Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Consistent Foreign Policy

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 7, 2011.

My brother Gordon and I agree on one point in his column. I do see the views he expressed as a change of stripes and inconsistent with his past views. If he keeps those isolationist views – opposing military action for ethical reasons – when a Republican occupies the White House, I’ll withdraw my criticism and welcome him to the world occupied heretofore by my liberal colleagues and myself. I suspect that there will be a shift, though, back to the familiar trappings of Bush doctrine preemptive war to further American interests with little concern for issues of human rights, justice or international law.

Gordon isn’t alone, though, in departures of this type since a Democrat was elected as the leader of the free world. Conservatives who used to characterize those who would criticize the policies of George W. Bush as unpatriotic, are spewing personal vitriol on a daily basis at Barack Obama. A Democratic Congressman would have been crucified for the disrespect of shouting “you lie” as Bush addressed a joint session. A political pundit would not have been so cavalier as to hurl a derogatory term at the President of United States on national television; a term more likely to be reserved for conversation at a local bar. That has been the transformation from civility and I can only hope it returns once the power shifts to a party of favor.

Of course there is blatant hypocrisy. Gordon was never critical of Bush’s combative tone when dealing with a Democratic Congress. I never heard him judge the casual attitude with which Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the rest of the administration discussed the deployment of America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way. I’m glad to see new concern for the expense of life and treasure we invest in military intervention around the globe. I just hope it is genuine and not a knee-jerk reaction to the policies of the “other” team.

I did advocate the United States’ involvement in the NATO operation in Libya. From everything I could see, the danger of a dictator mowing down his own citizens was a destabilizing element in the region. I am concerned about the political consequences of skirting the War Powers Act and the fallout that might bring. However, there has been considerable legal coverage and Obama has been meeting with a legal team for months before and after the 90-day deadline to ensure he was on firm ground. Do I believe that settles the debate over the constitutionality of the action? No. Do I believe that there will be those who will use the lack of formal approval as ammunition? I do.

Gordon’s reference to a socialist blog that discusses specific clandestine missions in the region, at the same time he claims that Obama is reluctant to get involved in similar situations to Libya’s, is really irrelevant. The United States military and the arms of its intelligence organizations have historically and continually engaged in covert missions. These missions by their very definition are secret and have a close circle of officials who are privy to that information. These operations are often reviewed by congressional committees charged with security, defense and intelligence, but they are not brought to Congress for its approval.

I have been concerned with our recent and frequent use of drones and other unmanned weaponry that allows us to execute brutal warfare with precision, and also with the comfort and relative coldness of distance. We had been engaging terrorists and assassinating key personnel constantly during the Bush administration, and are continuing through Obama’s. The CIA operations on the ground in Pakistan were instrumental in the execution of the Osama bin Laden Navy Seal mission. I have severe reservations about much of this and do not support many of the missions in which our men and women engage, but it is consistent with United States military policy.

There were differences in the circumstances of Libya that made action to prevent further killing of protesting civilians a viable solution, when similar action elsewhere was not. The NATO operation had the support of the United Nations, and Arab nations in the region were giving it a nod. A strong coalition of nations signed on to help impose and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. There were both international and U.S. interests at stake.

Also, despite the implication by my fellow columnist that the Obama administration rejected the interests of Israel (June 9, 2011, Broader View Weekly), Obama respected Israel’s wishes by not acting in Syria. The chaos of regime change in Syria could destabilize Lebanon and threaten Israel. Therefore Israel has been urging caution. For better or worse (more often worse, I fear) the United States and Israel have their wagons hitched together.

I think we need to reevaluate our military involvements. I think we should view each mission through lenses that account for ethical concerns as well as those of justice and international law. Our policies should be consistent, which would also be comforting to other nations who share our interests, and not bend to the winds of party politics.

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