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Len Anthony: Rethinking US Foreign Policy




len anthonyBy Len Anthony ||  Hillary Clinton graciously called our attention to the inadequacy of Barack Obama’s “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy.  So, let’s see if we can help him develop a more meaningful and substantive plan.

Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy was to: “speak softly, and carry a big stick” and “exercise [the use] of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”  His philosophy was to negotiate in good faith and seek peace, but make it clear that the United States would not hesitate to use its “big stick” if negotiations failed.  His strategy was to use the “big stick” or the threat of the “big stick” to avoid the creation of a crisis.  This was a wise strategy but it begs the questions: how to define “likely crisis” and how far in advance is action to be taken?

The Domino Theory holds that when an event has the real potential to cause a chain reaction that will create a genuine threat (crisis) to the United States it must be addressed in order to prevent the chain reaction.  The theory is sound but it begs the same question: how far in advance is action to be taken to stop the last domino from falling?  The Domino Theory was the basis of the Vietnam and Korean wars. The crisis to be averted was the further spread of communism.

Neither war was strongly supported by the United States’ citizenry.  Were these wars unpopular at home because the threat of the spread of communism was not truly a “likely crisis” for the United States or, because the conflicts were literally on the other side of the world, the public could not understand how the spread of communism to these nations would create a “likely crisis” for the United States?

Fast forward to two situations currently facing the United States, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the barbaric campaign of the militant Islamist group known as the Islamist State.  Is either or both of these events a “likely crisis” to the United States?

Regardless of Vladimir Putin’s assertions to the contrary, Russia has invaded Ukraine.  Ukraine is not a member of NATO. If this action is the extent of Russia’s empire building then there is probably no looming “likely crisis.”  But at this point, no one knows Russia’s plans and most certainly the world knows it cannot trust Putin. Remember, prior to Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland which started World War II, Germany invaded several other countries while Europe and the United States stood by.

So, it seems the United States should: 1) decide whether there are other Russian invasions, short of invading a NATO nation, that would start the chain reaction that would “likely” cause a crisis; 2) have a strong basis for that position; and 3) be sure the American people understand and support that position.  Then when Russia approaches that critical mass of invasions the United States must “speak softly” to Russia while ensuring Russia understands the “big stick” will be used if necessary.

Turning to the Islamist State, it appears to be driven entirely by its religious beliefs.  Its’ strategy is simple.  Anyone who does not adopt its’ religious beliefs is to be tortured and killed.  The Islamist State considers all Shiites, all Christians, all Jews, and all less extreme Sunnis as the enemy.  This means 99.9 percent of the population of the United States is the enemy of the Islamist State.  In light of its actions thus far in beheading, stoning, crucifying and otherwise murdering all “infidels,” the Islamist State appears to represent a “likely crisis” to the United States and action should be taken to destroy it.  I say “destroy” because history shows us that those driven entirely by fanatical religious beliefs are not open to compromise, negotiation or rational discussions.  When this is the case peaceful co-existence is not possible.  The events of 9/11 and the beheading of American reporter James Foley have demonstrated to the American public the imminence and genuineness of the crisis.

Before the United States goes to war, it must decide how the war will be fought.  Will it be a “no holds barred” fight to win?  Or will there be political considerations such as those observed in Vietnam and Korea that put limits on the United States’ aggression?  When I was small my father told me he did not want me getting into fights.  However, he said if I decided that the principle at stake was worth a fight, I should do whatever it took to win.  I struggled with that advice all my life.  Finally, I think I know what he meant and I believe the United States should take his advice.  He meant: if the wrong to be righted is so awful that I feel I have to fight, then losing is not an option.  The fight must be won using whatever means necessary.

Finally, in developing his foreign policy President Obama should pay heed to the words of Henry Kissinger who said the following in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on August 29, 2014:

“To play a responsible role in the evolution of a 21st-century world order, the U.S. must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself: What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone?  What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort?  What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance?  What should we not engage in, even if urged on by a multilateral group or an alliance?  What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? And how much does the application of these values depend on circumstance?”

Len Anthony spent thirty years as in-house counsel for a public utility. He’s now semi-retired living in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. Wanna sound off on FITS? Submit your letter to the editor or opinion column HERE.