The View From Olympus: Obama Gets It Right, Then Wrong

President Obama again showed his conservatism in foreign affairs when he announced that all U.S. troops would be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, finally (and years overdue) ending our involvement in another failed Fourth Generation war. Conservatives have no desire to spend American lives or money trying to remake hell-holes on the far side of the world.

He then followed this correct, courageous, and welcome decision by getting the strategic situation wrong again in his speech on Wednesday, May 28 at West Point. He said, “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.”

Terrorism is merely a technique, and the most part not a physically effective one. Other than the attacks on 9/11, terrorist incidents in this country have done little physical damage. The attack on the Boston Marathon killed three people.

Americans have been conditioned by excessive media coverage to react to terrorist events with panic, encouraged by the federal government because it facilitates government grabs for more power over our lives. Conservatives should see this game for what it is. Liberty requires courage, not hiding under the the bed while begging government to “protect us.” It will promise protection in return for our liberties, but leave us neither safe nor free.

What President Obama should have said at West Point was, “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to Americans at home and abroad remains the increasing weakness of states.” The decline of the state and the rise of non-state entities as alternative primary loyalties is the broader phenomenon that lies behind terrorism and a great deal more besides. It underpins growing waves of migration, which are greater threats to strong states than are occasional incidents of terrorism. Weakened states provide happy homes for a growing black market economy, much of which deals in illegal substances such as dangerous drugs and also funds international gangs, themselves a potent element in Fourth Generation war. The decline of the state means the 21st century will see a world increasingly divided between centers of order and centers and sources of disorder. The challenge will be for this country to remain a center of order, and that may prove a difficult challenge.

Some people who call themselves conservatives, such as senator John McCain, a man who wants America to be at war everywhere and forever, argue that we should attempt to maintain order around the world by sending in U.S. troops. Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan demonstrate where that approach leads, to American failure and, on the ground, more, not less, disorder. Because the origin of the state’s weakness is a crisis of legitimacy, foreign intervention tends to make a situation worse, not better. Any state established or maintained by foreign troops is, to the locals, Vichy.

In his West Point speech, President Obama called on Congress to provide $5 billion for a “Counterterrorism Partnership Fund” to train troops from vulnerable and weak states. $5 billion is excessive — $500 million might be about right — but the training idea has some merit, if two conditions are met. First, our presence in the country in question must be close to invisible. Any visible American presence will further undermine the host state’s legitimacy. Second, the training we offer must be appropriate to the host country’s situation and capabilities. Too often, we train the locals in our outdated, Second Generation conflicts and which the locals cannot in any case do because they lack the expensive systems for delivering massive firepower that it requires. Worse, much of the training we now offer is derived from “political correctness,” aka cultural Marxism, leaving us wasting the trainees’ time with Jacobin notions of “human rights,” “respect for women” (as defined by feminism) and other ideological claptrap that is irrelevant to their culture. The Obama administration is itself the source of the latter problem, so it should be able to fix it.

But the main task the decline of the state poses for for this country is isolating ourselves (yes, I just said the forbidden word) from disorder elsewhere. This means rigid limiting of immigration, especially those immigrants who claim “refugee” status (because they come from the areas of the worst disorder), preventing international sources of disorder such as Islam from establishing bases here, breaking up gangs (at some point we may have to make gang membership itself a capital crime), and building an American economy that does not depend on imports. It is difficult to isolate yourself from sources of disorder you depend on, as our relationship with Saudi Arabia demonstrates.

These, not terrorism, are the most direct threats America faces for the foreseeable future. Like most terrorism, they are products of the decline of the state, at home and abroad. Will anyone in Washington focus on the disease and not the symptoms?