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Editor’s Note: I typically tend to avoid overtly political and partisan articles on the World Human Rights blog, as I have said many times human rights should not be partisan issues and are far more important than political views. However I at times feel the need to discuss such issues and take a stand on such debates. I think this is a critical time in foreign policy issues and I think such issues need to be more widely discussed. I refuse to stay silent with a world seemingly increasingly more fractured, violent, and suffering with hardships. Now is the time for bold action and renewed attempts at diplomacy. We mustn’t give up as a nation and as individuals no matter how difficult things get; as the world needs us now more than any other time since WWII.
There have been several foreign policy experts, amateurs, and bloggers who have tried to analyze and categorize Obama’s foreign policy philosophy. They have both praised him and condemned him. Some have congratulated him for the turning away from the Bush Doctrine of preemption and militarism and others have ruthlessly condemned him for doing so. The thing all the opinion writers have in common is they are bias towards seeing Obama’s handling of foreign policy through their own philosophies and opinions on foreign policy. It is very difficult to see things in a completely objective way when dealing with issues so serious and often dealing with literally life and death decisions.
From my own experience and observation I have seen few things that ignite as much passion both great and terrible as foreign policy issues. It makes perfect sense being it touches on the most basic of our instincts of survival, fear, anger, power, and selfishness. It also touches on our most evolved of human emotions and knowledge; our values, morals, and ethics. We may be the most evolved in our questioning the rightness and wrongness of our thoughts, words, and actions when speaking of all living things on earth, but we are motivated by our instincts more than most of us realize. Many times what causes us to finally make a decision is based on gut instinct and intuition. In other words our ability to reason and have complex ethical and moral reasoning may be very evolved but we’re still creatures of habit and instinct just the same.
The thing that separates hawks from doves is I believe primarily our values and ethical belief systems. I believe at its heart in spite of the appearance at times, political considerations are almost always secondary. As an example lets take George W. Bush; he may have been a politician as much as any other, but it was his moral beliefs, ethical viewpoints, views on justice, and personality that drove his foreign policy decisions. Bush tended to see everything in either black or white, there was not a lot of gray in his moral beliefs and ethical viewpoints. You, as he famously or infamously said depending on your world-view, were either with us or against us. You were either among the “good Nations” of the earth or you were part of the “axis of evil”. You were either a good man or an evil man. You were either a hawk or a dove. A liberal or conservative. A patriot or a traitor. Loyalty was very paramount in support of him and his policies. He took to heart the old parable of evil can only continue to exist in the world when good people do nothing. He firmly believed America had a moral duty to bring evil regimes down and to “bring democracy” to people. It was not just an ethical philosophy to him but he saw himself as ordained by God to lead the Nation during that time.
With President Obama in spite of what conservative critics say Obama’s foreign policy is also rooted in his moral and ethical views. Not his deep “leftist” ideology as some of his critics suggest. Obama’s faith, also in spite of his conservative critics, also deeply motivates him. Unlike Bush I don’t believe Obama sees himself as ordained by God to lead the Country during this time. He instead sees himself as chosen by the people by popular vote. He does however I believe feel blessed and sustained by God. Once again in spite of conservative critics, Obama compared to most politicians is typically a humble man. Obama sees every person as a child of the same creator. He believes in good and evil but he sees it in a realistic way. He sees degrees of good and evil and people as being flawed and imperfect human beings. He has the wisdom to learn from all people even his enemies, and he pushes himself to look for the good each person has to offer. He believes very much so in the parables of being your brother’s keeper, loving your neighbor, and caring for the widowed and orphaned (the less fortunate). These aren’t just ideal concepts to Obama but actual deep convictions of his. He often has put into practice these beliefs in policies he has supported during his administration. He believes it is humanities moral duty to seek peace and help one another.
For someone like myself who is no longer a person of faith I do not see this as threatening as a non-believer. I see many of the principles he supports in foreign policy as being very much in line with my own secular, ethical, and moral views. I have and continue to be critical of the over-reliance on drone strikes, assassination orders rather than capture and prosecution of terrorist, his increasing the powers within the NSA and other security and federal police agencies over American’s and other’s lives, his continuing the war in Afghanistan (all though I do support a residual of strictly peace keeping troops, training and intelligence analysis officials, and continued aid to the Country), and his failure to do more to end the Syrian crises. I see all that as contrary to my values. I do not feel the least bit uncomfortable in the President’s belief in the creator however and him being comforted in the beliefs that arise from that. In the end we share a common humanity and have common views on humanity; although I feel some of the President’s actions and policies have been inhumane. Though I support his policies overall much more than I oppose them.
Now while his values may be the basis for his views, when you get into specifics of actual foreign policy questions, it becomes more complicated to understanding Obama’s perspective. President Obama typically seeks the most peaceful and light footprint approach as possible to handling foreign policy issues. I think Obama is very much aware of the cost in blood and treasure wars like Vietnam and Iraq can require. I think he is painfully aware of the cost to the Country losing so many of its young people bogged down in a seemingly endless war with no hope of a resolution or any lasting gains. I also think he is aware of the historical lesson of other civilizations of what happens when empires spread themselves thin and get involved in too many foreign entanglements at once. This happened with Rome and its over-expansion of its empire, mismanagement, internal divisions/strife, and fighting battles on too many fronts; spreading itself thin allowing Rome’s enemies to gain the upper hand. A smaller example of this has happened with the United States attempt to continue to maintain its overwhelming dominance in international affairs, political deadlock, economic problems, citizen dissatisfaction and increasing anger over things, the engaging in the longest U.S. war ever in Afghanistan and the risk of losing all our gains in Iraq.
