5 reasons America isn’t better off than it was 4 years ago when it comes to foreign policy


1.) Terrorism: Yes, Osama bin Laden is dead, though the president didn’t actually kill the terrorist leader himself. But the Obama counterterrorism tactic of blowing people up coupled with what promises to be a pell mell retreat from Afghanistan will mean that both Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan could again fall under the sway of al Qaeda. And that doesn’t begin to contemplate the spread of al Qaeda through Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere (think Sinai). Killing terrorists one by one does not a strategy make.

2.) A weak military: The primary role of a strong military isn’t to fight war, it’s to discourage others from considering the prospect. The U.S. military is weaker than it has been at almost any other period in the modern era. To crib from my colleague Mackenzie Eaglen’s recent WSJ piece:

“President Obama’s 2013 budget request would purchase the fewest aircraft since 1916. Many of the Air Force’s aerial refueling tankers predate human space flight. Training aircraft are twice as old as the students flying them. The F-15 fighter first flew 40 years ago. A-10 ground-attack planes were developed in the Carter years. The Navy is the smallest it has been since 1916. And all of our B-52 bombers predate the Cuban missile crisis.”

3.) China: The threat from China has been well documented – double digit growth in investment in its military, new blue water ambitions, anti-satellite and cyber weaponry – and Beijing is steadily working to drive the U.S. and everyone else out of the South China Sea. But there’s another threat from China as well: Economic collapse. The Chinese economy is in dire shape (needless to say, not America’s fault); the implications of a communist authoritarian regime that can’t manage internal unrest, cracks down, lashes out, and worse are serious for both U.S. economic and security interests, not to speak of our allies in Asia. Obama’s so-called “pivot” to Asia is virtually empty rhetoric, as in short order the military will not be able to sustain a substantial Pacific role and at the same time manage threats in the Middle East. Which brings us to…

4.) The Middle East: Egypt has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Qaeda is infiltrating the Sinai. 25,000 are dead in Syria. The Saud dynasty is likely within a few short years to undergo its greatest generational shift in history. Hezbollah dominates Lebanon. NATO ally Turkey is among the most anti-American countries in the world. And Iran is still developing nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has had no strategy to successfully manage any of these challenges. In five years, the Middle East could be unrecognizable, and even more hostile to U.S. interests and U.S. allies than ever before.

5.) Europe: The splintering of the European Union and the Euro and the rise of Russia have drawn little interest from the Obama administration except insofar as they threaten his reelection. But the future of Europe is far from certain and the economic collapse of some among Washington’s NATO partners is not likely to make the world a safer place. Since World War II, for better or worse, we have worked closely with Europe to ensure the stability of the liberal international order. But much of the EU will be doing little beyond swimming in red ink for the coming years, and paired with our own diminished power projection, the vacuum will provide opportunities to those seeking to challenge the order we have come to take for granted. Russia, while not the USSR, is spending significant effort to stymie international efforts to manage a variety of challenges (viz Syria, Iran). Moscow cannot succeed in the long term against a united Europe and a determined America. In the absence of both, there will be opportunities to make smaller problems large.

What have I left out? The collapse of the U.S.-India partnership. North Korea. South America’s leftward drift. Extremism in Africa. Failure to advance an international trade agenda. A lot.

But each of 1-5 alone is enough to cause the American people major headaches.  Together, they make clear the case that our nation is less safe than it was four years ago.


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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


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  • Phone: 202-862-5943
    Email: dpletka@aei.org
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