November 26, 2015
It’s Thanksgiving. I’m taking a moment to express gratitude to our President for so tirelessly working to keep us out of foreign wars.
Overall, his foreign policy can be described as a policy of avoiding conflict as long as possible, emphasizing negotiation, and seeking to engage international support when aggression is necessary. Of course, this policy will necessarily involve delays in getting into the conflict, and likely slower and more limited engagement of the enemy.
It has resulted in a litany of criticisms from the Right. First among the list is that Obama’s foreign policy is described as “leading from behind,” or not leading at all. It is also described as too little too late, resulting in the enemy gaining strength. These criticisms apply most clearly to his policy in the current conflict with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Critics think he should not have pulled troops out of Iraq when he did. But, strangely, he is also criticized by some for getting us deeper into the war which he did not initiate in Afghanistan with his “surge there.”
In this dynamic and unpredictable age, no leader can direct foreign policy with zero error, especially when viewed with the benefit of hindsight. But I think our President’s policy has been far better for us than the alternative.
“The US is not leading” comes the cry from every Republican presidential candidate. I ask just why we need to be the “leader” in everything globally? It should be widely recognized that unilateral power for the US peaked in 1989 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Three years later, Francis Fukuyama declared that this was the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy.
But US relative power has been declining steadily since, due to (1) our failed foreign wars and domestic political and economic problems and (2) due to globalization, technology, and the inevitable rise of other nations across the last 30 years. It is not realistic or appropriate for the US to try to be the single leader of the world any longer. Others have rights and obligations and have the power to contribute. It’s too easy for Hawks to say we fail our allies. It is a multi-polar world now and our allies fail us if they don’t step up.
I ask whether our “leadership” in global aggression has historically been successful? Our leadership with aggression has not resulted in success under the direction of any of our Presidents across the last 50 years, with the possibly only exception of the Gulf War. President Bush and his Republican advisors made a massive mistake in invading Iraq. President Obama has certainly not succeeded in trying to resolve conflict he inherited in either Iraq or Afghanistan. In neither of these cases, nor in Vietnam, can the US proudly declare its aggression has resulted in the creation of a peaceful democratic government.
I ask whether our “leadership” in the form of global aggression has really improved our image as global leader? I think not. We are widely seen as interfering, bullying, arrogant. Our aggression has benefitted the recruitment of opposing forces and that of terrorists, and has weakened our image, especially throughout the Middle East. Perhaps one reason the world’s second strongest power (China) has chosen to avoid aggression across the 30 years of its steady ascension to world power is their wisdom to observe the costs of our failed aggression globally.
Hawks argue that, somehow, more force, more aggression, or some implied magical improvement in our military strategy (undefined) would have resolved these wars. There isn’t much definition as to “how” this would be accomplished, except for oft mentioned insistence that Obama’s troop withdrawal from Iraq was the key (without mentioning who got us into this war, or course). More “advisors” on the ground are demanded. More “boots on the ground” are required, but no one seems courageous enough to say those boots should be American.
Such arguments fail to recognize the deep local animosities that can only be ultimately resolved locally–ethnic and religious differences demanding respect, equality, political representation, new borders, etc. But the President reports that he and all his military and defense leaders unanimously agree on his strategy. What would the critics say–that these particular Generals are not the right ones?
Of course our President and most all of us who support his policy recognize that there are times when conflict is unavoidable, as presently in Syria and when dealing with global terrorists.
Contrary to all the critics, I feel it is a safer US and a safer world under Obama’s foreign policy than under that of his predecessor. And I fear for our safety if the Hawks among the Republican candidates should make it to the White House. If we are going to spend more money, let’s not do it in military where our spending is already equal to the next seven nations combined. Rather, to display our leadership in improving the world, let’s provide humanitarian assistance and home to refugees and work to improve opportunity in other parts of the world. War seems to only beget more war.
President Obama, thanks for your steady resolve in fighting for peace when faced by global conflicts we cannot and should not solve and when you are surrounded by critics.