Sunday, March 13, 2011

Strong US policy needed to salvage Middle East

By Kelly Sloan
Few, if any, could have predicted the specifics of the events happening in the last few weeks in the Middle East and North Africa. Many, however, had a tight feeling in their gut that the lack of a coherent foreign policy on the part of the Obama administration could haunt America at some point. It now appears to run a great risk of turning the global equivalent of a potentially immunity-building cold into an unmanageable Ebola outbreak instead.

In other words, Obama's ineffectual foreign policy may turn a golden opportunity in the Middle East into a nightmare of proportions unknown in this century.

The revolts taking place throughout the long troubled region seem likely, as is the tendency of revolts, to result in chaos. What emerges from the morass, and what attitude towards Israel and the West it assumes, will depend largely on the leadership of the world's most influential democratically elected republic, the United States.

Unfortunately, that leadership simply does not exist at a time when it is most needed.

The approach to foreign policy adopted by Obama is inconsistent at best (Victor Davis Hanson's characterization of it as schizophrenic is presciently apt on several levels), and dangerously confusing at worst. The na├»ve, we-are-the-world program — conceived in the 1960's, cultivated ever since by the left as an alternative to any policy that may threaten to protect America's interests by using America's strength, and punctuated in recent years by the embarrassing spectacle of the U.S. head of state apologizing for perceived American injustices — has culminated in an international environment where, for the first time in decades, the will of the U.S. is suddenly an unknown quantity.

America's allies, having been on the receiving end of much of the apology tour's anti-Western diatribe, and having experienced America's reneging on missile defense treaties, can no longer be assured of America's backing. Similarly, those living under the regimes of many of America's staunchest adversaries — such as Libya, Syria, Cuba and Iran — who seek to throw their chains and pursue true political reform and free societies are the main victims of America's projected uncertainty. Paradoxically, their oppressors, America's enemies, reap the most benefit, as the one apparent surety regarding the Americans is that they will not interfere in any meaningful way, where they might have 5, 25, or even 15 years ago.

Like much of his domestic agenda, Obama's foreign policy is floundering because it is not anchored in reality and time-honed principles. It relies instead on a form of international relativism, where national positions are arrived at seemingly on the fly, and adjusted on an almost daily basis. The administration proffered, for instance, multiple and at times conflicting positions regarding Egypt. Lacking a solid foundation as a starting point, those positions needed to be constantly adjusted with each new revelation emerging from within the country. What may be good tactics at ground level cannot translate into competent strategy at the upper echelon.

The foundational principles that ought to undergird American foreign policy — respect for the individual, political and economic freedom, rule of law, ordered liberty, and a demonstrable willingness to use force in their defense — are the very ideals that America herself was based on. By applying these standards to foreign problems — rather than a simplistic lust for “democracy,” or reliance on happy thoughts — America can, by her own virtue, supply the leadership and guidance that such social upheavals cry out for. And in so doing help ensure an outcome that is not detrimental to U.S. or regional security.

Assuming the role of a mere observer, hoping it will all just sort itself out, is not a viable option. Isolationism may have been an altogether sane policy in the 1920s, but technology and trade have rendered that position moot. Since the end of the World War II, America has assumed the mantle of leadership of the free world, first as a necessary curb against communist expansion, later because geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

The simple fact is that America has too much at stake, economically, strategically, and even morally in that part of the world to remain a disinterested bystander.

The uprisings in Libya, and throughout the Middle East, could provide an unparalleled opportunity to provide solutions to America's security problems by helping freedom and rule of law to finally entrench itself in that strategically vital part of the world. Previous American leadership set the stage. What a shame if a current lack of it ushered in a dark cloud of region-wide Iranian-style Islamist tyranny instead.

This column first appeared in the Grand Junction Free Press on Friday, March 11, 2010
Reprinted with permission

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