Reader Reaction: You're Gonna' Need a Bigger Foreign Policy

USS George HW Bush Carrier

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Reader Reaction: You're Gonna Need
a Bigger Foreign Policy

| published September 7, 2014 |

Compiled by Thursday Review editors


Not since Earl Perkins’ long form retrospective look at Lynyrd Skynyrd has an article or review generated as much comment, reaction and backlash as Alan Clanton’s recent You’re Gonna’ Need a Bigger Foreign Policy. Scores of readers forwarded the article to friends and associates, and we registered a much higher-than-average rate of clicks as a result. We also received lots of comments via email, Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In.

Among those who wrote us were liberals, conservatives, neocons, peace activists, defenders and detractors of President Barack Obama, and even a few who complained about the contraction gonna’ which we used in the headline (an indication, perhaps, that they didn’t bother to read even the first paragraph of the article).

Some of the comments were pro-Obama. The core of those complaints were that we failed to fully attribute blame to the long-term Middle Eastern environment to Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who—along with the neocons of his administration (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, et al)—took the United State inadvisably into two simultaneous wars for which there was no clear or coherent exit strategy, and one of which may have been based on faulty information or manufactured evidence (Iraq). Fair criticisms. And fairer still is the evidence that in the haste to purge Baghdad of all Baathist after the fall of Saddam Hussein, American policy-makers in-country set in motion the Sunni versus Shia sectarian divide once predicted by Colin Powell, a dissenter among Bush’s inner circle.

Other Thursday Review readers suggested that we went too easy on Obama—in essence giving him a pass on his failure to act more proactively during the early days of the Arab Spring, absolving him of responsibility for the chaos and disorder which inevitably followed in Libya, Egypt and Syria, and mollycoddling the President on his profound reluctance to enforce his “red line” in Syria and his reticence to take decisive action on Iraq’s Nouri al Maliki. Others pointed to the President’s unwillingness to quickly address the problem of refugee children entering the U.S. by the thousands during the spring.

In the meantime, President Obama and a score of other NATO leaders met in Wales this week to discuss the rapidly-evolving events in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, Somalia, and other world hotspots. Though no specifics have yet to emerge from the NATO summit, there was, at least, agreement on the talking points, especially sanctions against Russia and a long-term commitment to confront and destroy ISIS.

Either way, our article sparked discussion and debate. Here is a sample of some of those comments, sent to us via Facebook, Google +, Linked-In, Twitter, or in dozens of emails:

John Herndon, Fort Collins, CO: Any objective assessment of the foreign policy of the years 2009-2017 will review how progressive weakness, driven by ideological presumptions and an unwillingness to learn from reality, brought the United States to a position of really unparalleled ineptitude and invited chaos to reign, emboldening the forces that have nothing less than the destruction of Western culture as their goal. When reviewing the foreign policy disasters of Britain and her allies in the middle-late 1930s which came to the disaster of 1939, Churchill wrote that "no war was more preventable" than the one which raged for six years, bringing civilization to the brink by 1945. We can only hope that a serious change in our course occurs soon, lest some contemporary of ours say much the same thing of the current age. [Mr. Herndon wrote a longer piece on this subject, an article which we plan to publish this week].

Mike Lanning, Minneapolis, MN: My father, a Korean War veteran and a liberal, blames this [the current spate of crises] on George W. Bush. But arguments which rehash the same old “it’s the last guy’s fault” line miss the point: the United States should have acted with precision and care at the outset of the Arab Spring. Instead, the White House under Obama’s watch chose to adopt a wavering “wait-and-see” approach, so fearful of war that it could not fathom any direct action other than harsh words, fake outrage and imaginary red lines.

Deborah with Gmail: Putin and ISIS are clearly part of the same larger template. They do not fear us [the U.S.], and they don’t respect our allies, for that matter. And [they] have less regard for human life. After Benghazi Hillary [Secretary of State Clinton] got mad, spewing out “what difference does it make?” Now we see the answer to her question.

