Hillary Clinton surprised both Republicans and Democrats with her sharp criticism of President Obama over his foreign policy, calling it a “Don’t do stupid stuff” strategy that did not conform to the definition of a policy at all.
Her assessment has merit but is also unfair. America’s foreign policy is definitely scattershot but it is not the fault of the president. It is the fault of our culture. We are getting the foreign policy we have chosen.
On one hand, Americans are the most soft-hearted and empathetic people on earth, capable of feeling the pain of people an entire world away. And yet we also have a visceral hatred of war, preferring diplomacy to settle differences and sometimes even refusing to fight when it is the only way to prevent catastrophe. We do eventually wake up to reality but it is only after a massive humanitarian crisis such as the one now being witnessed in Iraq.
Our foreign policy, to put it succinctly, is reactive and not proactive and allows situations — whether it be the rise of Al Qaeda, Hassad’s regime in Syria, the pro-Russian movement in Ukraine, or ISIS in Iraq — to deteriorate until there is no option from a humanitarian perspective but to commit military resources to it. In the process, we often make a bigger mess than we started, such as we have made in Iraq and Afghanistan. We detest conflict and therefore fail to take action in time to prevent a full-scale disaster.
President Obama is simply meeting this mandate given to him by the American people. It is arguable, of course, that as the commander-in-chief he should lead and not follow, but this particular president has been hamstrung on both sides by the Republicans and the Democrats — each of whom have their own (sometimes hypocritical) belief system and agenda, and have been brutal in holding the President to it.
On the right, the GOP would love for him to launch as many wars as possible to support the defense industry and to appease the party’s hawkish foreign policy beliefs, but also routinely attack him on the budget deficit and the government’s inability to balance the books; and on the left, the Democrats demand that he not risk any U.S. lives but criticize his inability to save the lives of persecuted souls all over the globe. In other words, everyone expects the president to be a magician who can pursue a strong foreign policy and stand up for humanitarian causes without spending any money and without risking any American lives.
The White House’s reactive strategy, then, is a direct response to these contradictory pressures and the best that it can do to address world crises. If we really want a more comprehensive foreign policy and a longer-term strategy for the Middle East, Russia, North Korea, and other problem areas of the world, the American people first need to rethink their own attitudes towards international intervention and only then can their leader really do anything about it. We need to make up our minds — either we are willing to pursue a policy of preventing bloodshed across the world and make the personal financial and human sacrifice needed to do it, or we need to accept that we cannot save everyone and will have to accept the best that our government can do.
Peanut gallery criticism, which is what most of us offer, including at the moment Hillary Clinton, is disingenuous and counter-productive. It also sends a bad signal to the world that we don’t know what we are doing, which is not true. President Obama does know what he’s doing. The problem is that he just can’t do much more given the constraints he works under.
By: Sanjay Sanghoee, Political and Business Commentator; The Huffington Post Blog, August 11, 2014
Kentucky senator Rand Paul is a curious vehicle for reformation of the Republican Party. He’s not a font of creative ideas; he’s hobbled by intellectual contradictions; he’s viewed skeptically by his party’s establishment. Still, Paul brings a refreshing view of the limits of warfare to a GOP that has spent the last several decades enthusiastically embracing military interventions across the globe.
So here’s to the senator’s efforts to help his party lay down its battle armor and beat its swords into plowshares. The country needs no more Dick Cheneys and far fewer John McCains.
Paul won’t easily transform the Republican Party’s views on military might. Earlier this month, Texas governor Rick Perry wrote an opinion essay criticizing him as “curiously blind” to the threat represented by international jihadists. “Viewed together, Obama’s policies have certainly led us to this dangerous point in Iraq and Syria, but Paul’s brand of isolationism (or whatever term he prefers) would compound the threat of terrorism even further,” Perry wrote in The Washington Post.
As much as anything, that’s a sign that Perry is considering once again seeking the GOP nomination for president and sees Paul as a significant rival. One way to knock off Paul, Perry believes, is to play to the GOP’s armchair hawks, who haven’t tired of sending other people’s sons and daughters to war.
Paul immediately fought back with an op-ed of his own, published in Washington-based Politico. “Unlike Perry, I oppose sending American troops back into Iraq. After a decade of the United States training Iraq’s military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that,” he wrote.
While Paul’s views are closer to those of the American people, there is still a significant partisan divide — a challenge for the senator. Half of Americans now say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, while only 38 percent say it was the right decision, according to the Pew Research Center. (The rest are undecided.) But a closer look at polling shows that 52 percent of Republicans still believe toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.
That may simply reflect the reluctance of Republican voters to admit the failings of the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush. And GOP leaders know there is a lot of political fodder in knocking President Obama’s foreign policy, even if few of them present alternatives. They denounce the president’s international leadership as feckless, weak and naive — red-meat rhetoric that fires up the base.
