Ruminations, October 6, 2013
Conducting foreign policy in a time of high politics
In a time of high political dudgeon, is it possible to carry out any policy – including foreign policy – without being accused of conducting policy in order to buoy sagging political fortunes?
And even when a policy is executed because the executor (i.e., the president) initiates an action for strictly non-political purposes, can he be blamed for playing up the political aspects? This is especially true when the policy nature of the initiative is undeniably in the interests of the country. For example, when President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, his critics said that he took advantage of it by his repeated use of the pronoun “I.” (Obama used the word “I” eight times out of the 1,393 words in his address.)
Last Saturday, Obama authorized military strikes in Libya and Somalia. The operation had a couple of objectives: (1) the stated objective of “bringing to justice” those who were responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and those responsible for the mall attack two weeks ago in Nairobi, Kenya, and (2) to disrupt operations of the terrorists – while they’re running and hiding, they can’t be planning and executing. In that, the Obama Administration has been successful.
There are other aspects to the U.S. attacks that Obama authorized: the ramifications of those attacks; what will be the reactions to those attacks by the world community and other Middle East nations. Our European allies will support Obama (although there are the usual leftist suspects who will criticize the Obama for taking independent military action – but that’s to be expected). Some Middle East nations, who reportedly worked with the United States, will publicly criticize American actions. And then, there are our enemies – e.g., Iran, Syria, North Korea – who will worry that this may portend action against them, which can be good (they may back off their belligerent postures) or bad (as irrational actors, they may initiate some desperate action that will pitch the U.S. and the world into a crisis). But even if Obama had taken no actions, that, too, would have had ramifications.
Not having been privy to the White House deliberations prior to launching these attacks, we must assume that the actions and ramifications were carefully weighed before their execution. Of course, there are no guarantees.
Has Obama done the right thing in initiating the actions in Libya and Somalia? Absent any contradicting information, he has. And will he try to parlay that foreign policy to reap domestic political benefit? You bet! And what does his foreign policy have to do with the budget impasse, raising the debt or Obamacare? Nothing.
It is possible that Republicans will, for political purposes, give Obama faint praise for his foreign policy exploits or ignore altogether.
Such is the difficulty of pursuing foreign policy in a time of high politics.
Quote without comment
President Barack Obama, in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, on October 2: “I think it’s fair to say that during the course of my presidency I have bent over backwards to work with the Republican Party, and have purposely kept my rhetoric down. I think I’m pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I’m too calm.”