Harry C. Blaney III

There is much one can learn from the most recent Trump speech on foreign policy. It is still scary and incredulous that there is no real “there there” with any of Trump’s foreign policy perspectives. This is especially true when he is off his text and speaks what is really in his mind at that moment and it leads him to express ideas that are his own unbalanced perceptions of reality and his worst prejudices. Yes they are often crazy and silly and not least dangerous.

The examples of going off tract and into the realm of “extreme” views is exemplified in much of this speech which was billed as a means to show a serious policy side in the foreign affairs sector. Between a few peremptory statements that were written by his so-called foreign affairs “experts” that in large part were often along the lines of our current policies, much of the speech’s content would make the world a less secure and more dangerous in a host to areas.

Some examples:

His statement that he would institute what he called “extreme interrogations” of Muslim immigrants and visitors to America. Once again, along with building a massive “wall” between the US and Mexico, and clear bigotry against Muslims and even deceased American Muslim war heroes, he sees only what the people at the NRA and the KKK see and this is perhaps more destructive to American democracy, its internal unity, and yes our security globally than almost any other external challenge we face abroad.

On the question of dealing with ISIS, Trump adopted much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the so-called Islamic State. Trump’s outrageous perception of “solutions include in his words: “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in.” Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. All of this is clearly absurd, crude unthought through strategy, and also illegal under international law.

What he has not made clear is whether he would send massive troops into the Middle East conflicts?

One lie was his statement was when he said that he has been right about the Middle East from the start. This is not true, old video and audio clips shown on the
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showed footage against his claim that “I have been an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” as he said in his address at Youngstown State University in Ohio. But The “Morning Joe” video played a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show. At that time he asked Trump if he was for invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The same is true when Trump also contradicted himself on the troop withdrawal or draw down in Iraq.
He said on August 15th: “I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out,” But the record shows he supported pulling out of Iraq in 2007, when he said “You know how they get out? They get out,” Trump told CNN that year. “Declare victory and leave.”

He also prevaricated on Libya. In his speech he said “Libya was stable and President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya,”
But he also he advocated for deposing Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In February 2011, Trump also said in a video filmed in his office that “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. We should go in. We should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”

He has been all over the map on the Middle East and time and time again he has change his position but never admitted it that he was wrong. What this shows is his clear lack of analysis, willing to face hard facts on the ground, and unwilling to accept being wrong. That is dangerous for a president and for our nation’s effective leadership in the world.

Trump repeated his previous policy to continue the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and even fill it with new detainees. He hinted at including, possibly some U.S. citizens. This facility is one of the great weapons that terrorists point to of the evil of America and a recruiting tool for ISIS. Trump does not even acknowledge this and seems to think that water boarding, torture, and mass bombing including killing of civilians is the way to conduct an effective policy in the Middle East. Even worse he has hinted at using atomic weapons. The Obama administration is trying to close Guantanamo via sending current detainees abroad, which he did recently with 15 individuals, and more are planned. But the easy and right answer is to send them to American maximum security prisons and bring them under US laws.

His stands on climate change, NATO’s unity and that of EU, the Iran deal, trade, and dealing with Russia, and on many other issues are the among the most dangerous for a viable and peaceful world and US national security.

In sum, the time has come, given Trump’s own words over time and especially now, for a true deep serious analysis of what Trump might do to American respect and security and indeed just rationality in our vital foreign and national security area.

Some in the media have done this, but in the vast conservative Republican owned mainline media and right wing radio talking heads have done little to challenge Trump’s lies and clearly deranged and unnecessary aggressive statements that have frightened our allies and embolden our adversaries. It is a high risk world where idiocy is our greatest danger. Indeed, we need more debate and even more serious examination in the media of the full range of global challenges and of what our own corrosive politics has done to our global position. Time has come for more public questioning and more attention to the implications of Trump’s policies if we are to achieve a sane and safe world.

We welcome your comments!




In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.



The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.


In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.


We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.

Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.


The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.

On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution,  which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal. 

What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.

Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced.  Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace.  Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups.  Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.

The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.

Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.

Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.

What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.

We welcome your comments!

