Time To Dump The Baby—And The Bathwater

Monday, October 31, 2016

The premise that the current foreign policy’s major features (e.g., Iran deal, tergiversation regarding ISIS, etc.) are peculiar to the Obama administration is mistaken. In fact, these policies are manifestations or extrapolations of attitudes longstanding and pervasive among U.S. policymakers of both parties. As such, they are sure to transcend Obama. They will characterize U.S. foreign policy unless and until these officials, academics, and media figures are replaced by persons with different mentalities.

Obama’s “Iran deal” makes explicit what, implicitly, has been the core of U.S. policy toward Iran for over a quarter century, namely: the U.S. would neither undertake whatever economic or military measures might be necessary to preclude Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, nor would it do whatever might be necessary to change Iran’s regime or even to isolate it. Protestations notwithstanding, none of Obama’s many critics is advocating any measures that would keep Iran non-nuclear or change its regime. Releasing Iran’s frozen funds, facilitating trade, etc. adds big carrots to a longstanding policy of small sticks.

The restraints that the Obama administration has placed on Israel’s reaction to the peril of Iran’s nuclear program are very much in line with the Bush team’s shutdown of Israel’s military effort in Lebanon in 2006, and even with the Reagan administration’s rescue of the PLO in Lebanon 1982 and its punishment of Israel for striking Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981. These restraints have flowed from the increasing influence of anti-Israeli (part of broader anti-Western) sentiments within America’s bipartisan ruling class. This too is continuing and growing.

Although Obama’s unwillingness to send large numbers of U.S. troops against ISIS differs quantitatively from his predecessor’s commitment of the U.S. armed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, it is precisely the same with regard to the essential element policy, namely: Like Bush’s team, Obama’s is intellectually and morally incapable of identifying an enemy whose destruction would achieve peace, and then of destroying that enemy—in other words, of fighting wars in the dictionary meaning of the term. For a half century the nation’s War Colleges, like the rest of our academic institutions, have taught that military as well as civilian statesmanship consists of assuming that all sides in international controversies necessarily work within a matrix of choices to achieve limited objectives, and hence that fighting for victory is counterproductive. Obama’s successors are likely, as did his Republican predecessors, to see the struggle against terrorists as something with which we must learn to live indefinitely.

Unless persons take over in America who are possessed of a mentality that is entirely outside that of our current bipartisan ruling class, the number of U.S. troops sent or not sent hither or yon will not alter the pathological state of no-peace-no-war-no-victory in which we have been living.