Mission sleep: Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates believed the time was right to wind up "aggressive" military operations (Getty)
Barack Obama's Stakhanovite efforts to transform America's economy and society into something akin to European-style social democracy are undergoing considerable analysis and debate, especially as the 2012 campaign steams towards November. Most presidential re-election contests are referenda on the incumbent, and this year will be no exception, despite Obama's obvious strategy to focus on almost anything but his actual record. His "spread the wealth around" slogan, industrial policy that showers favourites with subsidies and loan guarantees, turning major car manufacturers over to union ownership, and taxing the rich as if they were miscreants, all resemble the paradigm of most current or aspiring European Union members.
But Obama's driving ideology, whether he wins or loses on November 6, has already had enormous implications for the US role in the world and the very structure of the international order. By reducing not only the visibility of America's global presence, but also its military capabilities, and by shifting the federal budget even further from national security to social welfare programmes, Obama has also sought to transform the United States into Europe. Of course, the obvious question is what happens once Washington's protective shield is diminished to the point of feebleness. It was one thing for European and other industrial democracies to be free riders under the sheltering US nuclear umbrella, its strong naval forces, and its essentially global force projection capabilities. But when the only superpower doffs its cape and Lycra uniform, packs them up in the telephone booth, and becomes just another mild-mannered suit, who will then shield those free riders, not to mention a much weakened United States itself?
Obama sees American strength as provocative. He believes its nuclear arsenal is excessive, and hence worthy of reduction, without fearing in any way that shredding the nuclear deterrent might actually have profoundly deleterious consequences not only on US national security, but on security and stability in the world as a whole. He sees his presidency causing "the tide of war" to recede in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, just as his tenure will mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow". Dramatic reductions in military budgets, and the consequent devastating reductions in force levels, capabilities and weapons systems, apparently do not trouble him even slightly.
Indeed, in purely political terms, Obama's most amazing successes have come in his evisceration of the US defence budget, something no one predicted at his 2009 inauguration. His massive stimulus package, which funded spending wish lists that ambitious bureaucrats, special interests and members of Congress had long kept hidden in their desk drawers, contained essentially no net increase in defence funding. At a time when Obama was thundering about jobs and "shovel-ready projects", precious little of either of which the stimulus actually delivered, national defence had ample prospects for both. Instead, the military was starved.
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