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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Troubled world watch

I suggested last March, as I had before amid growing international problems, that the U.S. needs a "foreign policy president," i.e., someone who knows what he or she is doing in foreign policy and who is highly focused on the subject. By 2016, I predicted, the world would be troubled enough that foreign policy will be a crucial factor in the choice of the next president.

My friend and colleague Gil Weinreich weighed in that America's culture and its academic culture in particular make it unlikely that such a president, however needed, will emerge. (Note: As always, here on my blog, I write in a personal capacity and not as a representative of any employer.) I thought he had an interesting point, but in any case I underestimated just how fast and far the world situation would deteriorate. As snapshots of such, I recommend Gil's article "U.S. Sleeps as 9/11 Approaches" and Anne Applebaum's "War in Europe Is Not a Hysterical Idea."

In fact, I have not seen the world situation ever look as dangerous and bleak as it now does, which is to say in decades. I can pinpoint the moment that I first started paying some attention to what was happening in the world: I was a kid who regularly read the sports and comics page of the New York Daily News, and then one day out of curiosity I turned to the paper's front to see what was there; it was an article about the U.S. Embassy being evacuated in Saigon.

As any readers of this blog can attest, I have not been a fan of my own party, the Republicans, in recent years, and I have tended to be averse to knee-jerk GOP criticism of President Obama. I was put off some days ago by William Kristol's complaint that Obama was doing "nothing" about ISIS when in fact Obama had ordered a bombing campaign against that metastasizing group of murderers and scum. However, in light of the vacillating and inept behavior of the president and administration in recent days (see here and here), on top of previous vacillation and ineptitude, it is evident to me that it's not just some spate of bad luck that has made the Obama second term a foreign-policy nightmare.

There can be little certainty about how things would have gone if something else had been done at some point in the past. It is an open question to me as to whether the situation in Iraq would have been better if the U.S. had negotiated an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay in Iraq (how many troops? And would their presence have meant more--or possibly less--leverage over what happens there?). Arming the Kurds and working closely with them, our most reliable allies in Iraq, seems to me a key element of what was needed, and is very belatedly happening.

Moreover, here is a consideration that should have been obvious: Once you start bombing somebody, especially vicious terrorists such as ISIS, you don't then revert to your nuanced deliberations and take the pressure off. Obama's failure to kill those bastards on both sides of the Syria-Iraq non-border, and to do it fast and relentlessly, was a misstep that will have ample opportunity to evolve into a great tragedy. The lesson should have been that if you join those thugs, there will very soon be nothing left of you. This president, it is clear, acts when circumstances force his hand. May circumstances do so, now.

1 comment:

Gil Weinreich said...

The world has indeed grown more dangerous. And while knee-jerk criticism of the president may be, as Ken puts it, off-putting, it's also pointless. That is because in our democratic nation, the president represents the people.
Any people who could twice elect someone--agree or disagree with his signature policies such as Obamacare--with such a thin and frankly dubious record on foreign policy is really not that aware or interested in America's role in maintaining world order.

Certainly, the previous president's foreign policy failures did not contribute to a public engaged on foreign policy issues.

Add to that a tendentious and ideological press corp, a weak and ideological higher education system and poor K-12 public schools, and I stand by my previous comments (which you linked to) that this country is not prepared for a "foreign policy president."

Regrettably, it will most likely take another 9/11-type event to reawaken this interest. And as your blogpost makes clear, U.S. neglect of the world's mounting dangers increases the likelihood that such a horrific development will ensue.