Decisively Indecisive

The foreign policy Internationalist’s creed maintains perpetual focus on process: consensus, political correctness, moral equivalency and reliance on international institutions, a flaccid U.N. being chief among them.  The President clearly subscribes to this school of thought, so enamored with process he appears unaware that when process supplants policy it is by definition shallow, lacking a recognizable center.  Process is a convenient hiding place when the moral center required to define clear policy is absent.  The President is, apparently, also unaware that when timing is crucial the absence of foundational policy and a values based belief system insures inaction, delay and strategic advantage for those who generate crisis and who suffer no such illusions about ‘process’ or ‘international norms’.

Absent from the President’s calculus is the connection between words and actions.  Mubarak, must go followed by no decisive action or support for the demonstrators.  Libya, as well, serves the example; “Kaddafi must go” says the President, weeks pass; no go! 

Saudi Arabia facing the potential of Iranian influence on their border is advised to constrain themselves.  The administration’s view of the seriousness of the Iranian threat has been in question since the campaign as the President opted for engagement without preconditions.  No such nebulous considerations exist for the Saudis who see Iran as their most significant threat.   

The American hostages held by Iran were released as Ronald Regan took the oath of office.  Regan’s policy and intentions were clear and resolute.  The Iranians knew it, feared it and complied.  This idea was lost on President Carter and appears lost to President Obama.  “Yes We Can” has become “maybe, in a couple of weeks, perhaps”, “we’ll have a few meetings and go the U.N.”; homage to process.   In a telling turn of events the ultra conservative Arab League was out ahead of the Obama administration on Libya.  If that does not tell us what we need to know about the execution of U.S. foreign policy we’ve not been paying attention.

Movements in the Arab world could change the face of the Middle East and accrue major impact on international issues for decades to come.  Is there a current, forward looking policy for the region?   Do we know where American support will land?  Have we fully engaged the opposition?  The answer is found in the resolute refusal of Egyptian movement leaders to meet with Secretary Clinton.  We’ve been slapped around by China, Russia, Venezuela and minor despots around the world; now a fledgling democracy movement has up and slapped us around as well.  They, unlike us, have identified their center. 

Ideals we supposedly aspire to are hollow to Egyptians and Libyans and being questioned by others with significant justification.  The President’s Cairo speech is during to dust in their throats.  The Internationalists’ laser like focused on process abandons the idea that policy should be guided by a clear moral center and address national and shared self interest.  Internationalists would prefer to substitute “norms” for self interest.  Internationalists would prefer to eliminate national self interests except of course for their own.  We and many others are in danger to a U.S. foreign policy absent a moral center.  Like it or not, agree on policy or not, when we demonstrate strength consistent with our values the world is a safer, calmer place.    

When aberrant behavior comes with a price, fewer are willing to engage in that manner of behavior.  When U.S. policy is clear and supported by consistent behaviors the engagement of minor players in the “international community” is useful but not determinative.  When we engage it should occur in the context of clear, consistent policy.  It is impossible for the international community to relate to American policy when it appears to be being “made up as we go”?  When the Secretary of State and the President deliver inconsistent messages what is to be made of it?  Inconsistent messages have popped up consistently since the early days of the administration over Afghanistan policy.  The BP oil spill was also absent decisive leadership; domestic indecision is one thing; the world stage is quite another.

In this moment on the world stage we appear capable of making speeches and firing missiles.  Not the stuff visionary foreign policy!