Some Thoughts on American Foreign Policy Sent to a Friend

I’m in agreement with what you wrote about immigration and Cuba…..  though that is probably no surprise.  Sixty years of the same policy has done little to free Cubans, what could trying a new approach hurt?

And as for immigration, as you know, the Senate passed a bill months ago that the House refused to take up.  I laugh at the Republican “concerns” about security as that Senate bill has an abundance of security measures as judged by the likes of John McCain.   If the concern with security is so important to them, doesn’t letting our present level of insecurity go on and on from year to year make any sense?

In terms of the Mid-East and Ukraine, I don’t think Obama has done a great job, but I think these problems are uniquely complex, new to our time……especially the burgeoning chaos in the Mid-East.  That mess is a result of decades of strong men violently keeping a lid on seething undercurrents and now the lid has been lifted, first by our toppling Saddam and then the so-called Arab spring, which I welcomed at the time, not really thinking through the likely aftermath.

The dilemma seems to be that toppling a strong man in the Mid-East usually leads to a situation even worse.  So, take your pick, suppression or chaos (with the kicker being that suppression doesn’t always work as the Shah of Iran, whom we supported, learned decades ago.)

Here is something I’d like your reaction to.   It strikes me that American foreign policy has long been a stew composed of 1) wanting international stability that suits capitalism, 2) spreading democratic values and 3)  acting humanely.   That’s fine when the values don’t conflict, but they usually do and when push comes to shove it is stability concerns that usually win out, which is why we have supported dictators in the Mid East for the past 100 years, including Saddam Hussein prior to his Kuwait venture.

But the other two values often muck up the realpolitik nature of the policy, such as when GW Bush envisioned setting up a democratic state in Iraq and when Obama’s humanitarianism  compelled him to stop Gaddafi from crossing Libya to exterminate thousands of rebels.

I was all for the Libya intervention, but I did not imagine how little we would help solidify that country afterwards.  Understandably we had become tired of trying and failing to rebuild countries, and neither party showed interest in doing much to develop a secure aftermath.

While Obama can be blamed for not doing more, what have the Republicans done to help?   Conduct hearing after hearing right to the present day in search of ways in which Hillary was at fault regarding Benghazi?  No matter that the country has dissolved into civil war in the mean time.  Most important is to besmirch Hillary right up through 2016.

At this point, with ISIS becoming the scourge of the entire region (now including Libya), we clearly most value strong men who rally to the anti-ISIS cause such as President Sisi of Egypt, who seems more repressive than Mubarak but is tolerated because he is showing commitment to fight ISIS, not to mention applying pressure on Hamas, which Israel welcomes.

It must be nice being a Vladimir Putin with such a clear cut agenda of regaining Russian greatness uninhibited by humanitarian or democratic values, free to conduct foreign policy like a complete thug.

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2 responses to “Some Thoughts on American Foreign Policy Sent to a Friend

  1. Richard,      I really admire this analysis of the difficulties of conducting foreign policy in the Middle East now.  I don’t envy anyone who has that responsibility.  The conditions make any official long for the wonderful, “innocent” times of Lawrence of Arabia!  Ha!      I’ve been reading Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise”, a lengthy and interesting discussion of the art/science of forecasting.  One of his many good points is that the more complex the model, the more difficult it is to make accurate predictions.  It occurs to me that your statement of the 3 goals of American foreign policy is a succinct and accurate summary of factors that make for a complicated model.  Add to them the two further complicating factors of 1) the political agendas of the American parties and 2) the short term career ambitions of American politicians, and you have an immensely dicey stew.  What is the best policy?  Maintain the friendly, but brutal dictator?  Unleash the chaotic forces of grass roots democracy?  I am reminded of the shocking and dumb naivete of Dick Cheney’s famous prediction, ” I think we will be greeted as liberators”  at the same time that the U.S. military executes a campaign they call “Shock and Awe.”  I think this is just a long winded way to agree with your conclusions.  It is wicked hard to do this.      And since it is so complicated, the people who articulate the most simplistic solutions get the most traction, because it is too difficult to think through the complex version of the puzzle.    Thank you for your thoughts about these matters.John O.

    • Thanks for the comment John. In a recent column by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post, he argues for the wisdom of muddling through in the Mid-East, led off by this: “As gung-ho “experts” press President Obama to do this, that or the other in the Middle East, keep a simple rule in mind: Whatever the avid interventionists suggest probably won’t work — and surely will have unintended consequences.” This point is sufficiently important to prompt me to write a post about it soon.

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