See our 2016 Campaign coverage




Harry C. Blaney III

Given the recent statements by the Republican presidential candidates none appear to have any new or even relevant answers to the strategic challenges that America faces other than bluster, mass bombing (which kills thousands of innocent woman and children and civilians which is what the terrorist do), and making disparaging remarks about the policies of President Obama. That is frankly not enough for any one who is aspiring to be the leader of the free world and possibly Commander-in-Chief with his fingers on the atomic button.

The debate last GOP debate of 2015on November 16th only reinforced this impression, besides trying to put each other down and making what can only be described as vague and even outrageous remarks on serious national security issues it shows again what light-weights they all are and I do mean nearly all were in the area of foreign policy and national security.

Much of the key part of the debate focused on who would be harshest on ISIS without really a word that would actually provide or seriously outline a true comprehensive realistic and efficacious strategy to deal with the complex threat that is ISIS or the regional landscape.

Trump thinks that banning Muslim believers is a strategy to defeat Islamic radicals in ISIS, most experts believe it has just the opposite effect of increasing the recruitment of more terrorists at home and abroad. This misguided policy is just what ISIS wants. In fact Bakr al- Baghdadi who heads the Islamic State has recently taunted America for not putting troops on the ground so that can be easy targets – in effect Trump is playing to ISIS’s trap. He is just that stupid.

On of the more sane candidate side, by only a small margin, was Jeb Bush who said:

“Well, first of all, we need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force.

We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?”

Bush added as an example of his vague and simpleminded view of the struggle against ISIS: “It is developing a strategy, leading the world, funding it to make sure that we have a military that’s second to none, and doing the job and making sure that we destroy ISIS there. That’s how you keep America safe.” As if this simplicity is a real policy!

Note we already are leading the fight against ISIS, we are already have a military that is second to none (did not Bush already know that?), and “making sure” is a strategy?

This statement proves both points above: namely that he is following Obama’s plan only “more so,” if one can figure out what that means in the end. The one idea that he included which has not yet been adapted is to establish a “no-fly zone” which would require the strong support of Muslim troops on the ground that included both Sunni and Shia forces and, in my view, also UN peacekeepers and much higher levels of refugee support and security than it seems the Republicans are likely to vote for in Congress to help Obama. The “no fly zone” idea is seen by some as an opening wedge to get US combat troops on the ground without saying so. (It does not have to be so however.)

But Trump is not alone in coming up with ideas that are counterproductive and dangerous. What is interesting is that these candidates are all paying to basic fear after the Paris attack and trying to increase that fear among Americans. This includes both pointing to an attack on America and saying over and over that Obama is “weak” on dealing with ISIS. They all think they could do better but when pressed for specific policies they often just repeat what Obama is already in doing — only “more.”

Lets take the case of Sen. Marco Rubio to frighten his GOP audience he said:

what’s important to do is we must deal frontally with this threat of radical Islamists, especially from ISIS. This is the most sophisticated terror group that has ever threatened the world or the United States of America. They are actively recruiting Americans.”

The fact is that terrorist threats in America have decreased rather than increased since 911 and many are “lone wolf” types and small scale. More people die of guns being used daily but the candidates never talk of stopping people from having guns or restrictions on gun ownership or use. Are they really interested in the safety of Americans?

Rubio other misstatement was on the growth of ISIS “We also understand that this is a group that’s growing in its governance of territory.” The fact is that ISIS control over Iraq and parts of Syria have been reduced from their heights (a loss reportedly of some 30-40% of land control in Iraq), and outside Iraq and Syria they are in some places on the run and not least from their deadly terrorism competitor Al Qaeda affiliates in some Islamic nations and attacks by US and allied special forces and bombing.

The other candidate Sen.Ted Cruz with little comprehension evidently of the true complexity of the Middle East, and especially the complex role and differing goals of the many actors in the region, and seems oblivious to the danger of ‘doing stupid things” as Obama put it.

Cruz’s answer to the issue of immigration and the terrorist threat is not quite that of Trump but still exclusionary legislation, he described it this way: “what my legislation would do is suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or Al Qaida control substantial territory.” So those who are most threatened with being killed by ISIS would be excluded from being refugees which are by definition are in danger in their own country. I wonder if he feels the same why about excluding Cubans, like his family, from the United States if they feel they are threaten by the communist party there???? America has almost automatically been welcoming Cubans to America for decades.

