How is “leading from behind” going, anyway? The Pentagon has updated America’s National Military Strategy for the first time since 2011. It’s an interesting reflection on how the world has changed on Obama’s watch. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey penned the introduction:
Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode. We now face multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of sub-state groups – all taking advantage of rapid technological change. Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield. They will have increasing implications to the U.S. homeland.
[…T]he application of the military instrument of power against state threats is very different than the application of military power against non-state threats. We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly[….C]ontrol of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important[….A]s a hedge against unpredictability with reduced resources, we may have to adjust our global posture.
Translation: The world is getting more dangerous, and we may be losing our edge.
That the President’s top man in the military thinks that the world order is deteriorating is not a ringing endorsement of Obama’s foreign policy. The last century of history shows that American power, for all its many faults shown by its all-too-frequent misapplications, tends on balance to make things better rather than worse. In fact, looking at the history of the 20th and 21st centuries a certain way, America’s moral sins of omission have often had direr consequences than her sins of commission. Yet this President seems to think that things don’t and can’t improve by way of unilateral American action and engagement.
Obama has operated under the explicit theory that abstention is a not a choice with consequences that we have to take responsibility for (vide: “Don’t do stupid stuff”). That’s a philosophical idea, not a policy issue. But as Thucydides said, history is philosophy teaching by example. The Obama philosophy has been guiding the course for nearly seven years now, and unfortunately we must concur with Gen. Dempsey that the state of the world today is a poor example indeed.