Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), one of various Democratic incumbents at risk of losing their re-election campaigns (Photo: AP)
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), one of various Democratic incumbents at risk of losing their re-election campaigns (Photo: AP)

By Harry C. Blaney III

“And so just understand — the folks on the other side, they’re counting on you being cynical. They’re figuring you won’t think you can make a difference. They figure you won’t organize. They figure you won’t vote. You will just go along with the status quo…. Don’t buy it. Don’t be cynical. Be hopeful…. Cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon. Cynicism has never ended a war. It has never cured a disease. It did not build a business. It did not feed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope is a better choice. ” – President Obama while campaigning for Mary Burke in Wisconsin (October 28, 2014)

We are now just one day from the midterm elections and we are providing a quick review of what we have seen in the debate, or really a lack of substantial debate, on foreign policy and national security this election season. It will be no surprise to those interested in how America engages abroad that there are at least three very early sad insights we can draw from this election season’s lack of strong debate about key international issues, and worse, a flight to emptiness and lies.

One reality is that there was very little serious and thoughtful debate about these international issues. Instead, there was a bit of rather nasty, partisan (nothing new here), and totally malicious statements which provided for our citizens little insight or real understanding of our challenges abroad. Think Ebola and efforts to frighten the citizens into an anti-Obama frenzy. Think “border control” and terrorism or disease coming over from Mexico. Think assertions of “weakness” to deal with ISIS while not really providing any thoughtful and realistic alternatives, and least of all a debate and vote in Congress.

“The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border.  I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem.  Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.” – Congressman Tom Cotton (October 7, 2014)

Second, note how little insight was provided by the campaigns and most candidates on how Americans should deal with all the problems and dangers abroad.  Think of how many times you heard a discussion about Iran, Afghanistan, global climate change, international trade, our defense policy, global poverty, human rights, Syria and Iraq, China, Russia, and Ukraine.  There were a few comments on some of these (see our quote section for a sampling, but hold your noise), but few truly addressed any of these issues in other than a myopic and partisan way. And as for our media, both newspapers and TV and even mainline “web”  gave overall little insight and in most cases simply added to our confusion by imparting often truly repetitive lies.

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” – Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaking with ABC’s Jonathan Karl (May 11, 2014)

The third element is how massive right-wing “dark money” directed and obfuscated the debate, along with a conniving and toadying press which made loads of money from right-wing advertisements. This happens with much of the media now controlled by conservative and mega rich Republican backers (think the Koch brothers). Even public radio and CSPAN gave inordinate time to the right-wing groups and speakers. How much did you see of any fair or balanced analysis of our foreign policy? Most was on who was winning and who was losing. How often did any of the mainline media give any insights into what issues should be on the agenda and where any of the candidates varied from the truth or were simply malicious and untruthful?  Big “dark money” has to be the main theme and how it determined the debate, agenda, and the messages of this election.  All of this was at the expense of any time spent on serious examination of the issues and on what polices made sense, who understood the forces at work in our globe, and which perspectives did not. The media today may be the accomplishers of the death of our democracy.

We acknowledge that foreign policy issues were not ranked high on public opinion polls with people prioritizing jobs, unemployment, health care, and other issues, but some of this was also driven by TV and newspapers that abandoned their responsibility to present serious and balanced substantive analysis. But this was also true on much of the domestic issues that were of concern to the electorate. It seemed again that only the horse race and snide basis towards right-wing views, presenters, and guests were the order of the day.

More after the election and the implication of its results for our policies abroad, as well as a look forward to the 2016 election.

We welcome your comments!


  1. Harry C. Blaney III November 19, 2014 / 11:08 AM

    I agree with much that Bob Lamoree and Chuck Woolery are saying as they aim at finding
    solutions to our challenges abroad and to our politics at home. But some issues remain problematic, and in our complex and murky global order, solutions are elusive, opaque, as well as often require the application of major resources, contain elements of real risk, and the outcome can never be certain.

    That said, regarding Chuck Woolery’s point: “The Progressive’s loss of the mid-term elections was largely the result of failing to tell the facts about Ebola, ISIS, and climate change to the American voter. Conservatives succeeded in framing Ebola and ISIS as border threats exacerbated by Obama’s failed leadership. Missing is the fact of our irreversible global interdependence.” First, I take exception that it is, as Mr. Woolery stated, Obama’s “failed leadership” to blame nor does he fail to understand our interdependence. Indeed he is addressing this reality each and every day with much creativity but it remains a hard set of problems to solve overnight.

    On the contrary Obama’s leadership has, in most respects, been outstanding. The Obama administration has been the actively engaged in trying to seek solutions to very difficult and conflict ridden situations around the world. Conflicts he did not start. He got us out of a mistaken, costly and winless war in Iraq. He helped put in place a policy requiring responsibility of the leaders in each of Afghanistan and Iraq to defend the security of their peoples. One action was pushing in both cases for creating broad based new governments that, while still a work in progress, and needing America’s help but as an adjunct enabler, proving training and other military support.

    None of this will mean necessarily American combat boots engaged in direct military fights. In Afghanistan his diplomacy resulted in a “coalition” government that prevented open civil war between political factions to replace the former president. In each case he rightly said these conflicts must be acted on by the two governments and with regional powers cooperating together to deal with the threats from terrorists and internal disarray.

