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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Reiniers: What is America’s leadership role?

More Than Words


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We are stuck with playing a leading role whether we like it or not. (And I’m not using the term “leading role” as a euphemism for the world’s policeman.) Depending on the popular mood, as history reminds us, Americans have shifted back and forth between isolationism and internationalism. This makes it more difficult for our leaders to make the right decision.

Americans are war weary, yet at the same time new tensions are surfacing around the globe which demand our attention; so this Memorial Day is a good time to reflect upon the U.S. leadership role.

Our role is centered on our freedom agenda, which may be idealistic, but goes back to our devastating civil war to “free” African-American slaves from the despicable practice of slavery. A culture of freedom still defines us as a nation, so we hardly can escape a leadership role as new oppressors arrive on the world scene.

So what do we do? The first order of business should be for policymakers to determine if vital U.S. interests are involved when disputes arise. Otherwise we would have our nose under everyone’s tent. If our vital interests are involved then our leadership needs to get a buy-in from the American people before we take military action. None of this is easy. As always, it takes the right kind of leadership.

Talk about navigating the ever-changing digital world. How about navigating the ever-changing world? A handful of years ago nobody thought Russia’s Vladimir Putin would morph into the new millennium’s version of Adolph Hitler, or that China would have another double digit increase in its military budget – the second largest in the world, just behind the United States. Global tensions do have a domino effect. Japan had construed its constitution to prohibit the use of its military for common defense. No more. Because of bellicose North Korea and tensions with China, Japan will reinterpret the role of its military to come to the aid of its neighbors and allies.

And Russia’s expansionist policies are a wake-up call to Europe. NATO’s secretary general, Anders Rasmussen, said Russia’s land-grab of Crimea was “a game-changer for the alliance. ... Europe must do more.” Wow! This guy is Danish. To that point, several years ago Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned in his final speech while in Europe that NATO risked “military irrelevance” unless it took on its share of the burden, and boosted military spending. Surely it has learned from its own history that Putin’s land-grabbing must be stopped. First Ukraine, then Estonia, then Latvia, and on and on. (Recall Hitler’s rousing speeches – “Today Germany; tomorrow the world.”)

A mobilization by Europe’s military is simple logic in today’s troubled world. The United States doles out three times as much to NATO as the 27 other NATO members combined, although the U.S. GDP is smaller than those nations’ total GDP.

Europe is coming out of recession and has the money, but it prefers to spend it on endless social programs and let the United States handle security.This is also the Democrat’s nirvana – endless entitlements. One way to provide even more funding for entitlements is to cut back on military spending, as did Europe. The catch-22 is that there is no other country willing or able to provide us with a security blanket.

The Economist noted that the utter destruction of Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991 put to rest the Vietnam syndrome, and encouraged Europeans to believe that the U.S. military was unrivaled. But the “red line” fiasco with Syria put the finishing touches on the credibility of U.S. leadership.

As the Economist wryly noted: “Europeans think they can enjoy American security without paying for it. … America is preoccupied with avoiding foreign entanglements. Mr. Obama began his presidency with the world wondering how to tame America. Both he and his country need to realize that question has been changed.” (The Economist was leading the pack ragging George Bush – the “Cowboy president” – but now it, too, is concerned that we are abandoning our leadership role.) Nobody can figure out who can replace the United States, so they’ve changed their tune when they realized we’ve lost our credibility. Europeans long for the American “bully” to be out front again just like in the old days, showing the American flag, leading the charge and keeping the bad guys guessing.

It is pointless to recount all the mistakes President Obama has made with leaders – leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, just to mention two. But recall Obama was in Seoul in April, at a news conference with South Korean President Park, when he intoned, “We seem to have gotten in the habit of thinking that the use of force [is] the definitive answer. Very rarely have I seen the exercise of military power providing a definitive answer…”

To make a remark like this on the world stage just down the road from that nuclear maniac Kim Jong Un is silly. Obama effectively told Un, Assad and Putin that the military option is off the table: and at the same time destroying any reassurance our military and State Department officials might have given to our allies.

The world will always have power hungry leaders intimidating the weak, destabilizing world order and economic progress. Just what is our role when these rogues mobilize their military and threaten armed attack?

Americans are sick and tired of being the global cop, yet we need to be the leader, offer advice to allies, perhaps military aid, and speak out forcefully when our allies are threatened. We should only take that next step – military action – after a determination by our policymakers and military leadership that our vital interests are involved.

Obama has weakened our credibility as a world power, relinquished the U.S. leadership role, and hasn’t vigorously pushed for regional security arrangements.

No one country can influence every outcome in a world where instability is the norm. We are no exception. But we can be a global influence to carve out balance of power accommodations.

We need to exert considerable diplomacy to get the European Union to assume its leadership role. With Putin on the move, one would think that would be a wake-up call to Europeans. Good Lord, it’s their backyard – not ours.

George Bush, the elder, demonstrated what leadership can be when he pulled together a grand coalition before destroying Saddam Hussein’s army in Desert Storm in 1991.

This is our leadership role.

John Reiniers is a retired attorney and regular columnist who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at

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