Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been quoted as saying
that President Obama’s foreign policy today seems designed
“to take America down.” As the previous vice president for eight
years under President George W. Bush, Mr. Cheney might be
expected to oppose the successor regime, and to criticize it, but
the language of his criticism, as well as the language of former
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in opposing the Obama
administration’s foreign policy, as well as the criticism of several
conservative radio talk show hosts and many others, is sharper and
more extreme than anything in recent memory.
Liberal readers of this column will dismiss Mr. Cheney, and almost
anything he says. He was, during his years in power at the White
House (and continuing to this day), the liberal’s “villain” in the
Bush administration. To liberals, Mr. Cheney represents the most
hawkish view of U.S. foreign policy, a view that directed U.S.
engagement in the Middle East following the attack on the nation
during September 11, 2001. (It might be added, however, that even
his critics did admire his exemplary conduct on that tragic day,
including his coolness and maturity in keeping the nation’s capital
and government together during the many hours when President
Bush was away.)
Conservative readers will likely agree with Mr. Cheney’s outspoken
assessment, if not entirely with his language. The foreign policy of
the United States, especially under President Obama’s second term,
has taken directions which most conservatives and independents
What are we to make of this?
I think it is fair to say now that the foreign policy of President Obama
is taking an abrupt course in the context of U.S. foreign policy since
World War II (under all presidents, Democratic and Republican).
Of course, his opponents are casting this radical change in the worst
possible light, and his defenders are casting it in the best light.
Leaving ideological motivations aside for the moment, this policy
on its face is an attempt to resign from America’s historical role
in the world as it was first manifest in World War I, and as it then
evolved through World War II, the Cold War, Korea, Viet Nam,
the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. President Obama has
apparently determined that the American people (as well as himself)
no longer should be the self-determined protector of world order.
To be fair to Mr. Obama, the assumption that Americans have “war
fatigue” is not an unreasonable one.
No sooner has conflict in one part of the world seemingly ended, a
new conflict in another or same part of the world has arisen
continually for more than a century. Many American soldiers have
been casualties on foreign soil. Until September 11, 2001, none of
those casualties had been on continental American soil. It is not
unreasonable for any American to ask “When will this all end?”
Mr. Obama’s radical new foreign policy answers that question with
the answer that the U.S. will withdraw from its leading role in the
world, and allow the various regions, nations and forces outside
our boundaries to settle their own affairs. To accomplish this, Mr.
Obama has gradually turned away from our nation’s historical
allies. It is not only Israel which is the target of this new policy; it
is a policy directed to our even longer alliances in Europe, South
America and Asia (and even our alliances in the Arab world).
Conservatives hold strongly to the idea of “American exceptionalism,”
a notion that presumes the U.S. has an obligation to play a leading
role in the world, and the protector of democracies against
totalitarian threats. They argue that to deny this is to invite violent
and murderous threats across the world. Until 2009, this was also
the policy of most liberals. Liberals were among the strongest
leaders of the U.S. in the Cold War against Soviet communism, and
even earlier, they were leaders against the fascist totalitarianism
which was threatened by Nazism in Europe and Asia. This agreement
by liberals and conservative created an American bipartisan foreign
Today, President Obama has decided that the U.S. will gradually
withdraw from its historic role of the past century. The Constitution
gives him the authority to direct and lead foreign policy, but it also
gives the Congress, especially the U.S. senate, the authority and
obligation to give advice and consent to the President on these matters.
The founders of our republic clearly intended to create a system of
government that would prevent dictatorship or any rule that did not
have “the consent of the governed.”
Mr. Obama has not only the right but the authority to lead our
foreign policy. Each president has the legitimate potential to introduce
new ideas and directions, not only to foreign policy but to domestic
policy as well. In the late 1930’s, Democratic President Franklin
Roosevelt understood the growing threat of German and Japanese
fascism not just to the U.S. but to the world itself. American public
opinion, however, was isolationist and mostly unaware of the threat.
However one might criticize his “New Deal” and domestic policies
or even his policies at the end of World War II, FDR's thoughtful
and patient leadership from 1937-41 was vital to the survival of U.S.
democracy and to the defeat of murderous totalitarianism in the
world. He accomplished this, not by unilateral “executive actions,”
but by the patient building of change in public opinion, including
the gradual change of attitudes in the Congress (a Congress his party
controlled). It was his liberal Democratic successor, President Harry
Truman, who led the nation to oppose a new threat of Soviet
totalitarianism after World War II.
Mr. Obama no longer controls the Congress. He has less than two
years left in office, and evidently feels a pressing need to make changes
in U.S. foreign policy. He evidently believes that an assumed “war
weariness” felt by Americans gives him the right to take an abrupt
and radical new direction in the nation’s foreign policies. But the
Constitution does not support, nor does it permit, his impatience.
When he crosses historical and constitutional lines, he provokes
powerful reactions, including the reactions we are now witnessing.
A very liberal Democratic U.S. senator and the likely new minority
leader in that body (and long-time ally of Mr. Obama), Charles
Schumer of New York, has just declared that the president must have
the consent of the U.S. senate for any agreement that is reached with
Iran. There are many Democratic lawmakers and voters who do not
agree with the apparent current terms of this provisional agreement
(to be finalized on June 30).
There are reasons why provocative language and criticism of
President Obama’s foreign policy have arisen. It would seem that
his choice of a unilateral path just now would be very, very unwise.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.