The foreign policy of the United States has unraveled during the first term of President Obama. In the Middle East, the United States has sacrificed loyal allies – Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddaffi in Libya – while leaving known enemies – North Korea, Iran and Syria – untouched. The Russians and the Chinese are openly contemptuous of a weak and stumbling one-time giant. In short, the United States is now regarded much as it was regarded in 1976-1980, the Jimmy Carter years.
This rising contempt truly reflects history repeating itself. Jimmy Carter allowed the United States to be rolled by the Mad Mullahs in Iran and by the USSR in Afghanistan. No wonder that Allan Drury was writing novels that depicted Russian troops marching down Constitution Avenue (Come Ninevah-Come Tyre). Barack Obama has allowed the United States embassy to be threatened in Cairo and the United States consulate to be rolled in Benghazi without a single Black Hawk raining messages of death down on those threatening, firing and bombing American property and living Americans. What does he think is brewing for U.S. interests in Israel and across the Gulf states?
A common factor in 1976-1980 and 2008-2012 is weakness in the presidency. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Barack Obama is viewed as a Julius Caesar or a Ronald Reagan, a fearless imposer of the Pax Romana and the Pax Americana across a respectful and fearful world. In itself, that is good reason for Americans to think twice before electing Obama to a second term. Barack Obama does not possess the steel in his soul to demand of any evil Empire that it must reform itself from within or confront American might at its gates.
A second common factor, however, is the state of America’s economy. Over the period 1976-1980, America suffered from serious stagflation – high rates of unemployment and high rates of inflation coupled to low rates of economic growth. With insufficient treasure the Eagle’s talons would not be red with the blood of those who openly invaded its interests. Over the period 2008-2012, an American Eagle bleeding from its self-induced financial crisis and staggering under a failed Keynesian response, is viewed as a stumbling creature, with clipped wings and blunted talons.
So in tomorrow’s presidential debate over foreign policy, viewers should focus on two issues. First, is a ruthless comparison of the valence characteristics of the two candidates. Who will be the more feared on the international stage, and why? Who has the greater steel in his spine? Who is more likely to unleash the dogs of war, should American interests fundamentally be challenged? Second, is a ruthless comparison of the salient economic policies of the two candidates. Who is more likely to provide a framework for economic growth that will form the basis for an effective foreign policy. Because with insufficient treasure, the American eagle cannot fly.
In 1980, in a truly dangerous world, the American people chose wisely. Ronald Reagan and not Jimmy Carter would lead America back from weakness to strength, from contempt to respect based on fear. And on the world stage, respect based on fear is the only important quality. Jimmy Carter’s expressed ‘love’ for all mankind quickly turned to contempt among those who bore no good will to America, and never would.
In 2012, let us pray that Americans once again will choose wisely, in order to return the United States from weakness to strength, from contempt to respect based on fear. The choice is not as easy this time round. For Mitt Romney is no Ronald Reagan. But he is the better of the two candidates, because his policies will bring treasure to America and treasure converts into foreign policy strength always provided that the president is not a Jimmy Carter, peanut-farmer wimp.