There has been too much attention focused on President Obama’s refusal to do the “pivot” with respect to domestic policy. A pivot is moving from one position on the political spectrum to another. The notion was that in the aftermath of the Massachusetts senatorial election with the loss of the Kennedy seat to a Republican and the end of the Democrat super majority in the Senate, the President would move or pivot to the center on domestic issues such as health care, global warming and taxes.
One area where the administration clearly can be said to have “pivoted” almost from the moment it entered office is national defense. First, he retained Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defense. Second he accepted the schedule for withdrawal from Iraq that had been drawn up by the Bush Administration. Third, he committed to an expansion of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the so-called surge. Fourth, he unleashed the CIA to use unmanned aerial systems to hunt down and kill Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama protected the defense budget in a time of war. The defense budget received a $100 billion increase over the Future Years Defense Program and defense spending has been exempted from the three year freeze on discretionary spending. Finally, the administration is adding funds to the Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs to ensure the viability of the nuclear weapons production complex.
Many of the defense program terminations and deductions imposed last year were decisions taken by Secretary Gates. He was known to be focused on winning the current fights and to be an opponent of the F-22, C-17, Presidential helicopter, Future Combat System, long-range ballistic missile defenses and the DDG-1000. All of these programs were terminated or scaled back by the administration.
President Obama’s national security pivot may soon turn into a pirouette. Clearly, efforts to present a new face and a new openness to the world, in general, and our adversaries, in particular, have proven unsuccessful. Iran is increasingly a militarized dictatorship absolutely intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia, as evidenced by its new military doctrine, continues to view NATO and hence the United States as a military competitor. China continues to build a military designed, inter alia, to dominate Taiwan and deny the U.S. Navy an option for intervention in the event of a cross-straits conflict.
The White House is already moving to improve the ability of friends and allies to defend themselves. The administration is extending a supporting hand of support to traditional allies in the Middle East and East Asia. Sales of advanced military equipment including F-16 fighters, Patriot air defense missiles and the Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system have been approved for allies in the Persian Gulf. Taiwan has just been offered a $6 billion arms package — a good first step. Deployment of both sea and land-based Aegis missile defense capabilities to regions of interest are planned. The next steps may well include the deployment of major U.S. military formations to the Middle East.
President Obama should be given credit for not pursuing an ideologically-driven national security agenda. When he discovered the extent to which his offer of an open hand will be met by a closed fist, the President will be glad that he did an early “pivot” on national security.
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