Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Since Teddy Roosevelt counseled, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” U.S. presidents have mostly followed his advice, cautioning adversaries to resolve conflicts peacefully or suffer consequences.
Even President Carter brandished America’s big stick upon learning that bad things happen when you’re not respected, prompting him to Think Again about deterrence given “the Soviets’ ultimate goals.”
But today, after unilaterally “resetting” relations with repressive regimes including Iran and Russia -- whose Ukraine incursion is “the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War',” proclaimed NATO’s chief – America’s posture is more akin to “speak imprudently and carry a toothpick.”
By not anticipating and mitigating gathering threats or adhering to our peace-through-strength tradition, America now “leads from behind.” We neither back good actors nor punish bad, nor are we perceived as tough and reliable enough to deter menacing behavior, rendering us “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend,” as Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis feared.
Conversely, on the domestic front, President Obama speaks powerfully and wields a bludgeon – a pen, a phone and a pledge to circumvent Congress by unilaterally re-writing, ignoring or negating laws he is constitutionally bound to “faithfully execute.”
Testifying before Congress on accumulating separation of powers violations, constitutional law professor and Obama voter Jonathan Turley warned that Obama is “not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system, he’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.”
To assert its branch’s authority, the House passed legislation providing legal recourse when the Executive Branch disregards the law, provoking a veto threat despite remedying the power abuses for which then-Senator Obama lambasted President Bush.
Meanwhile, though Obama declared Washington a negotiation-free zone on spending and debt issues, ruthless dictators like Syria’s Bashar Assad and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani are acceptable negotiating partners whose interests we’ve accommodated, distressing our allies.
Consider Ukraine, which exchanged its nuclear weapons in 1994 for assurances its sovereignty and borders would be respected. Post-Russian invasion, what prevents militarily insecure countries like Ukraine from pursuing nuclear weapons, never mind aggressive ones like Iran?
American “redlines” to limit bad behavior now signal the point at which we give up, devaluing our credibility, while bolstering adversaries. Though a valuable escape-hatch for ill-conceived redlines, accepting Vladimir Putin’s offer to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stabilized mass-murderer Assad and elevated Putin’s stature -- and boldness.
In this power vacuum, Putin commands influence disproportionate to Russia’s economic strength, as did pre-WWII Japan and Germany whose playbook he follows. He claims the right to use “any means” necessary to protect Russian minorities from “extremists,” even insinuating “do as I say, or Iran gets a nuke.”
Seeking to unite Slavic peoples by repackaging the Soviet Union -- whose collapse he called the 20th Century’s “greatest calamity” -- Putin laments that millions no longer live miserably behind the Iron Curtain. His greatest threat is the allure of freedom in stable and prosperous countries that respect the rule-of-law and human rights.
As if foretelling this crisis in a 2009 Moscow speech, Obama declared “state sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order,” arguing “a great power doesn’t show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries.”
But given Russian aggression and America’s widely ridiculed response – called a “slap on the wrist” by the Washington Post editorial board – whose authority is more respected, America’s or Russia’s?
Calling Obama’s foreign policy “based on fantasy,” the Post argued it centers more "on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality.” In fact, the tide of war isn’t receding because 21st century behavior -- invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances – mirrors prior-century behavior.
Deterring tyrants like Putin, the Post contended, requires getting “ahead of him in adopting measures that inflict real pain, rather than waiting to react to his next act of aggression.”
Such measures include: providing defensive weapons to Ukraine; reinstating European-based missile-defense, canceled to appease Putin; renouncing the 2010 arms-reduction treaty favoring Russia; and hurting Russia’s wallet and energy sector by restricting credit and approving measures to develop and export North America’s natural gas bounty.
The best retaliation is a strong, free and prosperous America, one that protects liberty by preserving our framers’ system of separated powers and dispersed authority – history’s most successful political experiment.
To imagine the world without America -- and appreciate our founders’ fear of concentrated and unchecked power -- examine Putin’s Russia whose nascent democracy was destroyed by constitutional changes granting him more authority.
Voters opposed to authoritarian governments with rubber-stamp legislatures – and their lawlessness – must stop the assault on America’s uniquely calibrated political system by speaking loudly, and badgering politicians with big electoral sticks.