Take the sophistication of Cruz’s strategic vision and what he proposes that might be different from what is already taking place on the ground:

“…… ISIS is gaining strength because the perception is that they’re winning. And President Obama fuels that perception. That will change when militants across the globe see that when you join ISIS that you are giving up your life, you are signing your death warrant, and we need a president who is focused on defeating every single ISIS terrorist and protecting the homeland, which should be the first priority.” And Obama is not?

Cruz also said: “What it means is using overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS. To put things in perspective, in the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet bombed them for 36 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.

Right now, Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. It is photo op foreign policy. We need to use overwhelming air power. We need to be arming the Kurds. We need to be fighting and killing ISIS where they are.”

My comment to these remarks is, yes Senator Cruz, and Iraq in 2003 turned out so great with that same strategy. It seems to me that the U.S. strategy includes quite a bit bombing attacks, arming and training of the Kurds and Sunni tribes and Iraqi aremy and seems after time and hard U.S. efforts to be now working. The bombing under Obama has been, as it should under international laws of war, not aimed at civilians. Cruz misses the point that most of the ISIS troops are camped in cities and towns with civilians….and it is our duty to try not to kill them. We are there to save them but when we kill their families they will be supporters of the Islamic State.

One added thought about possible ISIS fighters being afraid of death and our bombing and troops……..Cruz you may not have been reading about so many that have happily joined suicide squads and pledge to die for their cause. And like Trump, Rubio, and Cruz and none of the rest has the wit of getting to some of the fundamental religious, social, political, and historical realities on the ground, which thankfully Obama and Secretary Kerry were and are dealing with under difficult conditions – but not these crazy and clueless ideologues, which is likely the only path towards long term peace and real security for the region.

As for the rest of the lot, none came up with any new ideas or analysis that got to the bottom of real conditions and solutions to ISIS or the larger Middle East conflicts.

As to the media coverage of the debate, it was as vapid as the earlier ones, including those largely on domestic issues…….filled with highly laudatory or banal reviews by the usual right wing pundits and TV and radio commentators….or selected criticism of the “wrong” candidate of the moment and the “right” one of favor.

The questions did not get to the heart of the matter in most cases. The post debate mainline media chat was mostly empty of real insight since many commentators especially on TV and radio were even less knowledgeable than the candidates themselves. There were few real experts on the Middle east or strategic matters asking questions and those that were put on after seemed almost made up of cheering squads and echochambers of the worst kind made up of neocons and Fox News types without hard decades of real field experience. Happily there were some deep and thoughtful commentaries but mostly in the quality press which does not, sadly, reach the mass viewers of broadcast outlets.

Where were the  real reporters? Now we get talking heads and “hosts.” Where were those who have spent decades on the ground in combat zones in the Middle East or North Africa – almost nowhere to be found? Much of the “bought” U.S. media is as much a danger to our democracy as are the GOP candidates. Few challenged clear mistaken facts or shallow understanding, indeed it was as if they were covering a horse race not the would be leaders of the free world. In the world of parachute journalism few have the chance to be on the ground long enough to truly know the terrain. Others are chosen more for their looks or ideology than expertise. I hope future debates are more enlightening.

Finally, you can find many added quotes from the debates and other statements on this blog in the section at the right top.

We welcome comments!!!!!





Harry Blaney III

President Obama gave at the U.N. General Assembly his best speech on America’s role in the world since his Prague Speech at the start of his first term. It gives not only his perspective of the kind of world we face but also his prescription for engagement in that world. It was both bold and cautious. While acknowledging the limits of unilateral American power and the use of force, it did not flinch from accepting America’s responsibility for global leadership and caring about the dangers beyond our borders.

 He outlined in a way few presidents have before and stated, frankly, the challenges of the shifting and still dangerous international environment our nation and the world faces. In particular, he laid out in some detail just what are the problems, constraints and the need to deal with the Syria conflict. He correctly indicated the great creative acts of America after World War II as an example of America’s role in world affairs.

 In addressing his Syria policy, after noting how the criticisms on all sides have had an impact on America decision-making he added, however: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.”

