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.

Obama’s Immigration Executive Order: In Your Face Republicans

The Republicans are threatening all sorts of things in response to President Obama’s executive order on immigration outlined in a speech last night, including impeachment.   And of course, it is true that he has “poisoned the well” for future negotiations on all sorts of things, but how much worse could the well get after Republicans have used it as a toxic waste dump for the past six years.

However the anger of the Republican leadership, usually feigned,  seems real for a change as they had different things in  mind to focus on when the new congress takes office, at least according to an article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.   McConnell, Boehner et al had:

“hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president’s healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they’ve tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

That’s largely because the question of how to handle the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. bitterly divides Republicans, and the party has been unable to agree on an alternative to the president’s plan.”

Of course, the Republican leadership realizes they need to do something about “our broken immigration system” before the next presidential election, but they don’t want to get mired in that squabble now.    They want to pull the party together on a few things before batting that bee hive about.

By the way, when I say the Republican  leadership realizes the need to do something on immigration it is because the need is obvious.   Obama got about 70% of the Latino vote in the last election and it seems nearly impossible for the Republicans to win the next one without cutting into that margin.

I’ve seen Carl Rove say that as well as a generally respected Republican pollster whose name escapes me at the moment.    Romney got 59% of the white vote in the last contest and according to this pollster’s estimate, they will need nearly 64% of that vote, likely unachievable,  to win if they can’t attract more of different hues than lily white.  There are only so many of us white people to go around.

And to add to Republican discomfort is the fact that Obama’s executive order could be rescinded by a Republican president, a point that will be drilled into Latino voters in upcoming months to get out that vote.

Of course, Obama is aware of that as it is obvious, and those on the right may view him as playing a cynical political game, but he wanted to take this action last summer, announced he would I believe, but put it on hold in response to pleas from Democrats running for office.   And we all know how well that worked out.

Also, this executive decision isn’t very popular according to recent polls, one indicating 48% of Americans thinking he is overreaching, and only 30-some per cent in favor of his action.   Whatever his shortcomings (and for God’s sake people he has THE TOUGHEST JOB IN THE WORLD), I believe in Obama’s sincerity.

Finally, I recommend you read that LA Times article linked above as it gives the gist of key dynamics at work in response to Obama’s executive order.   The other link provides a good summary of what that order means in practice.




Immigration Reform: Passes Senate and Now Will Dawdle in House

Republican Mural

Republican Mural (Photo credit: Burns Library, Boston College)

Yesterday the Senate immigration reform bill passed 68 to 32, picking up all Democrats and 14 Republicans.   Now it will move to the house where it will be largely ignored while the Republicans slowly come up with their own piece meal version, if they come up with anything at all.

In my previous post I suggested a long shot scenario in which Speaker John Boehner would bring the Senate bill up for a vote in the House, but I’m upping my odds to 40-to-1 as he holds steadfast to the notion he won’t bring up a bill that lacks the  support of over 50% of his caucus, which the Senate bill will never get.

Sooooo… soooo many other things in congress, the bill will dilly dally until who knows when, perhaps for months as Congress adjourns in August and then in September they will be back to battling issues of a budget extension and raising the debt ceiling.  The ongoing tug-of-war that gets us nowhere when it comes to our fiscal problems.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about immigration reform is  the split between those 14 Republican Senators and the Republican majority in the House, one of many indications of a fractured party.

Those 14 reflect the belief that the Republicans cannot win a national election without shifting the balance of Hispanic votes away from the 70% level that voted for Obama.   Those Republicans who oppose immigration reform are largely a combination of those whose careers are insured by Gerrymandered districts as long as they don’t look at all liberal, and/or out of the belief that enabling more illegal residents to become citizens will likely produce even more voters for Democrats.

It is one of several splits within the Republican Party that make it difficult for them to come up with a coherent message at the national level and produces a tightrope for Republican presidential candidates to walk, pressured to be more main stream in terms of the general election, but sufficiently conservative in the primaries to receive the nomination.

A topic we will return to at a later time.