    Further, refuting Mr. Woolery’s point, has been the extraordinary initiative in Asia by President Obama and his team in obtaining an agreement on Climate change, better military contact and cooperation to prevent unplanned conflict, and a number of other advances in our relations with China and others. The pivot to Asia, always fraught with risks and problems, was taken on in a very sophisticated and focused way. I might add again that I doubt there is any other person on this globe that better understands how we are in an age of an nearly “irreversible global interdependence.”

    In short, all the problems Chuck names as our challenges, Obama has with judgement, but some caution, and he has been asking the hard questions. But in the the end he addressed often with appropriate and effective policies. I cite Ebola, when he organized resources to address in West Africa efforts to contain and stop the spread of this decease. As for chemical warfare, Obama got rid of chemical weapons and chemicals in Syria which if he had not acted as he did might be falling into the hands of ISIS now.

    Finally, I do not see on the horizon any leader that more embodies the values that Chuck rightly espouses than President Obama. No leader can bat 1000 in our difficult and conflict ridden landscape today, but Obama’s record is the best I have seen in my adulthood. His problem remains that he has been opposed in all his good efforts time and time again by mean spirited opponents of the other party that has no or little interest in American security or building a fairer and more peaceful world or indeed an America that can lead by moral example.

    Bob Lammoree’s, refrain hits close to may own in the sentiments of both hope and despair over our world’s condition and the forces of myopic greed, war mongering hawks, and nasty bigoted politicians as well as rapacious billionaires who have conspire to make our tasks at home and abroad more difficult. The media especially has much to answer to for dummying down and spewing hate and lies without any fairness and too often with malice, so that many of our people believe things that are simply not true and create fear and hate where cooperation and compassion should reign.


  2. Bob Lamoree November 12, 2014 / 2:11 PM

    If you have a toothache you go to a dentist. You go to the dentist because you know he or she is a professional . . . they know almost everything about teeth and the anatomy because they spent years studying and practicing their trade . . . and they had expert guidance. We trust our dentist. So, what do dentists and politicians have in common? Ooooo! How many politicians have spent years studying their craft? Where did they practice their trade? Who were the experts that guided them? Not a good parallel is it?

    But does that little scenario tell us anything about our form of government? It might tell us what many of us suspect . . . that a lot of politicians are lacking.

    So, foreign policy was not an issue in this last election. Could it be that many of the candidates know so little about international affairs that they simply don’t talk about it? Or, could it be that pollsters tell them that the public isn’t very interested in international affairs, so why even mention it? Or maybe the candidates and the populace are both ignorant . . . and do not care. But what about the media, could questions have been asked of candidates? Should questions relating to foreign policy have been asked?

    How do we get more informed/qualified candidates to run for public office? Perhaps more to the point, how do we empower Americans to be more interested in all the issues that are of importance? All I know is that it’s easier recognizing the problem(s) that finding solutions.

  3. chuck woolery November 5, 2014 / 1:05 AM

    11-4-14: Election Day.
    The Progressive’s loss of the mid-term elections was largely the result of failing to tell the facts about Ebola, ISIS, and climate change to the American voter. Conservatives succeeded in framing Ebola and ISIS as border threats exacerbated by Obama’s failed leadership. Missing is the fact of our irreversible global interdependence.
    The public’s immediate fear of hemorrhagic fever, beheadings or a lackluster economy was easily hyped over the theoretical fear of runaway climate change. Yet each these threats are closely related. And each share fundamental features. Each was preventable. None can be solved militarily. No single nation can resolve them. And, none were budgeted for.
    The origin of ISIS was in the oil drenched Middle East where US support for dictators, kings and even extremists is well known. Oil sales help finance ISIS barbaric and murderous expansion. Boko Haram continues kidnappings and terrorizing oil rich Nigeria where Ebola was recently checked. Some believe the weaponization of Ebola is inevitable. The Soviets tried and failed in the 1980s. The Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult tried and failed in the 1990s. Advances in biotechnology make it entirely possible now.
    The key element essential to preventing or resolving each of these threats remains progressive values. Global cooperation, enforcement of global standards, sufficient investments in human capital and the protection of human rights and the environment are all essential.
    Imagine what the world would be today with actual universal access to basic education; primary health care; clean water; safe sanitation; adequate nutrition; early detection and emergency response infrastructure; targeted investments in research and development; and global protection of the most fundamental social, political and economic human rights.
    There is profound hypocrisy in conservatives demanding that big government “play it safe and quarantine” the courageous souls returning from West Africa “whatever it costs” — yet voice the opposite government response to climate change.
    Conservatives calling for more border control ignore the facts, the historic precedent, science and the fundamental reality that borders can never be effectively sealed. The Maginot Line, the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and the fall of virtually every castle or fortress in history confirms that committed humans, advances in technology and infectious shred the concept of border control.
    Building alliances, respecting the limits of nature and particularly improving the lives of others is the only real long term defense for ensuring our security, retaining our freedoms and sustaining our prosperity.
    Life, liberty and justice for all are fundamental to all human beings, not just Americans. Some cultures and political systems certainly reject and resist such idealism, but ours should not. It’s what made our nation great and it is the only thing that will keep us safe and free.
    Perhaps progressives will get better at spreading these facts and conservatives will get more in touch with reality before 2016.

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