The American foreign policy of the 21st Century brings to mind the Johnny Carson skits of the old Tonight Show: Wait for something to go wrong and then make something up on the spot. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t start laughing anyway and hope your audience will laugh with you.
Although Carson, Ed McMahon, and guests pulled it off more times than not and late-night comedy lends itself to the ad lib, dealing with complex situations on the world stage does not.
For the past 11 years the United States has taken its show on the road to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Libya. So far the reviews are hardly encouraging. In Iraq after eight years the conditions are in many ways worse then under Saddam Hussein. Their new government is unstable, the country’s basic services are in disarray, and our fighting force has suffered death and debilitating injuries to body, mind, and spirit. Although President Obama began pulling our troops out last year we are still supporting upwards of 50,000 troops creating further burden to our already $14.5 trillion deficit. A deficit that in the last eight years has grown significantly, to the point that now Republicans use it as an excuse to cut vital social programs in this country by cutting spending for the poor, education, and affordable medical care.
Then we come to Afghanistan, the war that both the Republicans and President Obama said must be fought for the security of the U.S. They say Al Qaeda left unchecked would be a significant and substantial risk to the people of this country. But with our successes and failures on the battlefield there (and as it extends into Pakistan) we are learning the painful lessons again (i.e.
Vietnam) that a mobile and unpredictable enemy fighting a guerilla war is very difficult to defeat. As in Iraq, we do have not have the hearts and minds of the people who live there, and they have made it abundantly clear they will not be force-fed democracy. So we change strategies, and generals, and public-relations spin in an attempt to prove to the world and our own citizens that we are there for the ultimate good and we will prevail.
Sadly, our “ad Libs” will provide neither victory nor, as Al Qaeda finds other havens in the world to hide, security for the U.S.
Now our show has grown to the shores of Libya as we again see evil in their leader (much like Iraq) and must stop him before he commits atrocities on his people in his attempt to maintain power.
Our intentions sound noble but our degree of forethought, before going into another conflict, remains suspect. We desperately do not want to put “boots on the ground” in Libya and yet what will our options be if we cannot defeat Gaddafi by air and/or sea?
And can we assume that with Libya’s leader’s forced departure a new government can be formed in the vacuum that’s left behind? Moreover if we do not see this situation through, are we going to leave yet another country not as a democratic state but rather in a “state of limbo” that radicals have come to rely on?
Our foreign policy, much like a good stage performance, must be planned carefully with critical thinking and long term goals that provide boundaries on when and where to use military force, how long that commitment should last, and what is in our real best interest. Not only to secure our nation from outside threat but to make sure that our internal growth, as a nation providing health, education, and safe infrastructure, remains intact for us and the generations to come.—Jeffrey R. Moualim, Santa Ynez