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Hammer and nail, or not
Author: Raine    Date: 05/29/2014 13:15:36

Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.

President Obama, United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., commencement ceremony --- May 28, 2014
Full transcript here. This is far from the first time that this President has mentioned this approach with regard to his foreign policy objectives.
As he has before, Obama warned against rash military action while reserving the option of unilateral force if necessary to defend America. He boasted about winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a key theme of his reelection campaign. He argued that America is not in decline, as he did in his 2012 State of the Union address, and said the U.S. retains an essential global leadership role. America will sometimes enforce use force to defend its values and prevent suffering, he said, but only in partnership with allies and institutions—an echo of his 2011 speech explaining his Libya intervention.
We have not sent boots to Libya, Syria, Egypt and now, Ukraine. The president has always left the door open that depending on the situation, the possibility to send troops is always there.

But he hasn't. And this is not something that is new, not for this President. You wouldn't know it from reading the reactions to this speech.Vox media proclaims: Obama just announced the most anti-war foreign policy doctrine in decades
This was not the first time he had attempted to lay out a foreign policy doctrine, and few expected much more than the usual vague policy mish-mash — when it's year six of your presidency and you still need to explain your doctrine, it's not a great sign that you really have one.

So it was a legitimate surprise when Obama articulated a unified, tightly focused vision of America's role in the world. And while it's not a vision that will thrill many foreign policy hands, including perhaps some of those in his administration, it is the clearest Obama foreign policy doctrine he's made in years: no war, no militarism, no adventurism. With the possible exception of Jimmy Carter's 1977 Notre Dame speech, it may well have been one of the most dovish foreign policy speeches by a sitting US president since Eisenhower.
Interstingly, Eisenhower was quoted in Yesterday's speech.
But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution. Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action, without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required. Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans. As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”
Personally, I have found that the areas where I have been the least satisfied with our President is foreign policy. When I say that, I mean that I view it as 'what the hell is he supposed to do?'-type situation. Is it our responsibility for all the ails of the middle east? Should we be the world police? I prefer a balance between all in and all out. We are witnessing this president drawing down two wars. No matter your opinion about this, it is happening. We aren't going back to no-military-presence in these regions (I find that disappointing, but realities are what they are). Having said all that, this President has been fairly consistent about his militaristic views. It was through his coalition building that we were able to cool the heels of an Iranian invasion.
But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government. And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement, one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force. And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.
Coalition building - it's kinda like community organizing, but on a bigger and global scale.

So why are people seemingly so unhappy about this? Coincidence or not, two days before his speech that has been heralded as a new foreign policy doctrine, Robert Kagan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote:
A majority of Americans may not want to intervene in Syria, do anything serious about Iran or care what happens in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt or Ukraine. They may prefer a minimalist foreign policy in which the United States no longer plays a leading role in the world and leaves others to deal with their own miserable problems. They may want a more narrowly self-interested American policy. In short, they may want what Obama so far has been giving them. But they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to him for giving them what they want.
It appears that Americans aren't quite sure what they want. It is also clear that we are a war weary nation after more than a decade of conflicts. In April, NBC released a poll that said about 50% of all Americans want to see a reduced role in the USA's military affairs around the world.
In a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should dial down its activity in foreign affairs, versus 19 percent who said the country should be more active around the globe. Three in ten respondents said the current level is correct.

That represents a major flip in how Americans view world affairs since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, nearly 4 in ten Americans said they wanted to see more engagement around the world, and just 14 percent said the nation should be less active.

Comparable studies in the mid-1990s found that about a third of Americans believed the U.S. should reduce its foreign policy footprint.
and yet,
Only 38 percent of those polls said they approve of the job Obama is doing handling foreign policy, an all-time low in his presidency. Fifty-three percent disapprove and nine percent say they aren’t sure.
The president made a very important point yesterday. "It is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who’ve sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day. You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Cheers, applause.)

When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq. We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan. Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al-Qaida’s core leadership -- those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks. And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

I don't often write of foreign policy here on this blog, as I feel that it is so fluid and dynamic that I am not informed enough to opine in a way that is consistent. I can say that for better or worse this President has been consistent, and in my opinion that stability is good for our nation and our standing around the world. I stand in the former as I have always been a proponent for a smaller military presence. Call me dovish, but I have been consistent. I believe this President has been as well. It's not like yesterday was something new. It was just a great reminder to those that have chosen not to pay attention.

"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail"


42 comments (Latest Comment: 05/29/2014 21:54:15 by Raine)
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