Roger with Gmail, Melbourne, Australia: As long as the developed nations of the world (and those countries in various stages of economic expansion) depend on oil, these struggles will remain with us, violently. Russia wants to bargain with oil and gas, using it as leverage to make the EU compliant. ISIS, aside from its apparent goal of murdering anyone it encounters, actually seeks control of oil wells and refineries so it can generate its own economy and currency. The U.S. and the U.K. suddenly realize ISIS is within striking distance of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—another potential disruptor of oil. Iran decides to become well-behaved…why?...they don’t want ISIS commanding their oil fields. Flare-ups in the South China Sea [could be said to] be about oil and energy. Spend a fraction of the money used to make war and use it instead to develop other energy sources. Then, watch this stuff fade away.

Cynthia, Phoenix, Arizona: It’s easy to blame President Obama for all of this, but that blame game fails to address the short-sighted policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Don’t blame the clean-up crew for the condition of the house the morning after the big party. Iraq was a time bomb set to explode a decade earlier.

Mel Garrett, Atlanta, GA: Well-written and thoughtful piece, and helps to explain some of the more confusing aspects of what I see in the news each day. These things seem so far away, but clearly this stuff could very easily appear on our doorstep very soon.

Elias V., Port Charlotte, FL: The neo-cons have been somewhat vindicated by the events of the last three years, and this was all a predictable outcome in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Obama’s conciliatory approach works nicely when it involves photo ops with the leaders of trading partners and economic allies, but it’s “a day late and a dollar short” when it comes to facing threats. The pendulum swung too far, from too much war to too little backbone.

Mauricio (with Yahoo), San Antonio, TX: I didn’t support going into Iraq in the first place, but once we were in, we should have understood the consequences for the whole region. We broke this, now we own it. Some of those ISIS maniacs are just part of Saddam’s old guard, party members we banished to the hinterlands. In 2004 they were just secular political hacks, now they got religion (or so they claim) and half of the weapons we left behind.

Angela (with AOL), Auburn, AL: Benghazi was a warning of things to come. What happened to having a proactive strategy in place, and why is that no one is accountable in the White House? Candid or not, the correct response of a U.S. President should never be “we just don’t have a strategy in place.”

Rick with Yahoo: ISIS murdered thousands in their race across Syria and Iraq, but it took the killing of an American journalist (at the hands of a British terrorist) to spur Washington into some kind of action. And when did Joe Biden become the White House hawk?

Ann in Richmond, VA: I’m old enough to remember when Presidents like Johnson, Nixon and Ford wanted to take decisive action, but then ran afoul of lazy bureaucrats and government lard. Now it’s the other way around—inaction and hesitation inside a White House that never meets a problem head-on, unless it is bypassing Congress.

Cory (with Gmail) in Boulder, CO: Never considered all of these troubles being connected somehow, but your story makes it clear [world events] are a part of a pattern, one conflict feeding off the other. The Butterfly Effect. Not sure I agree Obama is at fault for all of it, but clearly the rest of the world is looking for a leader.

David (with WOW!) in Naperville, IL: Found this article on Facebook. Two points. Unfair to blame Obama for the actions of bullies in other places, for there will always be bullies and aggressors. But I agree that this is the moment for the President to roll up sleeves and get tough, as long as we [the United States] have some partners on this. Putin, ISIS, Israel versus Hamas, Somalia…can’t go alone on these things, and we can’t afford all-out war.

Brett (with Hotmail): Dead dinosaurs. Why do we keep fighting over dead dinosaurs? Think it’s coincidental that ISIS went straight for the oil wells and refineries, even a hydro-electric dam? Think it is coincidence that Russia’s first move was not tanks but the threat of cutting off oil to Europe? Think the Saudi kings and princes want ISIS in their backyard?

Joan in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: ISIS is exactly the sort of butcher army the world should expect when U.S. non-policy leads to chaos and mayhem in some parts of the world, and when the President’s weak responses in Europe and Asia invite a return to the Cold War. Vladimir Putin got what he wanted in the Ukraine, and his next moves will be calculated with Obama’s weakness in mind. As for Syria and Iraq, the White House has waited for three years and tens of thousands of dead to finally act.

Related Thursday Review articles:

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Fireign Policy; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 27, 2014

Will James Foley's Death Raise the Stakes in Iraq?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 20, 2014