Turn to foreign affairs....
Foreign affairs offers opportunities, although it will take seismic events on the world stage to make voters pay much attention.
Defense. Begin with President Obama's unveiling of a downsized defense budget, one that is based upon a winding down of America's post-9/11 war posture. The budget appears to abandon a policy carried out since the end pf the Second World War in 1945: the ability to fight two major regional conflicts (MRCs) at once. Thus, we will be assuming that we will not face simultaneous major conflicts in Iran & North Korea, for example; the latter's transition offers abundant opportunities for scary scenarios. This reflects the President's belief, put succinctly in his Pentagon remarks yesterday, that we are "turning the page on a decade of war."
The new plan shifts US power towards Asia (reasonable), towards air/sea power & away from land (dubious), and towards drones & special ops (wishful). SecDef Leon Panetta admitted publicly that some increased security risks would result, but declared the elevated risks manageable. His exact phrase--"some level of additional but acceptable risk"--says it all. Obama's view reflects a (fanciful) belief, voiced recently by a senior official, that "the tide of war is receding" around the globe.
History has not been kind to attempts to anticipate challenges over a decade. In 1950, few (if any) saw that within months the US would find itself engaged in a major regional conflict in Korea. In 1960, few had any idea that by mid-decade the US would be massively engaged in Vietnam. In 1970 few saw that an oil embargo would place the West's economic lifeline in jeopardy, and that we would need to create the ability to rapidly deploy troops in the Mideast. In 1980 few saw the escalating transnational terror threat, for which our Cold War forces were ill-configured. In 1990 who imagined that in the middle of that year we would face a challenge from Saddam, and deploy more forces than we had sent overseas at the height of the Vietnam War, to eject Saddam from Kuwait? In 2000 who foresaw that within less than two years we would be pulled into a global struggle against militant Islam, after the worst attack ever on American soil?
In war, it is said, the enemy gets a vote. As our options shrink, their options expand.
At NRO, Victor Davis Hanson fears that 2012 will prove an awful replay of disastrous 1979: our enemies & rivals worldwide will push Obama as Jimmy Carter was pushed back then, creating problems for the next President to deal with. Bret Stephens writes that in a sense, the US election will be about foreign policy, because the incumbent President wants the US to emulate Europe, even as that model is coming apart.
Iran. The President's confusion on Iran, ably summarized by Barry Rubin, makes him highly vulnerable to a strong, knowledgeable candidate; Team Obama's belief that a military strike against the mullahs' WMD will alienate the populace is a dubious proposition. BR also offers a few delicious nuggets of "Mideast craziness" that those not familiar with the region fail to understand, and thus are led astray as to how to address Mideast issues. Eli Lake at the Daily Beast reports that the US & Israel have been discussing what constitute "red lines" for an attack on Iran. Former intel chief Gen. Michael Hayden sees Iran posing 2012's gravest threat.
Such discussions finesse the real-life question as to whether we can make a timely determination that Iran is on the cusp of nuclear status. Beginning with the former Soviet Union's first A-test in 1949, the US has rarely been able to determine when a nation was about to cross the nuclear threshold. We cannot count on doing so with respect to Iran. Cliff May sees a window (1 or 2 years) to act before Iran goes nuclear, with positive regime change perhaps the last, best hope for offering Muslims a model for better change than that Islamists offer in Arab countries.
Michael Ledeen is more hopeful, seeing Iran's brutal regime caught in an accelerating death spiral. ML points to two developments: sanctions against Iran's central bank dragging Iran's weak economy down, and the regime's reluctance to arrest top dissident leaders, for fear they have too much public support. Amir Taheri points out that Iran's is highly vulnerable to oil sanctions, as 80 percent of its export earnings & 55 percent of its government revenues come from crude oil exports.
Arab Spring. Also contrary to the Obama view of the (pseudo) peace process: the West Bank Palestinians have scuttled all direct normalization talks with Israel but are resuming direct talks with Hamas on implementing their unity pact; (whilst Hamas's Gaza "prime minister" renews his call for Israel's outright obliteration, Hamas & the PLO strike a unity accord, and a terror infrastructure is being built in the Sinai). Gaza-based Hamas has now, Barry Rubin notes, declared itself the Palestinian wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Worse, through UNESCO the US, no less, has been helping fund a Hamas-sponsored magazine in which praise for (yes) Hitler appears.
As if the above is not bad enough, President Obama has decided to reach out to Egypt's Islamists, in the absurd premise that they can be wooed towards moderation. A Washington Post front-pager details how Islamists are maneuvering to seize power from the military, showing how out of touch Team Obama is re Egypt.
