Foreign Policy: A Rational Approach for the U.S.

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., March 20, 2012 – The United States’ foreign policy should be clear and consistent.  It should not be used as a pawn for political gain. Unfortunately, in today’s world of Party politics, the latter is more of the norm.  It is time to fix that problem.

Recent history is replete with examples of how Party politics have entered into our Nation’s foreign policy decisions, and as George Santayana prophetically said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Vol.1 of Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason). 

During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama positioned himself as a great friend of Israel.  He emphasized his belief in restraint and diplomacy when it came to addressing hostile nations.  Sen. Obama called for the closing of Guantanamo (no later than January 1, 2010) because, in his opinion, its mere presence incited terrorist organizations to respond with violence. Then, while admitting to the success of the Bush Administration’s “surge” strategy in Iraq, he stood fast on his claim that no one could definitively prove that his accelerated withdrawal plan would not have produced similar or even better results.

Sen. Obama’s campaign rhetoric offered such great promise that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only 12 days after taking office as President of the United States. Let us examine what has transpired since that time.

Our Nation’s relationship with Israel has become somewhat strained. President Obama has pressured Israel to return to its 1967 borders, which Prime Minister Netanyahu described as “indefensible.” The President also has been accused of placing the Palestinian Hamas authority on an equal footing with Israel’s leadership despite Hamas’ reputation for terrorism and its refusal to recognize Israel. Of course, when the President has appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he has reiterated that he has “Israel’s back.”

Egypt’s “Arab Spring” presented a new spin on an old problem. The United States had long supported Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  He was considered to be an “ally” of our country primarily because he wasn’t openly hostile towards us. Over the 30-year span during which President Mubarak ruled Egypt, the United States provided billions of dollars of foreign aid much of which found its way into President Mubarak’s pocket.

Then, when the people began to rise up against his dictatorship, it became politically expedient to denounce the Mubarak regime. President Obama embraced the Arab Spring and called for President Mubarak to “step down” when it had become apparent that this was inevitable. Subsequently, President Obama guaranteed $3 billion in loans to Egypt despite the fact that the future leadership of Egypt remained largely in question reminding us once again of Mr. Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A similar course was taken with regard to Libya when President Obama called for Muammar Gaddafi to step down; again, once it seemed to be inevitable This is called “being Presidential” and creates an optic of “strong leadership.” The reality is that it is the equivalent of predicting the score of a game the day after it is played.

In the case of Libya, President Obama upped the ante when he called for air strikes (without the approval of Congress) and stated that he “refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” It begs the question of how many photos from Syria it will take before he executes the same unilateral (and potentially unconstitutional) decision with respect to that country.

Perhaps the greatest distinction between the two nations resided within their leaders. Muammar Gaddafi was relatively well known within the United States as compared to Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. He was also generally reviled. That combination made Colonel Gaddafi a much better political target than President Assad.

That is not to say that the United States should become involved in the Syrian revolution (if one, in fact, is occurring).  It is just meant to point out the dangerous precedent political rhetoric can suggest if it were to be taken seriously and applied on a consistent basis as if it represented legitimate foreign policy.

To be clear, it is every bit as disturbing that President Obama’s former presidential challenger, Senator McCain, seems to default to intervening militarily in the affairs of foreign countries.  Then again, at least Sen. McCain is consistent. Unfortunately, he is consistently wrong.

The President did remain “Nobel” in his attempt to close Guantanamo. On January 22, 2009, the President signed an Executive Order with great pomp and circumstance that called for the closing of Guantanamo no later than January 1, 2010. As of today, that directive remains dramatically unfulfilled.

As I wrote nearly two years ago in The National Platform of Common Sense, I find it interesting that President Obama has remained “committed” to closing down Guantanamo because of the theory that Gitmo’s mere existence incites terrorism, but his Administration apparently has not been concerned with the saber-rattling of its Attorney General.  Specifically, when talking about the potential capture of Osama Bin Laden, Attorney General Holder said: “Either he will be killed by us, or he will be killed by his own people so that he is not captured by us. We know that. … (We’ll be) reading Miranda rights to his corpse, be­cause I think that’s what we’re going to be dealing with. He is not going to be alive.”

Considering that we did in fact kill Osama Bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself, we can only hope that discerning members of al-Qaeda will distinguish between the President’s promise to close Guantanamo and his fulfillment of Attorney General Holder’s prophesy.

Correspondingly, it is difficult to imagine that few have challenged the incongruity of the Obama Administration’s approval of targeting suspected terrorists for execution (both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens) while it chooses to spend taxpayer money to sue States that try to enforce border control. Then again, “inconsistency” is the most consistent element of our foreign policy.

Moving on to our Congressionally-approved military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have tacitly ended our occupation of Iraq. Al-Qaeda commemorated the ninth anniversary of the War in Iraq by killing 40 citizens of that country. While progress has been made and a brutal dictator eliminated, it will likely be decades before Iraq resembles the type of democratic society our political leaders theoretically envisioned.

Similarly, our involvement in Afghanistan must come into question.  The original mission was to drive al-Qaeda from its safe haven in Afghanistan.  While the mission was perhaps misguided (since we apparently only relocated the training centers to safe havens in Pakistan), it has long since been accomplished.  However, we have chosen to remain to facilitate “nation-building.”  Once again, we should be reminded of George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The reality is that the Constitution doesn’t provide direct guidance with respect to foreign policy. It wasn’t until 1936 that the Supreme Court decided that the Federal Government had exclusive and plenary power over the execution of foreign affairs based on the fact that the United States is a sovereign nation. So, let’s build upon the “sovereign nation” concept.

