Thursday, April 28, 2011

President Obama, United States Foreign Policy, Current Events: In Search of Princpled Policy

This article was titled:

How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy

It should have been titled "How World Events Make You Spin on Your Head and Do Incomprehensible and Contradictory Things When You Lack Defining Principles".

This spring, Obama officials often expressed impatience with questions about theory or about the elusive quest for an Obama doctrine. One senior Administration official reminded me what the former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said when asked what was likely to set the course of his government: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Obama has emphasized bureaucratic efficiency over ideology, and approached foreign policy as if it were case law, deciding his response to every threat or crisis on its own merits. “When you start applying blanket policies on the complexities of the current world situation, you’re going to get yourself into trouble,” he said in a recent interview with NBC News.
The appropriate response to that is when you do not have a set of principles to guide your policies, you are going to get yourself into trouble.  Principles do not make "blanket policies".  Principles are the foundation on which good policy is made.  "Events" may require policy reviews, but principles, not ideologies, invariably lead to the right policies. 

Read the entire article.  It is a tour de force of what happens to an administration and, thus, the United States, when policy is based on being determined "to break free of the old ideologies and categories" (ie, hope and change) instead of principles. President Obama, thus, the United States, is being pushed and swayed by the various events, being forced to react to every event instead of doing what he believes he is doing, threading a course for stability and strength.  Those who know history and complimentary foreign policy know that when you are forced to react to every changing event you are the weak link and "you’re going to get yourself into trouble".

Right policies are founded on good principles.  What are the principles that have historically led to "right policy" in the United States?

An example of right policy by principle responding to events would be Reagan whom Obama evinces to respect certain aspects of his "real politik" outlook including engaging in talks with "adversaries".  However, Obama seems to have dismissed Reagan's firm belief in Freedom and Democracy as the "last and best hope for mankind" as "ideology" instead of principle.  When Reagan spoke of the USSR as the "evil empire" and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this wall", the "realists" were shaking in their boots and screaming at the top of their lungs that this was unnecessarily aggressive and would destabilize the detente that had been reached. 

What the realists had missed or simply saw as impossible were the growing democratic movements in Eastern Europe.  Movements that, by principle, Reagan supported.  He also had a clear view that the political and economic structure of the USSR was rotten to it's core and on the verge of collapse if given the right push.  It turns out that Reagan was correct. 

When Reagan met with Gorbachev and previous leaders on discussions for mutual draw down of nuclear weapons, he did not suppose that the USSR was an equal in principle or morality nor that Communism was an equally decent or acceptable form of government.  Nor did he assume that the USSR and the US would become friends and allies or even equally interested parties, peacefully dividing up the world and it's resources.  He met with the leaders of the USSR under the assumption that they could not compete with the US and that the US would only enter talks negotiating from the position of power. 

Finally, Reagan recognized that the government of the USSR and it's entrenched leaders did not represent the people of Russia or their aspirations.  He believed firmly that no person would want to live in a state of perpetual tyranny and enslavement nor be on the brink of nuclear showdown over a corrupt and oppressive system of government.  Thus, when he spoke to the Russian people or about them, he did not reference their leaders or government, clearly differentiating one from the other, insuring that his message was peace with the people, but opposition to their government. 

For some, the question remains as to whether events conspired to support Reagan's principles or whether Reagan's principles led to certain events such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall or the eventual collapse of Communist USSR.  It was both.  The fact is that certain events were already in motion set by decades of economic, diplomatic and military activity, but by forming policies on firm principles the United States was able to both push events along in a satisfactory trajectory and  navigate others to it's advantage. 

What are the principles that are missing from President Obama's administration?

1) The Defense of the United States and it's interests is paramount above all other
  •  While Reagan was himself humble, he did not humble the United States, believing that it was the best example of liberty and the leader of the Free World.  At all points, he did not miss an opportunity to hold this up before the world like a beacon of liberty, allowing people to make their own comparisons between their condition and those within the United States.  He also insured that all decisions were based on the principle that a strong United States, in appearance and reality, was much more capable of defending it's interests and people than one that appeared weak, unsure and "humbled" by the world or events.  
  • Acting humbly and being humbled are two different things and it is necessary to differentiate between the two when attempting to find the right tone and message for a foreign policy that does not suggest the United States is ripe for being knocked down a peg or two.  Particularly by nations and forces that are, hands down, far more immoral and unprincipled than the United States has ever acted.  
  • The United States holds the high ground because it is THE free ground, the shining city on the hill not because freedom or democracy is equal to any other form of government, but because it is the best form of government.