 At the same time he noted that democracy could not be imposed by military force. He said that cooperation in the Middle East and beyond could not be done without the cooperation of the states in the region and their people.

 He shared with us all the problems America faces and cited blodly what the key conundrums before him where:

 “How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?”


 Few leaders have so specifically recognized in public the difficulties of finding just the right option, the most efficacious path, and doing the least harm. But abve all he called for more international cooperation. Despite real doubts about the honesty of the Russians and Syria to truly give up their poison gas, he has decided to try the difficult diplomatic and UN Security Council tract, but also said that if that did not work he was prepared to act in any case.


Another aspect of his speech was the long-term perspective he provided. He said that America was in the Middle East for “the long haul” but his whole view on all the key issues like economic equality, development, dealing with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other foreign affairs problems were long-term subjects needing attention.


The key element in his speech was a cry for the need of real multilateral cooperation and to work with other like minded states to solve a host of global challenges. In this statement was a quiet rebut to Europe, the Arab States, Russia and China. The latter two nations have made the United Nations a weak force to deal with mass killings and other global problems generally.


Some people have raised the questioned if he can actually act to implement his objectives. As if Obama could simply raise his hands and the waters would part. I note especially the op-ed by Maureen Dowd “No Brief Encounter” in the New York Times on September 25th which was filled with nasty half-baked criticism of Obama’s foreign policies. Her op-ed focused narrowly on the so-called hoped for “handshake” between Obama and Iran’s President Rouhani which did not take place. Such myopic perspective seems to be the order of the day rather than recognizing that nothing in global politics is easy or immediately realizable.


The truth is Syria remains a problem with great dangers and complexity and my judgement as a Policy Planner for three Secretaries of State is that the Obama/Kerry/Hagel team, as outlined in Obama’s speech, have in fact maneuvered adroitly in a fast changing unpredictable landscape. They got the Russians to sit down and negotiate (seen by some, wrongly, as a defeat), and have positioned America to act militarily if needed and have started to arm moderate opposition elements, perhaps too slowly in my view. They are opening a high level dialogue with the new Iranian President which is positive and kept their options open. In short, they have proceeded systematically and with care in situations where clarity nor surety exist. Oama himself said this about his problems and approach.

Obama has many obstacles ahead  including Republican intransigence and their indifference to American security or interests. Yet his explicit goals outlined in his two earlier key foreign affairs speeches and before the UN Generally Assembly yesterday, are ambitious but defined and see the world as it is not as we hope it would or should  be. He has gone around Republican “climate deniers” by acting via executive powers to reduce greenhouse gasses. He has taken the pivot to Asia and started a key dialogue with China, has is pushing Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific trade pacts, and he has sent Secretary Kerry, a most able diplomatic warrior, to take on the formidable task pushing for a Middle East peace agreement despite the odds. The final results on Syria are yet months, if not years ahead, but who has so far had a better and more careful plan than Obama?  Yes, more can be done but with higher risks?

In sum, with this speech there could not be more clarity on Obama’s foreign affairs agenda. With both his past accomplishments and now new efforts, all indicate he will not be sitting back waiting for his critics to pounce on either his inaction or action. He will try to do the things that will help our security and address key global challenges but knows the constraints and the imperatives. Better for us all.

We welcome your comments!

Syria : What Should We Be Doing Now?

As we have argued earlier, there is an urgent and vital need for the “Friends of Syria” and our allies in the region to start thinking of how to contain the sectarian violence that is already taking place, but which will likely escalate with the fall of Assad.  The best hope is a series of action which needs to be initiated immediately, which includes establishing a robust Peace Keeping/Peacemaking/ Mediation force to prevent mass slaughter and revenge killings. If this can’t be created by the U.N. then it must be part of a “coalition of the willing” made up of both NATO nations and Arab League and Islamic nations. For this to be up and ready to act swiftly, such a force needs to be mobilized and trained and given strong mandates. A reconciliation and diplomatic mission of experts and diplomats needs to also be created in order to work with the still inchoate Syrian Opposition governance leaders.

This effort will likely need strong American and EU backing as well as help from Turkey, which so far has been lagging in seeing the dangers on its borders and acknowledging that this is time for a “full court” press and the alternative is the spread of sectarian violence throughout the Middle East from Jordan and Lebanon to Iran and beyond.

