Towards a Realist, Adult-Like Foreign Policy

Member Group : Nathan Shrader

Throughout the past several weeks we have heard from discredited Bush janissaries that President Obama is conducting foreign policy in destructive, unthinkable ways which violate the security and integrity of the nation. Interestingly enough, these cries for alarm come from the same neoconservatives responsible for the foreign policy regime of the Bush administration. These are the same people responsible for unspeakable harm to the conduct and purpose of U.S. foreign policy building and international relations from 2001 to present.

Here is a sampling of the most recent caterwauling from the ousted foreign policy establishment that brought us such hits as the Iraq War, the deterioration of Afghanistan, and a nonsensical, Wilsonian approach advocating "democracy" at all costs in every corner of the Earth:

• Over the weekend, the predictable (yet always intriguing) New York Post ran an audacious headline in all capital letters: "AMIGOS!," featuring a photograph of Obama shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a sub-headline reading "Bam glad-hands a madman." Note that the story ran alongside cover stories on New York’s noisiest dogs and a "hot spring fashion" update.

• In an interview with Sean Hannity, former Vice President Dick Cheney called Obama’s decision to shake Chavez’s hand "not helpful," and stated that Obama’s efforts to acknowledge Chavez send the wrong message to the rest of the world.

• Arm chair public policy makers like Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Brian Kilmeade have spent the week pounding Obama’s decision to meet Chavez as a great act of betrayal. Fox News contributor Judith Miller asked in an online column, "Was there any hand that President Obama would refuse to shake on his ‘unclenched fist’ Latin American tour? Apparently not." Is this the place for the neocons to insert the archetypal "Obama as Chamberlain" comparison?

• Writing of Obama’s meeting with Chavez and his listening to a scathing speech by Daniel Ortega, Wesley Pruden of The Washington Times writes that "Only a man with a screwed-up psyche, the likes of which we’ve probably never had in the White House before, would fly off to foreign shores to campaign against his predecessor and to offer abject apologies to anyone listening for the harm he imagines his country did to others, while carefully excluding himself from any of the criticism."

• Dethroned House Speaker Newt Gingrich opined that "Frankly, this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter. Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators – when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead."

• Cheney, in his Monday interview with Hannity noted that "What I find disturbing is the extent to which he has gone to Europe, for example, and seemed to apologize profusely in Europe, and then to Mexico, and apologize there, and so forth."

• The typically sane and competent Mitt Romney commented in a piece on National Review online that by meeting with Chavez, "President Obama shrank from defending liberty here in the Americas," claimed that "the leader of the free world has been a timid advocate of freedom at best," and astoundingly blamed Obama for a nuclear Iran and North Korea.

Concluding our trip through Fantasy Land and heading back into reality, we find President Obama saddled with a precarious situation. First and foremost he is tasked with the job of repairing the nation’s image, reputation, and ability to function abroad—all left in complete chaos as a result of the "shoot now and ask questions later" approach of the Bush era. Obama clearly struck a nerve based upon the manner in which Cheney and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post editorial page are lashing out in apoplectic fits of rage.

Second, Obama must deal with the incessant babbling of neoconservative hit men like Limbaugh, Hannity, Pruden, Kilmeade, and others who still fail to notice that the Bush administration was so paralyzed by low approval ratings and lack of respect worldwide that it was unable to conjure up any real foreign policy achievements beyond "staying the course" in Iraq, standing by helplessly as Iran joined the nuclear nations club, and North Korea continued its dangerous ways.

Those yearning for the "good old days" of Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld are not going quietly into the night and are instead fighting to rewrite history to preserve their failed interventionist, Wilsonian policies that have cost the nation excessively in both blood and treasure. Best summing up their frustration, Romney stated in his op-ed on Tuesday that "bold action to blunt the advances of tyrants has been wholly lacking."

My point is not that Obama is right, per se, only that the difference between the strategies employed by the Bush administration and those being pursued by the Obama administration in terms of foreign affairs is simply one of outlook. The Bush team saw America’s role in the world as the moral policeman charged with shouting down the local bullies like Chavez, Castro, and Ortega from a distance and speaking in absolutes about what type of governmental system should work for everyone. They talked tough, walked with the Texas swagger, and as Cheney proudly pointed out Monday on Hannity, chose a strategy of "ignoring" international players like Chavez with whom they did not see eye-to-eye.

In the end, the policy of ignoring major international actors, refusing to talk with anyone who disagreed, and assuming the ability to uninhibitedly spread the gospel of democracy is not a foreign policy for adults, but instead the sort of approach preferred by petulant school children who won’t stop insisting on having it their way for long enough to measure reality for what it is.

Although his policy decisions on spending, piling on debt, raising taxes, failing to end the Iraq War as promised, repositioning almost 20,000 troops in an untenable situation in Afghanistan, and embarking on reckless expansion of the federal government have been disappointing and damaging, Obama deserves credit for attempting to restore an adult-like, realist foreign policy intent on putting an end the Bush era’s windbag diplomacy which badly embarrassed the nation and left our foreign policy formulation looking like amateur hour.

Nathan Shrader can be reached at [email protected]