America in Decline Part II: Foreign Policy

Eight years of 'lead from behind' has given rise to ISIS, a belligerent Russia, an ambitious Iran, and an unchecked China

LifeZette asked leading foreign policy analysts, experts in national security, and scholars to address one question: Is America’s position in the world in decline?

The experts agreed the retreat of American leadership pursued under President Obama has led to the rise of a myriad of new, challenging, and dangerous threats. The unchecked rise of Communist China, the increasing belligerence and influence of Putin’s Russia, an Iran closer to nuclear weapons, and the rise of ISIS are all substantial consequences of eight years of feckless foreign policy from the United States.

America has been in decline for the last eight years, but the reason for that decline wasn’t geopolitics. It was the individual we elected as our president and the ideology behind his administration.

But while the experts seemed to be in full agreement that the decline of America’s international leadership has allowed the rise of substantial new national security threats, there was also consensus that a strong new president, with a clear foreign policy vision and the right priorities, could restore America’s position in the world.

Here is what the experts said on the direction of the state of U.S. foreign affairs and the nation’s position in the world:

Sebastian Gorka
Is America in decline? America as a nation could be described as being in decline on many metrics — whether it is the growth of the U.S. economy, or the lack thereof; or the number of people who are now on federal welfare, including food stamps; or the number of companies that are outsourcing their production to facilities outside of the United States. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of American decline is what has happened to our role in the world as a global leader and a representative of certain values to do with universal human rights, the dignity of the individual, liberty, and freedom.

Under the last eight years of President Obama, there has been a conscious decision by the White House, his staff, and federal agencies to “lead from behind,” to make sure that America is no longer a driving force in the world today. This philosophy derives in part from the worldview of the key actors inside his administration. Anyone such as Hillary Clinton, who interned for Saul Alinsky, or anyone such as President Obama, who shipped the bust of Churchill back to the British government after he took office, is clearly of the mindset that America is the problem — that if you look around the world, we have been acting far too long as some kind of neo-colonial version of the British Empire for the 21st century.

But what is the reality? The reality is that America is the only nation in the history of the world established on principles, on concepts, not on some linguistic or ethnic group or on the basis of some monarchical dynasty. America is the only nation founded on the principles of democracy, liberty, and freedom. And as such, it has always been a beacon for others around the world, whether it was the revolutionaries of France 200+ years ago, whether it was the Hungarians 60 years ago this week fighting for their freedom against Communist oppression, or anyone else suffering under dictatorship or oppression.

When the president said soon after he took office that America will “lead from behind,” which if you think about it logically, means we will follow and not lead, that message was taken very seriously by those who do not believe in liberty, freedom, or democracy. It was seen by countries such as Iran, Russia, and North Korea, and even by organizations like ISIS, as an opportunity to fill a vacuum. If America doesn’t want to lead, then we will lead, whether it is to follow an ideology of global jihadism, whether it is to prop up an insane dictatorial regime (such as that of Pyongyang), or whether it is to keep a kleptocratic quasi-dictator such as Vladimir Putin in power and influencing the countries around his Russian Federation.

America has been in decline for the last eight years, but the reason for that decline wasn’t geopolitics. It was the individual who we elected as our president and the ideology behind his administration. Hopefully that can change in just a few days.

Sebastian Gorka is vice president of National Security Support at the Institute of World Politics and chairman of Threat Knowledge Group. Following him on Twitter @SebGorka and at www.TheGorkaBriefing.com.

Nile Gardiner
The last eight years have been a period of significant decline for U.S. foreign policy and American leadership on the world stage. President Obama’s “leading from behind” approach has emboldened America’s state-based enemies — from Moscow to Tehran and Pyongyang — while allowing for the rise of Islamist terror group ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. is weaker than it was a decade ago, less feared by its adversaries, and less respected by its allies.

America must be prepared to lead again, strengthening its defenses and key U.S.-led alliances, especially NATO, while standing up to the enemies of the free world. Weakness only invites aggression, and the appeasement mindset in the Obama White House toward a resurgent Russia and an increasingly dangerous Iran must be replaced with firmness and resolve.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.

Robert G. Kaufman
There is nothing inevitable about American decline. For all the damage President Obama has inflicted on American dynamism, creativity, and economy prosperity, we remain the strongest economy in the world. Moreover, the United States retains a peerless capacity to recover from our follies if we remember what made the U.S. great in the first place — limited government, a strong national defense, a moral political system grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics, and a reliable framework for distinguishing accurately and clearly among friends, foes, dangers, and opportunity.

Nor will China be No. 1 unless we let it. Inevitably, the Chinese will have to choose between freedom and prosperity, on one hand, and the suffocating domination of a Communist elite that is existentially hostile to freedom in general and the United States in particular, on the other.

Or as Josef Joffe and Charles Krauthammer observe sagely, decline is a choice. It depends on what we do and do not do. The danger lies in the U.S. willfully choosing to become a version of a Western European social democracy — with government omnipotent at home and U.S. power impotent abroad.

Hillary Clinton would represent a perilous third term of the dangerous trend President Obama’s feckless policies have created. Consequently, a China or corrupt Russia facing a reckoning, as the Soviet Union did, between reform and domination, may choose to fight, rather than capitulate the way Gorbachev did to a resurgent United States under Reagan. Ironically, Obama and Clinton have embraced the Western European model of a cradle-to-grave welfare state — just as it has become apparent that this model is demographically, economically, politically, and militarily untenable.

Western Europe is in short the Ghost of Christmas Future unless the United States — to quote Demosthenes — stops doing what it is doing now. Ronald Reagan warned that we can lose freedom in a generation if we forget how we achieved it in the first place.

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We cannot evade our responsibility to previous and future generations to vindicate rather than abdicate or take for granted the most noble experiment in history. We deserve stern judgment if we fail to achieve what is eminently possible but by no means inevitable — the moral, political, and military restoration of American exceptionalism and preeminence.

Robert G. Kaufman is a professor at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy and author of “Dangerous Doctrine: How Obama’s Grand Strategy Weakened America.”

Justin T. Johnson
Is our national defense in decline? Yes and no. Patriotic citizens continue to serve our nation heroically in uniform. But the threats the U.S faces are growing and our military is shrinking, equipment is aging, and troops are not getting the training they need to stay sharp. Dramatic budget cuts have shrunk the Army, Navy, and Air Force to historically small levels. At the same time, much of the military’s equipment is decades old and may not be suitable to fight a high-end conflict. Shortages of time and money have resulted in men and women in uniform not being well-trained.

The bottom line is that our military is not ready for today’s challenges. American weakness creates space for opportunistic adversaries to be bold, as we are currently seeing around the world. Threats from Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are on the rise. These threats are combined with the present-day challenges of terrorism and cyber attacks. Unfortunately, the U.S. military is not ready to effectively handle all the threats we face today.

Justin T. Johnson is the senior policy analyst for Defense Budgeting Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

This analysis of the state of U.S. foreign affairs and national security is the second installment of a five-part series on the question of whether America is truly in decline. The series also features leading experts on the economy, culture, the immigration system, and crime.