President Obama is much more diplomatically oriented than militarily oriented. I see this as a welcome and needed change. I refer to the President as the Diplomat-in-chief rather than the President’s traditional role as Commander-in-chief. Some are looking for a commander, but I am perfectly happy with a diplomat. I see diplomacy as being absolutely critical in all the world’s hardships and crises today. The fact is Obama has proven himself willing to use force when necessary, but almost always seeks a diplomatic path first. Some may fault him for staying the course on the search for the diplomatic path too long and being too hesitant to use force. The fact remains however this careful and deliberate tendency has prevented us becoming too entangled in foreign affairs, kept us largely out of many conflicts, and allowed positive things to take place that would not have been possible if the President acted in a more aggressive way. One example of the latter is the ridding Syria of chemical weapons which was a major accomplishment; this could not likely have happened had we went full force militarily into Syria as we did Iraq. The downside to this sometimes overly cautious and hesitant approach is things have been allowed to spiral further outside our ability to deal with them. Had we acted more proactively, not preemptively mind you, I believe some of the events today could have been prevented or minimized the harmed they caused. This may be a tough truth for the Obama administration to swallow, but I think if they are honest they can not deny this to be the case.
I think Obama is more than anything an idealistic pragmatist. That may seem as an oxymoron, but what it really means is he is an idealist at heart and a pragmatist in practice. I too think his winning the Nobel Peace Prize causes him to not want his legacy to be one of a wartime President and increasing international divisions; however fate being cruel that is exactly what happened. President Obama I have noticed is always trying to speak to the concerns of all parties in situations and points of friction. Some see this as being an inauthentic yes man and trying to be everyone’s friend, but I see it as showing someone who tries to see the situation or debate from another’s perspective. I see it as someone who very carefully and analytically considers things before making his mind up for sure. Sometimes this works against him when he doubts his gut and second guesses himself, takes too long to respond to an urgent matter, and gives his critics more political ammunition to use against him. Overall though I believe this trait has led to much more rational and forward thinking decisions than his predecessor regarding foreign policy. I see his pragmatism as veering too much off course of his ideals and values at times, but overall pragmatism has allowed him to carry through policies he could not do so otherwise.
President Obama is much more a believer in the carrot than the stick. In other words he believes persuasion and ethical bribes is more effective of getting the results you’re seeking rather than the use of force to try to impose your will on others. The original reference was referring to two ways to get a stubborn donkey to walk forward, the term appeared shortly after the civil war. One is holding a carrot on a stick in front of a donkey to get him to walk towards the carrot thus bribing him with a reward for good behavior or hitting him with a stick to punish him for not continuing to move forward. The former is obviously more humane and likely even more effective in the long run. The donkey will not only move forward, he will trust you more in the future and be more willing to follow your lead. The stick will only cause him to move forward because of fear and trying to avoid pain; he will never trust you though, be less willing to mind in the future, and it is inhumane to the donkey. People are obviously much more emotionally complex than the donkey but it is a good metaphor for ways in dealing with diplomacy and foreign policy. The stick has been far too emphasized in the past in foreign policy, I am glad someone finally is in office who makes much more use of the carrot.
This all said I still wish he would be more actively involved in the Syrian crises regarding refugees and displaced persons and helping provide a supportive role to moderates trying to protect the Syrian people from Assad’s regime and the extremist factions. I still wish he would do more to help the minority groups within Iraq being persecuted, harmed, and killed. I still wish he would double up his effort in the Israel/Palestine peace process. I wish he would be much more forceful in his condemnation of war crimes and human rights abuses occurring the world. I wish he would call out tyrants for their crimes against humanity, human rights abuses, and restricting liberty and democracy. Lastly I wish he would reach out to the developing world more and keep more in friendly contact with our allies. I realize all that is a tall order, but I believe all that is required to attempt to be a force for good and to restore our credibility in the world. He has done some of all of that but I believe he needs to excerpt more effort in those things now more than ever before.
The fact remains even if FDR, JFK, or Reagan were President today, given the domestic and international conditions there is no way they would have had near the favorability they enjoyed during their Presidency. FDR would not have a congress willing to sign-off on his New Deal, JFK’s legacy would be forever tarnished by 24 hour “got you” media, and Reagan couldn’t have even rallied his own party to support his proposals. I believe history will judge Bush harshly but will be more forgiving of Obama and see him as a pragmatic idealist who tried to make the world better but was plagued by constant external burdens. I have criticized President Obama a number of times on certain things and am disappointed he is not the socialist the Tea Party said he was; but the fact remains he has made a lot of accomplishments both domestically and internationally. This all in spite of a very hostile time, current state of affairs, and world.
In the end I think many of his supporters will say something similar to: “You know Obama when he came to office we expected him to change things and he did just that. He wasn’t all we had hoped for, but he did change some things for the better. Though in fairness the Country was such a mess when he came to office we were looking for someone far greater than any one man could live up to. He brought more equality to our nation, he brought some people on the margins of society into the wider social fabric, he helped create a healthier Nation, he spoke up for the refugees and immigrants in the world, for the impoverished and marginalized, and in spite of his overseeing much conflict he was always trying to bring some peace to the world. Sure he was not perfect, but looking back he was the right man for the time and accomplished much more than most people give him credit for.”
Wishing for more peace and stability in the world,
Alan Curtis Montgomery
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