Wednesday, May 07, 2014

David J. Danelo: Obama's 'Realist' Foreign Policy

David J. Danelo

When David J. Danelo, writing in "The Thin Red Line: Policy Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan" (E-Notes, FPRI, May 2014), referred to Obama's foreign policy as "realist," I stopped skimming the article, read more closely and carefully, and saw that "soft power realism" was meant: "President Obama's foreign policy has been lifted entirely from a soft power realist's playbook." The problem is that states like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria don't believe that soft power will get them what they want -- unless it's America's soft power, which does get them what they want. Not that Danelo is quick to push any military buttons, but here's what he does think:
Great nations do not go to war recklessly, but they do not repeatedly draw rhetorical red lines without consequence. Beyond drone strikes and special operations raids, Obama Administration officials seems to view American military force -- and U.S. hard power in general -- as a necessary evil to be suffered rather than a tool to be prudently employed. In Syria, when the President imposed and removed a red line on chemical weapons, and Ukraine, when he bluntly stated the U.S. would not use direct military action to deter Russian aggression, the President has, in Adam Garfinkle's words, engaged in "gratuitous diplomatic self-mutilation."

Although the President lectures Americans that his Russian counterpart's bullying signifies weakness, eastern Ukraine's instability suggests the opposite. Having lost credibility twice (Syria, Ukraine) from Russian red line diplomatic maneuvering, the Obama Administration must demonstrate through actions, not rhetoric, what red lines it will fight for if crossed. Such a statement may come across as bombastic, but enlightened exploits are as critical to realism as practical restraint. In a multipolar world, such tactics must be part of a realist's policy calculus. Pragmatic choices after considering options represent wisdom; white flags after red lines denote spinelessness. Preserving peace requires preparing, and perhaps even posturing, for war.
Danelo's message is an old one: "If you want peace, prepare for war." In Latin, that's "Si vis pacem, para bellum," and it's said to be a rewording of a statement penned by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus in Book 3 of his tract De Re Militari (4th or 5th century A.D.), not that I know very much about that.

Anyway, I doubt that the Obama administration will change much. Obama doesn't seem to like foreign policy, but sees himself as a domestic policy president instead, in which there are also problems . . .

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At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll take Obama's soft power over Bush's violent regime change any day, especially since I and other US taxpayers are stuck paying the bills for dethroning tyrants and keeping competing factions from killing each other and us while we rebuild all the stuff we bombed. The same chicken hawks who led us into two wars now complain about the debt and tell us we have to give up some of our Social Security and Medicare benefits. No, no, and no, and thankfully, I'm not alone in my sentiments. Americans in general are leery of messy, expensive foreign entanglements.

Missing from national discussions on wars is the opportunity cost. Money spent on soldiers, weapons, and nation building is money not spent here at home on infrastructure, health care, education, and other investments. Paying for healthful food, preventive and vital health care, housing in a safe location with clean air and water is a sure investment that will lengthen my potential lifespan. War is not. If our leaders want my buy-in, they must persuade me that our country is at great risk or that many American lives are at stake. Life on planet Earth is not risk-free and resources that sustain life are not limitless. Smart people weigh choices carefully, keeping in mind the opportunity cost of actions not taken and goods and services not purchased.


At 8:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There's no need to choose between Obama and Bush. That's a non sequitor.

Danelo's main point is that Obama has damaged America's credibility in drawing red lines and then erasing them.

That signals weakness and invites more aggression. Better not to have drawn any red lines at all.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with both of you as Obama has more bark than bite around world events. Republicans do not seem to want to take responsibility for past actions and are fast to jump on "popular" sentiments, i.e. Clive Bundy, abortion rights, LGBT haters, and more, then fight to "clarify" their stance when us poor unintelligent peons raise a ruckus. From my view, neither party is taking a firm stance on the world stage and the USA looks weak because of it.

On a side note, Obama did come to Arkansas on Wednesday and toured the tornado damage in Vilonia.


At 10:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Townsperson: Why should I break my head about the outside world? Let the outside world break its own head . . . .

Tevye: He is right . . .

Perchik: Nonsense. You can't close your eyes to what's happening in the world.

Tevye: He's right.

Rabbi's pupil: He's right, and he's right. They can't both be right!

Tevye: (Pause). You know, you are also right.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, we are actually doing "Fiddler on the Roof" this Fall. Next up though is "Wait Until Dark" and I am playing the bad guy, Roat. Performances will be the first two weekends in June.


At 3:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I admire you for your achievements, Jay, in both business and the arts. I wish I could see one of your performances, but I probably won't unless your group (troupe?) hits the big time! Maybe that will happen . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danelo is right to criticize Obama for drawing red lines he will not defend, but Danelo and I disagree on the solution. He seems to think the red lines were appropriate and the avoidance of using military force the problem whereas I think the problem is drawing red lines that commit us to use military force in conflicts that are not in our vital interests, hence the comparison with Bush, who used unmet ultimatums as justification for invading Iraq.


At 8:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm also glad we didn't get involved in Syria. Putin's realism prevented that, ironically.

Jeffery Hodges

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