That means Paul will have to be not only smart but also courageous if he is to help his party find a more reasonable response to a complex world. The impulse to bend the globe to our will ought to be resisted, as should the instinct to continue to feed the military-industrial complex by draining the national treasury.
One of the reasons we ended up on a misguided mission in Iraq was that Democrats failed to put up enough resistance to the neocons who were then firmly in charge of the GOP. The doomed Vietnam War (though prosecuted by Democratic presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) had left Democrats labeled wimps and cowards — a reputation they couldn’t shake. As a result, too many who should have known better, including then-senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, voted to give Bush the authority to oust Saddam.
It took Obama’s victory — he campaigned as a critic of the Iraq invasion — to help leading Democratic pols find the courage to resist a “dumb war.” There are still military interventionists in the Democratic Party, but there are far fewer who would support a war in hopes of appearing strong on the national stage.
The Republican Party hasn’t yet managed that transition. Its neocons have learned nothing from their years of folly, with Cheney and the entire cohort of Iraq War cheerleaders refusing to admit their mistakes. But if Paul can win enough support from his party’s base, he can help the GOP come to terms with a world America cannot rule.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Visiting Professor at the University of Georgia, The National Memo, July 19, 2014
People seem mystified by Dick Cheney. What on earth is he doing, popping up with such regularity defending a wholly discredited position, as he did again Monday at a Politico forum? Why would he continue to say things like invading Iraq was “absolutely the right thing to do”? The track record of utterances he compiled as vice president—all of them collected on video for our present-day delectation, like his famous “weeks rather than months” prediction to CBS’s Bob Schieffer right before we started the Iraq war—would have a person of decency and modesty hiding in self-imposed exile in the Pampean Andes.
I contend that there’s nothing mysterious about him at all. Incredible as it may seem, he does still think he was right. The tactical mistakes, if there were any, were mere details. But the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do, he still undoubtedly believes. And it’s important that we understand the real reason he thinks it was the right thing to do, because Iraq failure or no Iraq failure, Rand Paul or no Rand Paul, Cheney’s view will always be dominant in the Republican Party’s higher echelons.
There were always a lot of misperceptions about the Iraq war, in the mainstream media and among liberal opponents of it. Oversimplifying a bit, the media bought that it was about 9/11; that we had to strike back. It was also, in this narrative, about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and his even more alleged nuclear capabilities. These were the reasons the Bush administration put forward to scare the public, and the media, to their everlasting dishonor, bought those arguments.
On the broad left, people tended toward the fundamental explanations of political economy: that it was about oil, or Halliburton, or, in Michael Moore’s interpretation, the Carlyle Group. Oil was a factor, a side benefit. But it wasn’t about oil, and it certainly wasn’t about Halliburton or Carlyle.
It was about establishing global American hegemony. To get this fully you have to go back to 1992, when Cheney was the secretary of defense. Cheney’s world view was wholly formed by the Cold War. The bipolar world of U.S. v. USSR, good v. evil, was all he’d known. It was the rubric under which all thought was organized. Then, suddenly, the USSR was gone! Now what?
Cheney’s Pentagon—including figures such as Paul Wolfowitz and even Colin Powell, who may be a good guy now but was fully implicated in all this at the time—set to pondering that question, and by the spring of 1992, it came up with an answer: The Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), a white paper outlining future U.S. defense policy. Now that we were the only superpower in the world, it said, our main job was to make damn sure things stayed that way. This would require a certain new tough-mindedness. We might have to thumb our noses at traditional allies. We certainly would have to expand our global reach. And the DPG introduced, for the first time ever in American history, the idea that preemptive war should be an official part of our policy. (Yes, it’s been unofficial policy plenty of times, but this was different.)
The DPG was enormously controversial at the time. Amid some media tumult, the first President Bush had to come out and say in essence, hey, kidding. But Cheney & Co. certainly weren’t. (For a lot more on this history, read the great Harper’s magazine piece by David Armstrong from 2002, “Dick Cheney’s Song of America,” still one of the finest pieces of Iraq war journalism we have.)
The Republicans lost the White House in 1992, of course, and were out of power for eight years. So they didn’t have a chance to act on their scheme. But then they got back in. And then came 9/11. Lo and behold! What a gift! Of course I’m not saying they were happy it happened, but imagine: If ever there were an event that could frighten the American people into embracing an aggressive foreign-policy posture that set out to establish the United States as the single global hegemon, 9/11 surely was it. It still didn’t frighten the people enough, quite, which is why the Bushies had to lie about WMD and nukes and “weeks rather than months,” but the hegemonists knew that this was their only shot to act on those 1992 schemes, and bam, they took it.