Syrian protesters hoisted a sign expressing their wish that President Bush were still in power, indicative of frustration with Obama's Syrian indecision, though one report has Obama preparing options to help the opposition. Obama's failure to adequately support opponents of deeply-anti-US, dangerous regimes in Iran & Syria probably will not resonate with an electorate unless Iran unleashes aggression in the region or goes nuclear. Blogger-soldier Michael Totten sees Syrian dictator Bashir Assad in a vise: he cannot stop protests by killing a few at a time, but cannot use too much firepower to squash them, let outsiders intervene. Mideast ace Fouad Ajami argues that Team Obama actually PREFERS Syria's odious regime to the opposition.
Whether there are truly moderate Arab Islamists is a proposition that elections maven John Fund sees being tested in Morocco.
Israel. President Obama pursues a two-state solution, based upon fashionable beliefs about the case for Palestinian nationalism, a fraudulent case exploded by Barbara Lerner at NRO. Ironically, the President's diplomatic policy is squarely contrary to his defense cooperation with Israel, such as the largest-ever missile defense exercise, to be played out by US & Israeli forces in a few weeks.
Turkey. Arrests of journalists are on the rise, as Turkey drifts into Islamism.
Iraq. There is an emerging foreign policy issue that could help tip the election against Obama: Iraq. Our troops are now totally gone, leaving a diminished diplomatic garrison guarded by Iraqi troops whose ability to protect them is dubious at best; internal political squabbling has already escalated. The risk of major ethnic conflict is rapidly rising, according to Frederick Kagan, co-architect of the Bush "surge" strategy. Kagan & wife Kimberly ask if Iraq is now definitely lost. They conclude it seems so, but counsel American intervention to stop a Shia power grab; they note that oil prices will spike if unrest rises in Iraq, a strong incentive for Team Obama to intervene to stop it.
Max Boot fears Iraq may be spinning out of control. Even Team Obama realizes that things may quickly unravel. Having disregarded the unanimous advice of his generals to keep 15 to 20 thousand troops over there to buttress security, if mortar shells start landing in the Green Zone and killing American diplomatic personnel, "O" will own the consequences. Gen. Hayden says we pulled our troops out too soon.
Afghanistan. For more confusion try VP Joe Biden's latest gem: the (Afghanistan) Taliban per se is not "our enemy." Thomas Jocelyn sees "Fantasyland" in US talks with the Taliban; announcement of a Sept. 2012 US troop pullout naturally undercuts prospects for successful talks with "moderate" Taliban.
Russia & China. Ditto Obama's failed "Russia reset" policy, which (along with O's Iran failings) Charles Krauthammer acidly dissects. And there may well be a sleeper mega-issue as well, if Gordon Chang, who has long predicted the collapse of Communist rule in China, is right: a possible 2012 collapse of China's sclerotic gerontocracy; if not outright collapse, a multi-decade Japan-style decline is another real prospect. Put simply, China benefited over the past generation from a number of unusually favorable factors; these are gone, and a number of strongly unfavorable forces are pulling against China's desire for continued surging economic growth. In a second piece, Chang explains why there is massive pressure for freedom among China's young.
Overall. Caroline Glick fears Obama will escape blame for his foreign policy failures, because the baleful consequences of them may not be visible to the average voter come fall 2012. Iraq may prove the exception to this, but war-weariness may lead voters to conclude that its unraveling was inevitable. Jimmy Carter's biggest failures had consequences immediately visible to voters in the year before the 1980 vote: the Nov. 1979 hostage-taking by Iran's mullahs & the Dec. 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But "O" may prove to be far luckier.
Zbigniew Brzezinski sees increasing global disorder following an American retreat. Put simply, no nation or combinations of nations is ready to step in America's place as pre-eminent in containing disruptive forces:
No single power will be ready by then to exercise the role that the world, upon the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, expected the United States to play: the leader of a new, globally cooperative world order. More probable would be a protracted phase of rather inconclusive realignments of both global and regional power, with no grand winners and many more losers, in a setting of international uncertainty and even of potentially fatal risks to global well-being. Rather than a world where dreams of democracy flourish, a Hobbesian world of enhanced national security based on varying fusions of authoritarianism, nationalism, and religion could ensue.
All in all, hardly a pretty picture.
Bottom Line. The GOP's ace-in-the-hole may be Obama's diminished credibility as a global leader.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, Conservative Politics