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Herbert London: Obama’s Strategic Patience

It is fairly obvious based on all accounts that the Chinese government will create a formal air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. According to a well placed Chinese source, the formal declaration will depend on U.S. military presence in the region and China’s relationship with her neighbors.

On one point, the Chinese government need not worry. Although the Obama administration has backpedaled on the use of language, it is unmistakable that the president is committed to “strategic patience.” In fact, he has employed similar verbiage about the war against militant Islam.

The question that arises is what does he suppose will happen during the period of patient waiting. Will ISIS roll back on terror? Will the Chinese government engage in peaceful negotiation with nations contesting island control in the South China Sea?

To offer the best face of the Obama stance, it might be said that problems often resolve themselves. Moreover President Obama believes that nations like China and Iran will ultimately see their interest being served through stabilization of global affairs. The president often talks about being on the right side of history.

The problem is no one can predict what “the right side” is and who is on it.  There is also the obvious contention that America patience is not seen as a sign of strength, but as a display of weakness. What is on the other side of patience? Will the Chinese control 40 percent of commercial tonnage that seeks passage through the China Sea and the Straits of Malacca? If the U.S. cannot tolerate this effect of waiting in the wings, what strategic options are left?

In the “long war” with militant Islam, the present administration has shown itself to be unable, or perhaps unwilling, to deal with the challenge. A strategic vision hasn’t emerged because the government has adopted a wait and see attitude. Patience is not a strategy, albeit the tactical dimensions of the position can, at times, have a salutary effect on conditions. However, when a totalitarian force is about to strike with full fury, patience is not a virtue.

The glaring issue with strategic patience is that it lacks any apparent desire to deal with problems. Terrorism is more abstract than imperial aims, but neither can be joined by waiting.

Before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government may have assisted our allies through Lend Lease, but we would not join the fray directly. This was an example of strategic patience until one could be patient no longer.

The fear that many share is that it is increasingly more difficult to cope with an enemy advancing than one in retreat. In a world of weapons of mass destruction, patience could be devastating.

This does not mean patience is wrong; it is a question of when it is applied and what costs and benefits of waiting will be. Patience in the Cuban Missile Crisis worked. At the moment, it is a mistake. This era calls for activism whether it is saber rattling or measures to fight an ideational war. Either this administration is awakened from its slumber or history will wake up with a thunder-clap.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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