At about the time of President Obama’s first inauguration, I began to compile material for a book on the foreign policy speeches of presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. I felt no urgency. But as the foreign policy approach of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was articulated and put into place, I felt, first, a sense of dread, then, a sense of urgent purpose.
Why would they disregard our best foreign policy principles, traditions and strategies? And why was there so little discussion of the drastic change their approach entailed? Further, why did those analysts who did question Obama’s foreign policy give Hillary Clinton a “pass”?
I began to do intense in-time research, looking at every action, every word that affected America’s stance toward the world and position in the world. Once I dug in, I knew I would write this book.
I wrote A Perilous Path because I believed we were on the wrong path, a dangerous and immoral one. We were paying too little attention to America’s geopolitical position in the world and too little attention to the world’s suffering and oppressed.
We were inadequately focused on growing threats from hostile regimes and extremists, and on the growing number of people who were traumatized, hardened or radicalized through repression, indoctrination and displacement. Obama administration officials were ignoring human rights, catering to dictators, “deconstructing” national security strategy, downgrading military defenses and alliances and downplaying democratic principles.
They were “talking” with tyrants, being careful not to offend them, and offering them concessions in exchange for keeping their ruthlessness confined within their own borders.
American foreign policy at its best combines moral and practical concerns. It emphasizes the security of the free world (necessary in a world where global threats lie just beneath the surface) and the principles of freedom (essential to expanding the realm of human dignity). Some American presidents and secretaries of state have emphasized either the exigencies of power or democratic ideals, but none have emphasized neither — until now.
Too often, Obama, Clinton second-term Secretary of State John Kerry and their foreign policy teams stood idle as terrible events unfolded, as if the United States were the least influential country in the world. The result of de-emphasizing American power and American ideals is a more hostile, more oppressive world.
A Perilous Path reveals how we got into the mess we’re in now — with the Arab Spring in shambles; Syria a cataclysm; Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Ukraine in crisis; the Middle East beset by terrorism; Iran and North Korea ever closer to becoming serious nuclear powers; the Russian “reset” an obvious failure; the Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regimes aligned and aggressive; China flexing its geopolitical muscle; Islamic extremism, terror attacks, anti-Semitism, persecution of Christians and targeting of religious minorities on the rise; human rights violations, violence and global instability much worse than in 2008; and democratic allies and pro-democracy groups disillusioned with the United States.
American foreign policy today rejects the idea of “peace through strength” and denies the power of truth when it is raised up against propaganda. Since the Iraq War, many, if not most, Americans have succumbed to the either-or assumption that either we refrain from an active foreign policy or we’ll end up with “boots on the ground.”
Yet, World War II taught that war is even more likely when democratic nations bury their heads in the sand and retreat from the world stage. Scaling down defenses and doing nothing to defend democratic principles allows the escalation of atrocities, weapons programs and hostilities, and only increases the chance that we’ll be forced into war by events spiraling out of control.
In a recent article entitled “Obama’s Reluctant, Specious Return to Deterrence,” I began, “The Obama administration is playing an impossible game of catch-up. Having degraded America’s defenses and alliances, de-emphasized America’s democratic principles and priorities and delayed taking responsibility, it finds itself in a world so dangerous and hostile that it has no choice but to respond.”
Before Syria devolved into chaos, Russia invaded Ukraine, China engaged in frenzied island building and Iran secured an advantageous nuclear deal, there was need for focus on the amoral, anti-strategic trajectory of American foreign policy. I hope this will serve as a cautionary tale about the perils of complacency.
If you think you’d be interested in reading A Perilous Path, you can order it here.
This article was originally published at Washington Examiner on July 8, 2016. Read the full article here. (AP Photo).