That’s why we went to war in Iraq. (We chose Iraq because of the “unfinished work” of the Gulf War, because it looked ripe for the taking, and because it was a medium-size dog whose quick whipping would scare the larger ones.) It wasn’t about terrorism or anything like that. It was about, as James Bond once sighed to Dr. No, “world domination, the same old story.”
It’s important to understand that history today because the dream of establishing global American hegemony is much more enduring and powerful on the right than all the stated reasons. Al Qaeda has receded; terrorism too; WMD was just a handy thing lying around. But the idea that the United States must maintain its hegemonic status in a unipolar world—on the right, that has staying power. And modern conservatism is organized in such a way that thousands of people are paid millions of dollars to make sure the staying power stays.
The Tea Party base, as we know, is less than enamored of these ideas. Sen. Paul articulates their views. So the feud between Paul and Cheney—and John McCain and others—is really a feud between the base and the elites. Paul is a savvy politician, and I certainly don’t count him out as the possible 2016 nominee, but we all know that in both parties, especially the GOP, the elites usually win such feuds. So Cheney will keep at it as long as he draws breath. And someday, something awful will happen, and the Cheney wing will step up to the plate and swing for the fences again.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 15, 2014
The odds are that you think President Obama’s foreign policy is a failure.
That’s the scathing consensus forming, with just 36 percent of Americans approving of Obama’s foreign policy in a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week. Foreign policy used to be a source of strength for the president, and now it’s dragging him down — and probably other Democrats with him.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, warns that Obama “has weakened the national security posture of the United States.” Trent Franks, a Republican member of the House from Arizona, cites foreign policy to suggest that Obama is “the most inept president we have ever had.”
Obama is no Messiah, but this emerging narrative about a failed foreign policy is absurdly harsh. Look at three issues where Republicans have been unfairly jabbing him with pitchforks:
Trading five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl was unpopular with the public, and the Obama administration may have made the trade in the incorrect belief that Bergdahl was near death. Then again, here’s an American soldier who spent five years in Taliban custody, some of that reportedly in a cage after trying to escape. If we make heroic efforts to bring back American corpses, how can we begrudge efforts to bring back a soldier who is still alive?
Sure, there are risks. But the five Taliban prisoners have probably aged out of field combat, and, if they return to Afghanistan after their year in Qatar, they would likely have trouble finding American targets because, by then, the United States will no longer be engaged in combat.
More broadly, there’s nothing wrong with negotiating with the Taliban. The blunt truth is that the only way to end the fighting in Afghanistan is a negotiated peace deal involving the Taliban, and maybe this deal can be a step along that journey.
Russian aggression in Ukraine was infuriating, but it’s petty Washington politics to see it as emanating from Obama weakness. After all, President George W. Bush was the most trigger-happy of recent presidents, and he couldn’t prevent Russia from invading Georgia in 2008 and helping carve off two breakaway republics.
Obama diplomacy appears to have worked better than military force would have. Contrary to early expectations, Russia did not seize southeastern Ukraine along with Crimea, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia this week called on Parliament to rescind permission to invade Ukraine. Be wary, but let’s hope the Bear is backing down.
The debacle in Iraq is a political and humanitarian catastrophe, but it’s a little rich for neocons to blame Obama after they created the mess in the first place. Obama was unengaged on Iraq and Syria, but it’s not clear that even if he had been engaged the outcome would have been different.
Suppose Obama had kept 10,000 troops in Iraq as his critics wish. Some would have been killed; others injured. We would have spent another $50 billion or so in the Iraqi sands (that’s more than 25 times what Obama requested to start universal prekindergarten, but Congress balks at the expense). And Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki might have felt even less need to keep Sunni tribes on his side. Would all this really have been the best use of American lives and treasure?
Yes, Obama has made his share of mistakes, especially in Syria, where he doesn’t seem to have much of a policy at all. Partly balancing that, he helped to defuse the Syrian chemical weapons threat.
Look, the world is a minefield. President Clinton was very successful internationally, yet he bungled an inherited operation in Somalia, delayed too long on Bosnia, missed the Rwanda genocide and muffed the beginning of the Asian financial crisis — and all that happened during a particularly skillful administration.
As for former Vice President Dick Cheney complaining about Obama’s foreign policy, that’s a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: killing your parents and then pleading for mercy because you’re an orphan. In the Bush/Cheney years, we lost thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, we became mired in Afghanistan, Iran vastly expanded the number of centrifuges in its nuclear program, and North Korea expanded its arsenal of nuclear weapons. And much of the world came to despise us.