The other “pillar” of bringing a measure of security to this region would be the creation of a massive development effort for the region with a focus on Syria, but others as well. The focus would aim towards correcting the destruction of Syrian infrastructure, but also at putting to work the youth of Syria to unify the nation toward rebuilding as we did in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War, but by using the resources of Middle east nations, Japan, the EU and America. This will be a hard lift with the continued global economic downturn but the cost of not doing so would, in the end, be much more horrific.

Lastly, the Syrian Opposition groups and their imperfect governance organization need added help and reinforcement with the direct involvement of Syrian “technocrats” of all sectors of the population.  They also need assistance in keeping in place the reforms of many existing institutions like the national bank, transportation, health, education, police and courts, and other ministries.  This means lots of hands (and eyes) on the ground to ensure that chaos and mass slaughter does not overwhelm reconciliation and rebirth.

In sum, the time is now to alter our reluctance to take a lead in shaping the landscape of Syria and nearby states and helping to contain the spread of a devastating sectarian conflict, which is a disaster for all.

Heritage Foundation – More Nonsense on Obama’s Foreign Policy

obama oval office
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Oval Office, March 1, 2013. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken listen at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Heritage Foundation is holding in mid-March a meeting with the improbably, but typical title “U.S. Foreign Policy Adrift.”  You can easily guess what that is all about and the following quote from their announcement tells it all:

“Even before taking office, President Obama began laying out in his public statements the tenets of a doctrine, that if enacted, would enable his Administration to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.  These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.  Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.”

If you are wondering if this meeting might be a worthwhile way to spend your time, my suggestion is that you can skip it as it is the same old cold war mongering, “war party,” and neo-con claptrap.

But, what is interesting is that Heritage has clearly not done any thinking about the significant changes to the geopolitical and security landscape of the last forty years. They are playing the same old tune now as if the Soviet Union had never gone away. Remember, it was their blind clamoring for irresponsible war in Iraq with tragic consequences for all. They are now still selling war, more war and yet more war. Now it is Iran, North Korea, and we know not what may be next?

Let’s for the fun of it look at each of their key statements above:

The first silly statement is that: The Obama “Administration [wants] to remake America as one nation among many, with no singular claim either to responsibility or exceptionalism.”  They use the word “responsibility” as if going to war unilaterally was a legitimate “responsibility.” The use of this word is an effort to legitimatize what is really irresponsible and dangerous behavior of America, which has proven costly and counterproductive in the global arena.

Obama’s approach, which has clearly increased American true responsibility and leverage in the world in the past four years, is to try to work with others on common goals and solutions.  Its objective is specifically to do so in ways that does not foolishly commence massive unilateral military intervention and expand conflicts and the consequences of casualties both of our own and of civilians – it is in my words trying early “collective preventive diplomacy.”  It is diplomats and international organizations and allies on the ground rather than American boots as a preferred option. This is ‘smart power’ not “stupid power.” It does not mean a “never” on the use of military force as Obama has made clear. The Libyan intervention was a good example of this new multilateral approach, with our help especially in taking out Gadaffi’s air arm and defense capabilities and helping our NATO and other allies with logistics and intelligence…..with few U.S. military on the ground.  Our allies carried out the bulk of our military action both in the air and on the ground.

The second silly and even dangerous statement is: “These tenets include a more humble engagement with the world and more reliance on others as well as treaties and international organizations to deal with global crises and threats to U.S. security.” This is an insidious effort to equate cooperation with and in international organizations or cooperation with our allies by getting their participation as a sign of weakness.   It is clearly just the opposite. The irony is that GOP Congressional types have long criticized our allies for not carrying more of the defense burden, but now that Obama has succeeded in forming coalitions of others to work with us, they see it as a “weakness.” Hypocrisy is probably the right word for this. In fact, this is an added strength for American leadership, which as the military uses the word, is a “force multiplier.”  This clearly is not a concept the right wing security types know much about.  

Finally, their statement that: “Nevertheless, in the past four years the world has hardly become more stable or less dangerous: Al-Qaeda connected terrorism is commence the rise, the Middle East is in chaos, North Korea remains openly defiant, and Russia and China challenge the U.S at every turn.” 

