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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

In our opinion: Obama foreign policy

Deseret News editorial

Published: Sat, Aug. 16 8:12 a.m. MDT

 President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

(Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press)

When Barack Obama was first elected president in 2008, the prominent campaign issue was an economy in free fall. The 2016 campaign may very well be dominated by debate over the state of American foreign policy, which is itself in something of a free fall.

Former secretary of state and potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made it clear in a recent interview that she intends to distance herself from the Obama administration, bluntly criticizing the White House for failing to act decisively to aid rebel forces aligned against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Such a reproach from the woman who recently served as America’s top diplomat can’t be helpful to the administration’s efforts in responding to crises from the Ukraine to the Gaza Strip. Sound policy is not forged or executed in an atmosphere of politicization. But Clinton validly questions the bedrock principles upon which our current policy is founded, or, as her comments imply, the lack of such principle.

Indeed, the Obama administration has seemed to stumble from one crisis to the next, sometimes taking contradictory postures. We stayed cautiously away from intervention in Syria, and the result has been to embolden an insurgency in neighboring Iraq, where again we have committed to intervene militarily.

The president has said, famously or infamously, that his foreign policy is based on the principle that we “shouldn’t do stupid stuff.” But there has been no overarching discussion about just what constitutes “stupid.” In fairness, the conflicts in the Middle East and in Ukraine are complex, nuanced and incendiary. Virtually any action taken in those places would be labeled wise by some and foolish by others, depending on their political or ideological orientation.

The nation is weary of ongoing military presence in the Middle East, just as it is wary of the prospect of a rebirth of the Cold War due to Russian meddling in the Ukraine. It is too early to assess how history may gauge the effectiveness of administration policy in those separate arenas. But in aggregate, the White House has clearly failed to deliver an articulate and consistent message as to what behavior by foreign entities — including its allies — that America will or will not tolerate. There is currently no bearing on the policy compass that defines a course toward either isolationism or interventionism.

Just where on that spectrum our policy should lie is not something that is easily determined, nor should it be. Each foreign crisis demands a singular response, but each response should be consistent with principles outlined in a coherent governing policy.

The 2016 elections will provide an opportunity for a national vetting of what those principles are. Clinton’s criticism of her former boss may be motivated by political strategy, but the discussion that will ensue is important and, given the current state of world affairs, not premature.

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1. apm22
sparks, NV,
Aug. 16, 2014

The dn basically excoriates Obama's lack of principled foreign policy while at the same time stating that we as a nation should respond to foreign issues on a case by case basis using proper "principles." As I read it, the dn apparently does not know what a proper foreign policy should be. How about a foreign policy that does not say that everything that happens around the world is a matter of "national security?" How about a foreign policy that says we have a sovereign nation and that the US Constitution is what we adhere to, not some foreign or world law or political trick? How about we have a foreign policy that says we are not going to put our lives and our treasure at risk for nations that have no regard for us in the first place? How about it?

2. marxist
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 16, 2014

"Each foreign crisis demands a singular response, but each response should be consistent with principles outlined in a coherent governing policy."

Oh by all means let's get back to a "big think" foreign policy, like "make the world safe for democracy," which gave us the wholly unnecessary WWI, which set the stage for Hitler and WWII. Let's eliminate socialism, which gave us the equally unnecessary Cold War, which led to Korea and the tragic Vietnam War. At let's not forget Middle Eastern nation building which gave us the unnecessary Iraq War. I think Obama's foreign policy is refreshingly different.

But the foreign policy of all administrations is driven by the need to sustain American capital which keeps us from addressing the looming environmental crisis. Obama's foreign policy is a nice change from what went before, but it can't escape from the tracks left by previous administrations.

3. Roland Kayser
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 16, 2014

American presidential election are never determined by foreign policy unless the country is actually at war.

I would also like to point out that all of the critics who have been carping about President Obama's Middle East policies have been wrong on every single prediction they previously made about the Iraq war. The truth is that absolutely no one knows what will or won't work there.

4. mohokat
Ogden, UT,
Aug. 16, 2014

What foreign policy? When did we will see what happens become policy. But then the Presidency is junior varsity so it fits.

5. David King
Layton, UT,
Aug. 16, 2014

I consider myself pretty conservative politically. In fact, I've been labeled as "extreme right wing" before for my comments, but foreign policy is not an area where I think President Obama deserves a lot of criticism. "Don't do stupid stuff" isn't a bad place to start when it comes to foreign policy. My main criticism would be Obama's continuation of certain Bush-era policies, like re-upping the Patriot Act.

We conservatives love to talk about small government, but often fail to realize that an attitude of perpetual warfare encourages government overreach at home and costs tons of money. The most negative consequence is the loss of human life, something that any "pro-lifer" should reject. It's a real tragedy that the neoconservative movement has convinced us that unless a US soldier is dying somewhere, we have a "weak" foreign policy.