Monday, September 1, 2014

Caution: World Imploding

Sometimes the correct answer is that there is no correct answer.

Republicans and even some Democrats are ratcheting up their criticisms of Obama's foreign policy. Of course, each side has political reason to do so: the Republicans obviously look better by making Obama look worse, and Democrats are nervous that Obama's low approval ratings will drag them down in midterm elections. With control of the Senate in the balance, both sides are going to try whatever it takes to come out on top.

But if we look a little deeper, we see... nothing. That is, for all the criticisms, I've yet to hear a legitimate solution to any of the world's problems. They want Obama to be more forceful in Syria, in Iraq, and in Ukraine/Russia. Have we learned nothing from moving too quickly to the drumbeats of war? I'm not a fortune teller, and I can't say for sure that the Middle East would be any different or better today had the US not invaded Iraq. It certainly seems to me, though, that it would be far less of a mess. We went in, toppled Hussein, hung around for a while providing "security and training", and then left... and we left a country with no way to combat the threat of terror groups such as ISIS. Is it really such a surprise what's happening over there today?

What I'd really love to hear is not what we should be doing in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, but rather what these politicians think the results of such action would be. They want us to begin airstrikes in Syria and to arm the "more moderate rebels". No one, of course, is willing to say publicly that conducting airstrikes in Syria against ISIS is equivalent to supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. No one is willing to say publicly that it's effectively impossible to identify moderate groups in Syria, and even if we could, it would be entirely impossible to ensure that our weapons don't end up in the hands of ISIS or Assad. We need only look to Iraq to see how easily our weapons can end up in the hands of ISIS. I'd be all for a solution, if only one person would propose an answer that seems feasible. Going in with guns blazing and American flags flying hasn't yet worked in the Middle East, and I don't see why it should be any different this time around.

As for Ukraine, again, what are we to do? I suppose helping to arm the Ukrainians makes more sense than does trying to do the same in Syria. At the same time, I don't know if any amount of weapons we give to Ukraine would be enough to overcome the power of the Russian army; I believe that if we wanted to turn the Russians back with force, it would require direct American military intervention. That may be in Ukraine's best interest, but is it in America's? At the beginning of the Obama presidency in 2009, he and Hillary Clinton spoke of a "Russian reset", trying to begin our relations with Russia anew. Was that such a crazy idea? In hindsight it's very easy to say "obviously it didn't work, therefore it was a bad idea." But what else could we have said? A new administration has two basic options for dealing with a contentious nation: either try to work with them or declare them an enemy. As far as I'm concerned, attempting diplomatic solutions to issues, attempting to work with Russia as a partner is preferable to declaring them an enemy and starting Cold War II with the beginning of the Obama administration. So we tried to work with Russia, and recently we've seen Russia has no interest in being an ally; their actions in Ukraine prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. So I'd say the "reset" is less of a mistake and more of optimism that didn't turn out so well. In any case, the reset is in the past. We tried working with the Russians and it didn't work. So while it makes sense from a narrow point of view to support Ukraine against Russia, is that a situation we really want to step into? Anything the United States does, from arming the Ukrainians, to providing air support, to direct military involvement, will be clearly seen as an act of aggression of the US against Russia. Given Russia's actions, I believe our intervention would be wholly justified; the issue, however, is how Russia would perceive such actions. Vladimir Putin and the Russian people have a completely different view of their involvement in Ukraine, and I believe would likely take great offense at America "interfering" in their affairs. Any action the US takes would, in my opinion, sever the few remaining threads connecting the US to Russia, and officially begin Cold War II... and we could only hope Cold War II doesn't become Nuclear Apocalypse I.

We need to be fully prepared to deal with the consequences of our actions around the world, and this is something I think is lost on the politicians calling for immediate action. They accuse Obama of being too cautious, which in some cases is a legitimate criticism; my opinion is that Obama's caution has so far prevented a catastrophe on a scale most politicians can't fathom. Obama's policy of "don't do stupid stuff" has become a punching bag for many, but I believe those four words have stopped us from making a few grave mistakes. While it seems the time is coming for America to take some sort of action, I believe a policy of caution, patience, planning, and depth of strategy are vital to achieving our goals without causing even greater chaos in the world.

Let us learn from the lesson of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that caution is required. Patience is needed. Just because America has the military power to go anywhere and crush any threat doesn't mean that that's always the best solution. Hopefully our politicians can realize this before we repeat the mistakes we've made so many times before.

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