2) Freedom is preferable to any other form of existence or governance
  • Reagan made many decisions on supporting or not supporting groups or governments based on "bad and worse" case scenarios.  He did believe that the expansion of Communism was the "worse", the most dangerous to freedom and the United States over all, which ultimately led to various decisions to back the "bad" from established dictators to paramilitary forces that, at least on the face, were anti-Communist.  When real demand for freedom raised it's head, he did not miss an opportunity to support it based on the principle that free people would be more likely to join together to oppose tyranny better than a free nation and a bunch of oppressed people under dictators that would run to the strongest backer and abandon freedom to maintain their own power.
  • People do not aspire to "self determination".  They aspire to freedom and the prosperity it entails. Any form of government that is not free is slavery.  There is no moral equality between free nations and dictatorships.
3) Peace through strength not strength through peace
  • This was the transference of a basic business principle to foreign policy.  That is that the person or organization who negotiates from the position of power is more likely to achieve their goals.  This principle also suggests that the terms of the agreement will be insured by the ability to defend it and enforce it if necessary.  
  • The idea of strength through peace can only occur if both sides are interested in that outcome.  In world affairs, only those who sit behind powerful joint defense can share those aspirations, strengthening each other through shared peaceful economic and political endeavors.  These aspirations on the outside of those defenses are met with the continuing striving of power through armed, diplomatic and economic hegemony by those who oppose that strength in order to obtain their own power.  If possible, and hopefully, at the disparagement or destruction of nations such as the United States and it's western allies.
  • It requires that any "carrots" held out for peaceful negotiation are backed by equally or even more persuasive "stick".  That does not mean that the "stick" (military power) is used randomly or more often than the "carrot" of negotiations, but that it is strong enough and available to act when necessary.  Pretending that it is not necessary, relegating it to the weaker position instead of equal to, suggesting that it isn't just the "last resort", but one that the United States is reluctant to use at all, makes it irrelevant and removes any leverage in negotiations with those who are not as adverse to garnering or using that power.  Whether that power is nuclear, conventional or the more common modern weapon of "non-state actors" (ie, terrorists).

4) The Free Market is the Engine that Powers the Strength of the United States and is a Powerful Tool or Weapon in the Service of Freedom in it's Own Right
  • No economic system can compete with the ability of a free market to invent or create products and wealth.  Nor has a system ever been more flexible at responding to changes in supply and demand.  Attempting to control the market leads to disastrous economics, such as the collapse of the USSR and the very real conditions of various state controlled economics today (Venezuela, Cuba, etc).  Harnessing the power of the free market does not mean regulating it exponentially to the power of the state.  It means providing a secure environment under which organizations can operate and grow, increasing revenues to the state through fair, but not overburdened taxation that allows the government to continue to provide security and develop infrastructure.  
  • The expansion of free markets not only provides better food, clothing and shelter at increasingly lower prices, it is a message and a weapon rolled into one against oppressive regimes and controlled economic powers that are only interested in increasing their own supplies or access to resources and power at the expense of any people or nation.  In short, it is only through freedom that these products and way of life can be achieved.  It is an incredibly powerful and subversive message and tool that has led to greater freedom  and economic prosperity around the world.  A prosperity that inevitably leads to the demand for political participation, particularly when that prosperity is threatened by over reaching and oppressive governments and ideology.  Meaning that the power of this weapon for freedom and free markets is self-perpetuating.
Finally, that the first three principles are, in fact, meant to support, defend and perpetuate the last: the Free market is the engine that powers the United States (the essence of liberty) and is a powerful tool or weapon it's own right in perpetuating freedom.  That was the purpose and founding of this nation.  To insure the prosperity and general welfare of the people by protecting the "fruits of their labor" from powerful and unfriendly nations as well as grasping government or overzealous tariffs.  An idea that has apparently left the building when it comes to this administration and a very huge swath of the American population who are demanding more "fruit" without the necessary increase in labor (ie, production, output).

Of course, do not expect President Obama to simply stand up one day and have a "eureka!" moment.  His doctrine is not being set by the idea of the US as a great power or force for good in the world

Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
Maybe the problem isn't a lack of principles, but the wrong principles.  The President has already decided that the United States will not be able to compete directly in the future and is best served by retiring quietly into the old age home for decrepit and decaying nations in hopes that the new management of the world and their repugnant orderlies will not abuse us too much because we were apparently too intemperate in our youth.  

In the words of one famous general in the face of overwhelming odds: Nuts!

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