Here lies, more lies, and dammed lies are in this statement.  Before Obama took office we were engaged in two costly and long-standing wars. One of “choice,” that was a total disaster in Iraq. The other was dragging on in the incompetence of the Bush II administration for more than a decade and will now largely end in 2014. We had not yet gotten neither Bin Laden nor his network and lost the chance to kill Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains at the start of the war by committing troops to Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan where the 911 terrorism leadership was based. Obama developed a new approach in Afghanistan that included going after the Al-Qaeda’s network with much success to where it has been on the run and in disarray rather than on “the rise.” The Middle East was in trouble for decades and the new changes were inevitable and the outcomes still uncertain and the spark of democracy in some countries still newly alive. Obama’s administration is in fact highly involved in this as exemplified in the recent trip by Secretary Kerry to the region, taking with him new initiatives and policies.  

As for North Korea, China and Russia these have been challenges for decades, including in the 1970s under Henry Kissinger when I worked on his Policy Planning Staff.  At least Kissinger reached out to China and established relations and thus opened the path to real dialogue and some cooperation. China under Obama has been helping us on a recent vote on Syria and now on support in the Security Council on North Korea. Russia agreed with Obama on the New START treaty, voted for action in Libya, permits us to transit into Afghanistan, and cooperates both on terrorism issues and we hope on Iranian nuclear problems. Both China and Russia have been “problems” for decades (see our earlier blogs), but the Heritage types do not say that Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Bush I and II were “weak” on American leadership.      

In sum, let’s see the world as it is, note that intractable problems won’t be solved by more wars, and that “preventive diplomacy,” peacemaking, and creative multilateral cooperation are signs that “smart” power is back in the White House. Challenges will persist, even beyond the Obama years one can bet, but we are not in a more dangerous world for working on these dangers creatively and with care rather than trying to blindly bomb them. 

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!

The Second Debate: Cheap Shots and Evasions

Photo belongs to ABC News

I sat last night to hear the “town hall” type debate and personally focused on some of the foreign policy issues which surprisingly were asked by the citizen participants.


One of the questions was about the security issues that resulted in the attack on our mission in Benghazi in Libya.  As a former diplomat who focused on the threat of terrorist attacks against our missions and personnel abroad for part of my career, I was outraged and saddened at Gov. Romney’s political attacks again. I chaired a committee of the American Foreign Service Association focused on these very questions.  With this perspective, I was appalled that Gov. Romney tried to use a tragic situation for cheap political gain. It brings into question his fitness to be a responsible president and “Commander-in-chief.”

This was not the first time he used this subject in order divert attention from his dismissal of 47% of our citizens and to undermine the existing approval of American citizens in Obama leadership abroad. Yet, he added little of our understanding of America’s role in the region. 

Further, I want all to know that decisions about security in a particular embassy or mission is NOT normally taken to the President – not even many times to the Secretary of State. I worked for several secretaries of state as a policy planner and also in the White House and have some concept of the chain of information and decision-making in this area.

President Obama made a courageous decision to take responsibility for a decision and situation for which he had no direct involvement and was not at the presidential level before the attack. He did, however, act afterwards in directing an investigation, increasing the security in our missions in the area, and put forth finding and punishing the attackers.

There are serious issues concerning our goals, policies, and activities to deal with the Arab Spring, unrest in the region, and helping in the building of decent governments while seeking peace in the region. Romney gave us not a single bit of new insight regarding his specific different actions from what Obama is already doing. In fact, Obama has carried out a wide range of useful actions and policies from the start of his administration. Reaching out to the Muslim world along with rebuilding our trust in the region (after the disasters of the Bush administration) help us deal with Iran and creates cooperation on other issues in the region. Obama, in fact, built a measure of trust and dialogue where only antagonism existed due to our previous policies.

The exploiting of this serious, tragic, difficult, and still not clear situation instead of a more broad debate on major policies was unfortunate. I hope the next debate will add and not detract from that goal rather than making it into a leaver against a president who was and is still acting with concern and responsibility. It was an effort to divert attention from Romney’s clear void of foreign policy depth.  Yes, it was a cheap shot and beneath anyone running for president.