Think Again -- Isn’t it our obligation to remain a “government of laws, not of men” so future generations can inherit a secure and strong America?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week, as Ukrainian émigré-turned-tech tycoon Jan Koum prepared to cash a multi-billion dollar check from Facebook -- acquirer of his start-up “WhatsApp” -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was checking-out of his Gatsby-esque estate where he’d cached his stolen plunder.
That the two Ukrainians derived their riches under diametrically opposed systems – free enterprise versus banana republic – Illustrates why all income inequalities are not created equal.
Most don’t resent the rich -- only the undeservedly rich – as a recent Venezuelan protest sign conveyed: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer!”
Koum’s affluence springs from a free society in which everyone has a God-given right to go as far as their work and talent will take them. Yanukovich’s hijacked wealth is exploitive, depriving others of dignity, opportunity, and economic mobility. One system disperses power as it champions an individual’s right to pursue happiness; the other concentrates it while stifling human potential.
There will always be a top 1%. The question is: will they be hardworking and productive people whose value creation benefits society – think Steve Jobs and JK Rowling -- or cronies living off perks extracted from the labor of the little people?
In America, we have increasing numbers of both which is why we must Think Again before allowing policymakers to concentrate more power in the name of social justice. In fact, economic liberalization is the real cure.
Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.
To secure their freedoms, Ukrainian protestors resemble Koum’s mother. She fled Kiev for California in 1992 with 16-year-old Jan in search of religious liberty, privacy from Ukraine’s surveillance state and the opportunity to realize a better life.
Though they struggled upon arrival, relying on public assistance, Jan’s climb from food stamps to Facebook fortune was jagged and improbable -- a journey he honored by signing the $19 billion sale agreement outside the building that once housed the food stamp office.
The Koum tale is a triumph made possible by America’s system of free enterprise and limited government, which produced human history’s most dynamic and decent society.
Today the American Dream is increasingly out-of-reach for those stuck in government dependency or struggling to survive amidst stagnant wages, declining job mobility, and ever-increasing health care, food and energy costs.
Confusing the symptom with the disease, President Obama rails against income inequality, pronouncing it “the defining challenge of our time.” But he has it backwards -- economic stagnation causes income inequality, not vice versa.
Obama also ignores the social mobility-impairing trend of single motherhood, which exploded from 4 percent in 1960 to 42 percent currently, accounting for 50 percent of chronic poverty.
Instead of targeted policies to eradicate poverty – eliminating welfare’s marriage penalty and allowing parents to choose the school that’s best for their child --- Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike and unemployment-insurance extension are mere Band-Aids on the cancer of opportunity inequality.
Five years of Obama’s trickle-down-government policies have buoyed Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, DC where seven of America’s wealthiest counties reside – like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.
Despite trillions of stimulus and War on Poverty spending -- causing debt to swell 63 percent -- the nearly five-year economic recovery has one-quarter the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery. Though the stock market has doubled, median household income fell 6 percent, labor force participation hit a 35-year low, and a record 47 million Americans now live in poverty.
While not Yanukovich-style graft, our government transfers hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the affluent, thanks to cronyism, corporate welfare and entitlement programs that don’t distinguish between ordinary Americans and corporate jet owners.
Last year, America’s richest 10% captured the greatest share of pre-tax income growth since the Roaring 20’s, according to University of California-Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez. He also showed the top 1% capturing 95 percent of income gains during the Obama Recovery (2009-present), compared to 65 percent during the Bush expansion (2002-2007).
That so many Americans have fallen behind is both appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America’s deteriorating freedoms. Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now twelfth -- below Estonia.
Bequeathing our children an economically stagnant America is a choice, not a destiny. Our real “defining challenge” is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, social mobility and future Jan Koum’s.
Think Again -- Shouldn’t our goal be to unleash the dreams and talents of all Americans – especially former food stamp clients – so they can lead fulfilling and happy lives?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Is the free market the best system for the world's future? So asked GlobeScan in its annual survey of 25 countries, conducted since 2002. Then, American confidence in the free market topped the poll at 80 percent.