Who Now Hears America?

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“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people—and the people who knocked these buildings down—will hear all of us soon."

—President George W. Bush, September 14, 2001

Who now hears America? Our friends around the world listen in vain. When they most need to hear from us—in Iran in 2009, in Syria and Iraq in 2011, in Ukraine in 2014, in Israel for the entire Obama administration—what they mostly hear is the sound of silence. And "silence, like a cancer, grows," and freedom and civilization retreat.

Of course, there are other sounds, as well. There are the confused and indistinct sounds of retreat. And occasionally the voice of the present administration emerges from the background din of disorder and destruction. But it is the tremulous voice of plaintive excuse-making or of ineffectual hectoring. It is not a voice that inspires fear from our enemies, respect from our adversaries, or loyalty among our friends.

Giving credit to his countrymen, Winston Churchill said after World War II, "It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar." George W. Bush was no Churchill. But after 9/11, he at least had the sense that he ought to try manfully to convey, as best he could, in speech and deed, the nation's lion heart. Our leaders today seem embarrassed to even consider doing any such thing.

This certainly applies to our outgoing president, who has not only undone the progress that was achieved after 9/11 but has gone a long way to unmaking the world America made over the last 75 years. But leave him aside. Consider the 2016 presidential candidates.

Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002, consistent with the stance of her husband's administration and her own view as a United States senator that regime change in Iraq was necessary. Today she apologizes for that perfectly reasonable vote. Indeed, she is so concerned to distance herself from her most important senatorial act that she said at the September 7 televised "Commander-in-Chief Forum":

We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again. And we're not putting ground troops into Syria. We're going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.

Of course, we have more than 3,000 ground troops in Iraq. Perhaps Hillary Clinton, she of supposedly great experience and expertise in foreign policy, meant to say combat troops. But just how irresponsible is it to say flatly that we are not going "ever again" to commit ground troops to Iraq or Syria? Presumably Hillary Clinton knows better than to make such categorical declarations. But if she lacks the courage to say what she knows, what does that say about a Clinton presidency?

It will be the continuation of the Obama presidency. Last week, Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson was roundly mocked when he was asked about the situation in Aleppo and said in response, "What is Aleppo?" But surely it is the Obama administration's inaction in and around Aleppo, which has allowed half a million deaths, the spread of chaos through the Middle East, the growth of ISIS, and the expansion of Iranian and Russian power in the region, that merits not merely mocking but denunciation. Obama's moral and geopolitical culpability deserve condemnation more than Gary Johnson's cluelessness. And Hillary Clinton has given no indication that she will do anything as president but continue along the path of decline laid out by Barack Obama.

As for her opponent, Donald Trump, he deserves credit for reversing himself last week and embracing the need for an adequate military budget. But the foreign policy his rebuilt military is to serve is a childish version of Pat Buchanan's Fortress America. Trump said in his September 7 foreign policy speech that he would "avoid the endless wars we are caught in now." But we are not involved in wars right now. The world is crumbling because of American withdrawal and diffidence, not American recklessness or belligerence.

Speaking of crumbling, one might ask on this fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 about the country that harbored its mastermind, Afghanistan. Everyone once supported that war. Hillary Clinton once defended, and still defends to the best of our knowledge, President Obama's 2010 troop surge there. But no one talks about Afghanistan. Donald Trump mentioned it once in his major speech this past week: "Including veteran health care costs, the price of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $6 trillion." He implies he would not have fought that war or fought it as long as we did. But what would he have done? Here, too, we have the sound of silence. And at the "Commander-In-Chief Forum"—which had the effect of reminding serious Americans why neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump should be our next commander in chief—Afghanistan came up only in passing. That this is partly the fault of the moderator, Matt Lauer, only shows that our lack of national seriousness extends beyond the two presidential candidates.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11, we are failing, grievously failing, to live up to the example of those who risked their lives that day in New York and Washington, and those who fought back on Flight 93. We are failing, grievously failing, to live up to the example of those who have volunteered to fight since then. We are failing, grievously failing, to live up to our responsibilities as the nation privileged to be indispensable to the fate of freedom and, yes, to the hopes for civilization in the current century. If the 21st century is to be a decent century, it will have to be an American century. But none of our leaders is willing to say this or to be serious about the implications of this.

So the task over the next four years will be not merely to minimize the damage done by our next president. It will also be to lay the groundwork for a time when, as Churchill put it in another dark moment, "by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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