FOREIGN POLICY:  The basis of our own Nation’s sovereignty should be a fundamental respect for the sovereignty of other nations.

What are the consequences of that simple policy statement?

It recognizes that the United States is not the “watchdog” of the world.  It is not responsible for the socio-economic and political decisions of other nations. Indeed, if we expect other nations to respect the sovereignty of the United States, we must equally honor the sovereignty of those nations.

This is not to suggest an “isolationistic” point of view but rather to pragmatically accept the limitations of our Government’s authority as well as to acknowledge its primary responsibility, which is to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

When President Obama initially traveled the globe to apologize for “America’s arrogance,” he wasn’t entirely wrong. If his point was to emphasize that the United States has increasingly tried to force its will on other countries, his argument had merit. Unfortunately, his actions since that time have not reflected any meaningful change of course.

We continue to pursue fruitless “nation-building” initiatives (such as in Iraq and Afghanistan) that have been abject failures and cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives over the years. In addition, nearly $30 billion in taxpayer funds are directed toward foreign aid every year, and ironically, the preponderance of it goes to fund the military investments of a handful of predominantly hostile nations. Benjamin Franklin’s definition of insanity would seem to be apropos.

What if all that time, money, and effort were redirected to resolve our own economic challenges rather than attempting to influence the political environments of other countries?

What if we concentrated on reducing unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy in the United States (areas in which our performance has markedly worsened over the past few years)?

What if we created a model of excellence that inspired other nations to look to us for guidance rather than trying to impose our ideals on them through our purported “nation-building” efforts?

That is the United States of America that I envision:  a country that presents such a robust model of success that every nation aspires to learn from our model; a country that engages in the affairs of other nations upon invitation rather than by dictate.

To accomplish this transformation, we need to do the following:

  • Respect the sovereignty of other nations.
    Concentrate on fixing our problems and creating a better model for the rest of the world. 
  • Support those nations that consistently demonstrate their support of the United States.
  • Extend the highest level of consideration to provide such nations with any requested assistance that is in alignment with the strategies, priorities, and capabilities of the United States. 
  • Respect the sovereignty of those nations that do not support the United States.
  • Withdraw U.S. troops from any country that has not requested our military presence
  • Withdraw U.S. troops from any country that has requested our military presence but has undermined our troops’ safety or effectiveness.
  • Withdraw all foreign aid from such countries so as not to interfere with their social autonomy to truly demonstrate our respect for their sovereign right as a nation.
  • Leave modest diplomatic channels open to facilitate communication.
  • Request the United Nations to take a more active role with respect to world peace.
  • Request the U.N. to take a more proactive role with respect to maintaining the peace and responding to situations that potentially require military intervention.
  • Request the U.N. to exercise a more rational basis in the formation of its committees to maintain some semblance of credibility (as contra-examples: Sudan, which has orchestrated a genocide in Darfur, sits on the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, and Iran sits on the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women)
  • If the U.N. ignores the requested changes, reduce the United States funding of the U.N. (currently:  approximately 22% of the U.N.’s general budget and 27% of its peacekeeping force), or consider withdrawing from the U.N. and requiring the organization to move to another country.
    Establish equitable trade relations by mitigating regulatory and labor disparities to the degree possible to create competitive parity.
  • Create trade agreements that establish new market opportunities for all countries involved.
  • Respond to emerging global issues or threats in a rational way:  time permitting, exhaust all diplomatic channels to resolve global issues or threats to the United States; in the event that diplomatic channels fail to resolve the issue or threat in a timely manner, pursue and impose economic and other sanctions to achieve the desired result; in the event that other countries choose to provide alternatives that allow the infringing country to circumvent such sanctions, deploy cascading sanctions against such enabling countries in a form that would offset any economic (or other) benefit that such enabling countries would otherwise derive; in the event that all other efforts fail to successfully resolve an issue in a timely manner and that such issue poses an immediate or impending threat to the United States, explore all other options (including military).

Consistently applied, this approach would:  (1) stabilize our foreign policy in a manner that is actually consistent with our Constitution; (2) work to create more of a global “equilibrium” with respect to economic and political interests; (3) shift the responsibility for “global order” to global entities (such as the U.N.); and (4) dramatically reduce the cost of our forays into the affairs of other sovereign countries. With regard to “costs,” let us not limit our awareness to the trillions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent. Let us primarily acknowledge the greater cost in human lives that has been incurred.

We have lost the lives of roughly 6,500 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Approximately 50,000 more have been wounded and it is difficult to assess how many have returned to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In that regard, we know that more returning veterans commit suicide each year than are actually killed in combat on foreign soil.

These are all real people. They are not just numbers to be reported at a Congressional Committee hearing or reflected upon by the President on Memorial Day, and the lives of each of these people impact the lives of an exponential number of family members and friends.

Correspondingly, we can only guess at how significantly greater the number is in each category for the citizens of the countries that have hosted the theaters of war.

To quote the President, “We can do better.”  The question becomes:  “Then, why haven’t we?”

A consistent and Constitutionally-valid foreign policy can have a cascading effect on so many other facets of our lives.  In my next article, I will take that approach and apply it to Afghanistan.  Then, we will employ The FREEDOM Process™ to “connect the dots” and better understand the benefits of executing a cogent strategy.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A President for the People, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.