The real world: Obama
Foreign policy promises will quickly bump up against circumstances
By Ralph Peters
On Nov. 4, the American people spoke. In the coming months, our enemies will speak. During this transition period and immediately after our new president’s inauguration, hostile actors around the globe will test a leader they view as untried and naive.
As president, Barack Obama will have to establish a strong identity quickly. Expectations, at home and abroad, are diffuse and contradictory.
Even if President Obama ordered an immediate, total withdrawal, dismantling our effort and moving out of Iraq would be a huge logistical undertaking: It will take years to dismantle what it took years to build up. And our actions must be calculated to guarantee the gains made at such great cost.
Obama has promised to strengthen our armed forces. He won’t be able to do it. Facing massive debts and decreased revenues, his budget staff will look for places to cut. Unable to trim entitlement programs and with vast campaign promises to fulfill before 2012 Obama almost inevitably will turn to the Pentagon as a source of savings.
The Obama administration will begin by trying to kill Cold War legacy systems of marginal utility, but he will run into bipartisan opposition in Congress. Legislators love to praise our troops, but they vote to preserve defense contracts. Our soldiers have no lobbying clout comparable to that of defense-industry giants. Budget advisers will fall back on cutting people and benefits, while an influential minority of political activists will be delighted to punish the military.
The potential tragedy of our charismatic next president is that he could repeat the patterns of his Democratic predecessors Johnson, Carter and Clinton in coming to the White House with a strong domestic agenda, only to be beleaguered by foreign policy.
Ralph Peters is a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors and the author, most recently, of Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.