opportunities for a new generation of al Qaeda terrorists. The unconscionable attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the murder of the American ambassador to Libya, certainly timed to occur on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, is the latest example. Note that on the very day al Qaeda and its allies launched a coordinated assault against relatively unprotected American interests, the New York Times op-ed page was still debating whether George W. Bush could have prevented 9/11. Good to see we have our priorities straight.
Europe. It’s going nowhere fast.
United States. Our country is not well. The Census Department says median income continued to fall in 2011. A separate analysis found that incomes are down almost 5 percent since the Obama "recovery" began—illustrating that, despite what Bill Clinton might say, the Obama recovery is not a recovery at all. The drop in the unemployment rate from the recession high of 10 percent to the current 8.1 percent can be ascribed entirely to the decline in labor participation. Studies find that a majority of the jobs the economy has created are low paying. Economic growth is lagging. It's likely to be below 2 percent for the second year in a row. Current and projected federal spending is unsustainable. Americans continue to think we are headed in the wrong direction.
Obama met with bipartisan congressional leadership early in 2009. Bob Woodward reports in The Price of Politics that Eric Cantor (R., Va.) handed him a list of Republican economic proposals. Not one of those proposals was included in the stimulus bill. At the health care summit in 2010, congressional Republicans suggested a variety of ways to improve the American health care system: for example competition through a national insurance marketplace, malpractice reform, and ending the tax penalty against individuals who buy insurance. Not one of those ideas was included in the health care bill.
For two years, the House Republicans have passed a budget that at the very least is an opening bid in a good-faith negotiation over spending and taxes. For two years, that budget has died in the Senate. The president says the House proposal is "antithetical to our entire history." Then he castigates the Republicans for their "tendency to shoot first and aim later" and calls for civil debate.
This is the broken and anxiety-ridden world Barack Obama has made. Our adversaries are stronger. America and her allies are weaker. And yet, after spending practically a decade blaming every last thing, including the bad weather, on President Bush, the media seem determinedly uninterested in ascribing even the slightest amount of responsibility to President Obama.
Who’s ready for four more years?