Educating the President

It is interesting to note that while Americans elect a president based on their perception of what he will do to create jobs and lower taxes, the issues that seem to rise to the surface and demand attention are frequently related to foreign affairs. Witness how in the aftermath of the election there has been considerable focus on what happened in Benghazi nearly three months ago, most recently leading to demands for multiple congressional investigations. The Petraeus/Broadwell scandal also resonates because the general was the proponent of the spectacularly unsuccessful COIN policies in Iraq and Afghanistan who then parlayed his resume into being named Director of the CIA, the principal U.S. instrument for collecting and analyzing foreign intelligence.

And if that weren’t enough, the U.S. appears prepared to provide heavy weapons to the Syrian opposition while the question of whether or not to negotiate with Iran continues to hang in the air, though it will probably be rejected due to the usual domestic political considerations, which means AIPAC. U.S. client Israel is, as always, creating fresh crises obliging Washington to twist like a pretzel to demonstrate its love for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and all his works. Tel Aviv’s latest surprises include initiating a new wave of targeted assassinations and air attacks on Gaza while threatening harsh reprisals including possible “regime change” against the Palestinians if they go ahead to seek observer status at the United Nations at the end of this month. The White House has already put the Palestinians on notice for the U.N. bid while immediately giving a pass to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, describing it as “self-defense.”

So the rest of the world is regularly in your face and it does matter even to those who try to tune it out. For those of us who try to understand the pickle that we are in, the defeat of Mitt Romney has been a victory of sorts as it is always possible for things to get worse. Romney was truly an empty suit on foreign policy and it should be assumed that he would have continued the worst parts of the Obama program while adding some particular enhancements of his own including more money for the Pentagon. His victory would have meant a return of the neocons to the front stage coupled with a more generally aggressive military-based posture overseas which could easily have led to a war with Iran and heightened tension with Russia and China. It would also have resulted in major donors like Sheldon Adelson having a voice in policy formulation relating to the Middle East.

Most of us who seek appropriate foreign and defense policies based on the traditional principles that the government should always serve clearly defined U.S. national interests while avoiding unnecessary interventionism overseas were disappointed at the Obama re-election but can plausibly today, on Thanksgiving day, lift a glass and toast the downfall of Mitt. But we should understand that now the task is to turn up the heat and try to reform Mr. Obama. I would suggest that a seeking-to-be-sane majority attempt to convince the president to alter course in the following ten areas to repair the horrible damage that has been done to the United States through its psychopathic foreign policy over the past eleven years:

  • The war on terror (also known as “overseas contingency operations”) is a pious fiction designed to justify intervention and regime change in Muslim majority countries. It has little to do with actual terror, which is a tactic. The White House should instead understand that not all Islamists are radicals and even radical Islamists are not necessarily terrorists who actually threaten the United States. The United States has a duty to respond effectively to those who wish to harm the American people but it also has to learn to live with political Islam, which will unite in hostility against the U.S. unless the basic perception of who the enemy is can be changed.
  • A transparent, all source loss vs. gain assessment must be made on drone attacks. It is not enough that the Pentagon and CIA assert that they are necessary while the Justice Department says that they are legal. In Pakistan the independent evidence suggests that drones make more new enemies than they succeed in killing and it is also clear that they destabilize the governments where they take place. Their use has been universally condemned by many governments, NGOs, human rights organizations and even by the U.N. but they have nevertheless increased in number under the current administration. Their efficacy as a counter-terrorism tool should be challenged and the government must make a clear case and establish firm guidelines to limit their use if they are to continue. Even better, the U.S. should unilaterally suspend the use of killer drones.
  • Asserting a right to kill people in foreign countries with only limited due process should be examined as part of the assessment of drone attacks, which are the weapons of choice. The constitutionality of killing American citizens overseas without a trial and without a chance to offer a defense should be challenged as a primary issue, but the killing of anyone without transparent judicial process and the justification of imminent threat should be determined to be unacceptable.
  • A realistic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan should be made, but not by going to the generals who will offer a predictable response. Independent observers and non-government sources should be free to describe the situation based on their own on-the-ground experience. Such a study would likely conclude that the attempted nation building is beyond repair and that a settlement that includes the Taliban as a party of government is inevitable, so serious negotiations to that end should become a sine qua non. Continued pledges of support for the corrupt Karzai government should be conditional on genuine reform and efforts to establish good governance.
  • The United States should finally embrace reality regarding Iran. It should openly state that Iran does not currently pose any serious threat to U.S. interests. It should accept that Iran is interested in getting out from under sanctions and Washington should agree to negotiate in good faith to reduce the punishment that is being inflicted commensurate with agreements by Iran to modify some worrisome aspects of its nuclear program, creating a step-by-step process. The threat to intervene military should be taken off the table and Israel should be informed that attacking an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons is not in the U.S. interest and will not be supported or in any way encouraged.
  • Israel should also be informed that its relationship with the United States will henceforth be the same as that maintained with any friendly nation. Annual subsidies for Israeli defense will cease and Washington will no longer damage its own interests by protecting Israel in international venues including the United Nations.
  • The government should admit that humanitarian interventionism under President Obama has not worked any better than preemptive attacks under President George W. Bush. The necessary lesson in that respect has been learned in Libya, which has become ungovernable and a source of weapons for genuine terrorists. Obama should also be encouraged to maintain his reticence over getting more heavily involved in Syria. He should tell Hillary Clinton to stop sermonizing.
  • Obama should recognize that Russia and China will only become actual enemies again if the United States continues to criticize and even intervene in their internal politics by supporting dissidents and democracy-promoting NGOs. The internal politics of any nation, unless there is negative impact on actual U.S. interests, have nothing to do with Washington and should be off limits.
  • End the war on drugs. Forty years is enough for an expensive and lethal program that has not stopped drug trafficking or use and has only destabilized America’s neighbor Mexico to such an extent that it has nearly become a failed state. Work out rational ways to deal with drug use as a medical condition and addiction without criminalizing tens of thousands of small scale offenders.
  • There should be a broad understanding within the government foreign policy team that preemption based on the potential or actual use of force has essentially failed to make Americans safer, has generated new enemies unnecessarily, and has nearly bankrupted the United States. A new foreign policy should be shaped that is commensurate with and responsive to actual U.S. interests worldwide. Large overseas presence in the form of military bases should be eschewed and scaled back in exchange for a less muscular policy that would be cheaper, more welcomed by potential friends overseas, and ultimately capable of making the United States itself more secure.

I am sure that readers can come up with some additional solid suggestions for new and better foreign and defense policies.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.