A Sane Foreign Policy for a New Era
During his first term in office, President Obama has sent mixed messages and tried to appease his implacable critics on the right while greatly disappointing many of his friends on the left. It's no secret: Obama's indecisiveness and failed attempts to woe the rabid right (in the deficit debate debacle, for example) has disappointed moderates and progressives, as well as his liberal base. So far, Obama has appeared in the guise of a tragic figure, would-be leader who lacks the mettle to lead. Many hoped that the 2008 election would be a turning point, that Obama would abandon an over-reliance on military muscle in favor of a more traditional reliance on diplomacy, one that would restore our badly damaged reputation in the world. Here are six keys to a more sane and sensible - and less self-defeating - foreign policy.
First, give peace a fighting chance before chancing a fight. Leading with fists is the way large brawlers with little brains settle disputes. We have tried that approach for the past eight years. It worked out very well if you happened to be a friend of George Bush or one of Dick Cheney's cronies. If so, chances are you were also a big defense contractor, beltway bandit, or revolving door lobbyist on the most corrupt corridor in America, otherwise known as K-Street. For the rest of us, whether we know it or not, it was an unmitigated disaster.
Second, avoid unilateralism like the plague because that what it is. The United States was plagued by the protracted war in Vietnam as the old Soviet Union was plagued by the war in Afghanistan. As we know, that "plague" killed (or contributed greatly to the demise of) the once-mighty Soviet empire. The perpetrator became the victim of its own misguided use of force. A formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons could not save the patient. And it was the economic, as well as the social and political consequences, of unilateral armed intervention that put paid to a corrupt political system. Sound familiar?
Third, stop selling Europe short. The EU now consists of 27 member-states and boasts a population of 500 million, giving it a far larger demographic than the United States. Moreover, the EU's single economy is now the largest economy in the world, bigger than America's and much, much bigger than Japan's (ranked number three) or China's (now ranked number four).
Fourth, insist on fair trade. Our biggest trade deficits by far are with China, not Europe. Our biggest two-way trade partner is Europe, not China. Europe actually imports American goods and services. China sells (exports) a great deal to the United States, but buys (imports) very little from us. Meanwhile, China finances America's deficits while refusing to revalue its currency. Obviously, something's gotta give and the time to face this issue head-on is long overdue.
Fifth, do not compromise core principles for the sake of "national security" because acts such as killing civilians (and calling it "collateral damage") or torturing captives (and calling it "enhanced interrogation techniques") or detention without habeas corpus or due process of any kind (and calling it "extraordinary rendition") destroy the very foundations of a constitutional democracy based on respect for human dignity, human rights, and human life. Euphemisms do not change facts or reality. And they only fool the fools in our midst. The rest of humanity - the world's people - are not fooled.
Sixth, use force when necessary, but only as a last resort and after consulting fully with all important international actors, exhausting all avenues for peaceful resolution, and gaining UN approval. The exception, of course, is a massive direct attack that threatens our national survival in an immediate way - in other words, self-defense. It is hard to imagine whence such an attack would come or what form it would take. Canada and Mexico are partners in NAFTA and obviously pose no military threat. Iran? North Korea? Not a chance. Both are possible nuisance factors, neither is a credible threat to the United States.
The Obama in the White House has failed to follow these six rules and forsaken the other Obama, the one who ran successfully for the office he now holds. Climbing out of the crater left in the wake of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush was not going to be easy under any circumstances. Doing so with rabid Republicans led by a cynically opportunistic once-moderate-turned-reactionary named Mitt Romney making scurrilous attacks accusing him of everything from apologizing to terrorists to something bordering on treason makes the challenges that lie ahead all the more daunting. Let's hope that when Obama defeats the self-described "severe conservative" who was born with a tin ear (and a silver spoon in his mouth), we will finally get the president we elected four years ago.