In the wake of the end of the cold war, the rise of radical Islam, and the Arab Spring, the world and U.S. foreign policy are still sorting themselves out. Voices in the U.S. range from Sen. John McCain’s speak loudly and carry an imaginary big stick to others who want us to speak loudly and carry a threatening, but small stick. They criticize Obama’s policy, which has become speak softly and carry a flexible willow switch wrapped in diplomatic velvet that prods and pokes and occasionally stings with economic and drone weaponry.
The proponents of “loud” need a reality check. Most U.S. voters realize that bluster can lead to blunder. After the Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan frustrations, how else could the U.S. public conclude? Wielding big sticks is not popular in a nation weary of war and wanting to turn inward to resolve its own domestic problems . The small stick approach in time is viewed by those at whom it is shaken as bully bluster not to be taken seriously.
President Obama’s foreign policy has evolved based on his pledge to end the wars and rely more on diplomacy and refined by experience, while ignoring charges from the right that he leads from behind or has weakened U.S. influence. Besides, budget deals have not restored the military’s former glory as both wings of the political parties try to shoehorn their priorities into budgets constrained by fears of bankrupting the country.
After the Arab Spring, the uprisings in Egypt and abortive attempts to establish a western style democracy, Syria and Ukraine are the newest tests of Obama’s U.S. foreign policy.
Military Intervention in Syria risks an outcome similar to Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s. A diplomatic end to the deadly civil war will depend upon Russia. Stepping up aid to refugees internally and externally is in both Russia’s and U.S., interests since it reduces pressure to increase U.S. intervention to end a humanitarian disaster, probably explaining Russia’s U.N. Security Council “yes” vote Saturday. Neither country wishes to see Syria dominated by militant Islam. These common goals could lead to wider cooperation.
Resurrecting cold war emotions on either side is very unhelpful, as much as US proponents of “loud” promote it and Russia views the West as engaged in a power struggle with them. In spite of that, the Ukraine resolution contains hope for beginning even better relations with Russia that could lead to cooperation elsewhere. Pres. Obama simply picked up the telephone and called Russia’s President Putin, peace returned to the square, Ukraine’s besieged pro Russian president retreated from Kiev to friendlier parts, and the demonstrators took over the national government. The final solution of how to govern a country split between pro Russian and a pro Western population is not resolved but kudos to Obama for getting the ball rolling in his velvet way.
There are other countries such as Bosnia with significant numbers of their population seething in anger at non-responsive, corrupt, and ineffective, divided governments, who will be watching the Ukraine situation as a template for a strategy for change. What happens in the Ukraine will influence how other such conflicts will play out.
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