Ask the average American what they know about foreign policy, and they might answer that it is how one nation conducts itself with other nation, and probably won’t have anything more to say. Historically, the American people have been far more concerned with domestic issues, and outright against activity in foreign affairs. The prominence of isolationism in the country’s formative years let ideas like “Manifest Destiny” and American industry flourish as Americans focused on “making” themselves rather than distant debacles. Without centuries of culture and heritage, American nationalism took shape as pride, reverence, and zeal for freedom and democracy. The years after World War II showed a drastic change in U.S Foreign policy during the “Cold War.”
As words like “Defending freedom and democracy” echo from one century to the next, The United States has conducted numerous obfuscated and direct actions in countries all over the world, with the previous statement being the primary argument for intervention. Marking the changes, the United States was forced to confront the Soviet Union in an absolute clash of ideologies in a fight for global influence. Quoting Henry Kissinger, “The superpowers often behave like two heavily armed blind men feeling their way around a room, each believing himself in mortal peril from the other, whom he assumes to have perfect vision.” During and beyond the days of the Cold War, the United States has undoubtedly tangled itself in international conflicts. Cuba, Panama, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Grenada to name a few. Taking a look at The Art of War and Francisco De Vitoria’s idea of Just War might make one question the justification of these interventions. I find it interesting that the writings of the founder of the School of Salamanca seem to be ignored in a government littered with law degrees.
Indeed foreign policy is how one nation conducts itself with another. It changes like a strike of lightning, with the thunderous clash of nations, while it is also whispers of passive renforcement and deliberate support. It is often not an interpretation of international law, but a dialectic of what ought to be. The complexities of foreign policy could only be conveyed in a hefty tome, still never doing justice to the unpredictable nature of people. The formation of foreign policy is a stew of sciences, but is often based on personal judgments rather than statistics in the case of international crisis.
Since Obama’s inauguration he has faced some extraordinary foreign policy decisions. The president is no doubt responsible for a majority of the nation’s foreign policy, backed by the power of the U.S State Department, and of course John Kerry, who is currently the Secretary of State. The president is responsible for diplomatic relations with other national leaders. Such power is given and justified by the fact that the legislature could never react quickly enough to something such as the Cuban missile crisis, as they rarely agree or work with any speed. The initial statements in first paragraph of this article are exactly the kind of information that decisions in foreign policy may be made from, as there is often little time in crisis for a scientific inquiry, or empirical evidence. Obama inherited a great military blunder, left with a shattered Iraq and a country angrily opposed to war, He is forced to “make do” with the situation created by the presidents before him. A president does what he or she can do to effectively implement their foreign policy. Long term goals, reasonable or not are rarely achieved, for all efforts may dissolve like the president’s cabinet upon the end of his or her term, perhaps undone by the next president.
Obama is credited with the killing Osama Bin Laden, ending the war in Iraq, expanding the “War on Terror” to nations like Yemen and Mali, and increasing the use of drone warfare to name a few of his actions. His administration’s greatest achievement hangs in the balance, and this of course is the U.S-Iran Nuclear deal. Iran claims its enriched uranium is solely for peaceful purposes, like selling it to nations that use nuclear energy. Highly enriched uranium isotope 235 is of course the main ingredient required for fission, along with the less popular and more expensive plutonium. Of course it would still prove useful in a “dirty” bomb. The fear and cause for negotiation is the theory that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. This deal will not end the rocky relations between nations, but a serious blow, or merit to the president’s legacy is up in the air. In the waning years of his presidency, the pressure is on to make a lasting impression.
As previously stated, foreign policy is extraordinarily complex, and I will make an example of one of Obama’s foreign policy decisions. Faced with American the anti-war sentiment, Obama has increased the use of drone strikes, largely targeting members of Boko-Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and other fundamentalist “Jihadi” groups. This has faced significant backlash, with collateral damage and civilian deaths being the cause. In my opinion the horror of war has been forgotten as people cry out against the evolution of warfare. Shall our enemies face the bullet or the missile? Shall we again put “boots on the ground” to attack the groups that claim we are infidels worthy of a hasty death? It’s clear that Americans are against deploying troops with the ending of one of the longest wars in American history. However, I would also argue a vast majority of Americans oppose the actions of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, and also believe that the atrocities they commit are inhumane and should be stopped. The president has many things to consider, foreign policy being one of his many duties. Any decision made in government and foreign policy will always leave someone angry and dissatisfied, thus there can be no complete success. But, idleness in the face of these threats is unjust under the premise of potential and occasional collateral damage, and will only let these threats grow stronger. A cannon ball may have struck a home in the village of Waterloo, just as shrapnel may kill a civilian in Afghanistan. However Napoleon did not have the CIA and an armed, unmanned aircraft able to strike with extreme precision. Even the most the most precise and advanced military strikes are not immune to collateral damage. However the president has acted to protect Americans from those who have pledged to destroy the United States. I am not claiming this should be the way of things, most people, myself included would advocate for peace, that there be no civilians killed by a stray cannonballs or drone strikes. To again quote the arguably evil soothsayer Henry Kissinger, “No foreign policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”
The president fights the aftermath of previous failures while making at attempt at the progression of American foreign policy, and aims to make a truly historic mark with open negotiations with Iran. But let us not forget the failure of the Treaty of Versailles. Congress is not obligated to ratify any treaty made by the president, and this carefully crafted deal may be axed by a critical congress, or a “hawkish” Republican president. This is one significant flaw in the formation of American policy. If a president wishes for long term goals in regards to foreign policy, he or she may do so in vain, for they will likely not be propagated by the next president, and progress is limited. With only a brief introduction to Obama’s dealing in foreign policy, the weight may be felt, and in regards to foreign policy, the only thing that is certain is nothing is certain.
This article was written by Carson Bolter, a writer for dusk magazine.