First, do no harm
Democrats and Republicans alike are, if polls are to be believed, linked in their unhappiness with the foreign policy of President Obama. Only unreconstructed Cheney-Rumsfeld armchair hawks, however, seem certain about what should be done, which would involve parachuting into the problem area of the day with guns blazing. That this strategy failed in Iraq is of no consequence to the Pax Americana crowd whose ideological fantasies are untroubled by real-world realities.
Those who reside in the real world, however, know that the foreign policy issues confronting America today are maddeningly complex, and the players do not fit into Cold War-era stereotypes of good guys and villains. Few actions by America are devoid of risk, and all could trigger the law of unintended consequences, a law that has manifested itself all over Iraq and Afghanistan and will for many years. This is frustrating to those who still see the United States as the world’s remaining "superpower," obligated and entitled by manifest destiny to wade in and sort out the world’s problems, leaving behind governments constructed in America’s image.
In acknowledgment of the world’s complexities and its own economic struggles and post-Iraq uncertainties, the United States is today obligated to follow the dictum of the physician: "First, do no harm." This appears to be what motivates President Obama’s foreign policy, and it won’t win him any statues -- or any praise for that matter. This philosophy may, however, avert another disaster that costs America too many lives, torn limbs, ruined minds and tax dollars.
The Ukraine crisis has moved off the front pages without President Obama doing anything rash in reaction to critics who reduced the complex conflict to a macho duel between Mr. Obama and Vladimir Putin. This is not a pro wrestling match but an ages-old regional battle, one that Mr. Putin may be sorry he stirred up.
The brutal murders of innocent Palestinian and Israeli teenagers have sent the rockets flying once more, and is there anyone who seriously thinks that Barack Obama should be the president who finds the recipe for peace there that has eluded presidents and their secretaries of state for decades? John Kerry gave it a shot and the world shrugged and waited for the inevitable. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will come when they are ready for it -- meaning, no time soon.
The difference between Shiites and Sunnis was lost on many -- including the Bush administration -- when the U.S. blundered into Iraq, but that ancient conflict fuels much of the region’s turmoil. Complicating it further is the fight looming between the secular Sunnis now united in an uneasy alliance with the radical Sunnis who have declared an Islamic caliphate in a portion of Iraq. Who is the White House supposed to support in this vicious three-sided conflict that will jeopardize not only what is left of Iraq but its neighbors?
The administration and Congress should support forces of moderation, if there are any, with military advisers and assistance, place sanctions against trouble-makers like Russia and Syria, and help the poor, the elderly, children and others caught up in maelstroms not of their making. It isn’t glamorous, and the hawks living pre-Vietnam fantasies won’t be happy, but there are limits to what America can do about the world’s problems -- especially when many of those problems are based in hatreds and prejudices that pre-date America.
~ Berkshire Eagle
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