Blowing things up is often satisfying, and Obama’s penchant for muddling along instead, with restraint, is hurting him politically. But that’s our weakness more than his. Obama’s foreign policy is far more deft — and less dangerous — than the public thinks, and he doesn’t deserve the harsh assessments. If there’s one thing we should have learned in the Bush/Cheney years, it’s that swagger and invasion are overrated as foreign policy instruments.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 26, 2014
American pundits have an unusual profession; it is one of the only careers in which repeated, catastrophic, and humiliating failures seem to do nothing to prevent one from continuing to find work. Just ask Dick Morris.
The media’s tendency to forgive blown predictions and provide airtime and column inches to guests with little to no remaining credibility has become particularly offensive since the Iraq situation rapidly devolved into crisis. Despite the fact that those who made the case for the war helped end thousands of lives and waste trillions of dollars, many of those who have been proven to understand nothing of the country have been welcomed back as “experts” on the disaster.
Here are five of the worst offenders:
On Friday, Fox News contributor Judith Miller took it upon herself to criticize the media’s coverage of the situation in Iraq.
“There have been a couple of reporters who have stayed in Iraq, who have been covering the growing power of ISIS…but the American media are so busy playing the blame game, ‘who’s responsible for this debacle,’ that they don’t even pay attention to a story that was there, and available for all to cover,” Miller complained.
“Did the media buy the line from the administration?” host Eric Shawn later asked Miller.
“It’s really a failure — another, yet another — failure of reporting,” Miller said.
This is, as The Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson deftly put it, “a turn of events that could signal the departure of all irony from the world.” After all, through her catastrophically flawed reporting in the buildup to the war, Miller arguably did more than anyone alive to advance the myth that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. It would be almost impossible to find someone less qualified to criticize journalists for their Iraq reporting.
Douglas Feith, who served as the undersecretary of defense for policy during the Bush administration, ripped President Obama’s approach to Iraq in comments to Politico on Thursday:
“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people, to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.
“They were pretty blasé,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”
While credulously quoting Feith’s opinion on the situation in Iraq, Politico declined to note that Feith was in charge of postwar planning after President Bush declared the fiasco to be “Mission Accomplished.” It did not go well.
Rather than being presented as an expert on how the president should manage the crisis in Iraq, Feith may be better remembered as he was once described by retired general Tommy Franks: “The dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”
On Sunday, NBC’s Meet The Press invited former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz to argue, essentially, that we should have stayed in Iraq for decades.
“We stuck with the Kurds through 20 years. Northern Iraq, Kurdistan’s a success story. We stuck with South Korea for 60 years. South Korea is a miracle story. But if we had walked away from South Korea in 1953, that country was a basketcase,” he said.
Wolfowitz is another odd choice for an Iraq expert, considering that — like most of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration’s Pentagon — he has a remarkable record of being wrong about almost everything related to the war.
It’s not like Wolfowitz doesn’t know that it was a catastrophe; when MSNBC’s Chuck Todd introduced him as the “architect” of the 2003 invasion during yet another talking-head appearance on Tuesday, Wolfowitz immediately pushed back.
“If I had been the architect, things would have been run very differently,” he insisted. “So, that’s not a correct label.”
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has a long and well-earned reputation for being America’s least accurate pundit (non-Dick Morris division). But the nadir of his busted analysis centered around the Iraq War, for which he fully embraced the flawed case. Kristol claimed at various points that “American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators” and that “there’s almost no evidence” that the country’s Sunni and Shia populations might clash, among many, many other false assertions.
That still didn’t stop ABC’s This Week from inviting Kristol to analyze the current situation in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, he blamed President Obama:
“It’s a disaster made possible by our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” he argued. Kristol added that President Obama was wrong when he declared the war was over.
“President Obama said two days before election day, in 2012, Iraq is on the path of defeat, the war in Iraq is over. That was enough to get him re-elected. Iraq is on the path of defeat. Neither is true. It’s a disaster for our country,” Kristol said.
Perhaps no supporter of the Iraq War has been more shameless in his criticism of President Obama than his opponent in the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
“Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right,” the Arizona senator boasted of himself and his South Carolina colleague on the Senate floor. “Our failure to leave forces on Iraq is why Sen. Graham and I predicted this would happen.”
“We had it won,” McCain later said during one of his many cable news appearances. “General Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. If we had left a residual force behind, we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won. We had a stable government … But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.”
As MSNBC’s All In with Chis Hayes recently illustrated, McCain doesn’t exactly have the best record on the topic. Much like Kristol, McCain was certain that Iraq had WMD, that Americans would be greeted as liberators, that the war would essentially pay for itself, and that sectarian violence in the country would never ignite: http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/EmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_hayes_montage_140612
Don’t expect the Arizona Republican to evolve on the issue, by the way; he’s too busy knocking the president to bother attending Senate hearings on the crisis.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 18, 2014