2016-The Year When No One Wanted to Discuss U.S. Foreign Policy and Everyone Should Be

2016-The Year When No One Wanted to Discuss U.S. Foreign Policy and Everyone Should Be

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

As has been widely shown all over the screens, on line, and in print, President Obama became teary-eyed this week when he announced the executive actions he was taking to try to curtail gun violence throughout the country. To understand President Obama’s deeply emotional feelings about the need for gun control it is necessary to comprehend as well how deeply he cares about the quality of life of all the American people and how frustrated he is with his own inability to have achieved more for them during his tenure in office. Whether it is in education or the environment or tax relief or minimum wage or even health care—which is his overwhelming success—the President feels he has been stymied by a political system that opted to change the rules and spent most of its time trying to deconstruct what the initiatives the White House presented. It did not act to improve, or enjoin a true collegial legislative effort to compromise and govern the country; rather it was dedicated to obstructing. In this realm the President has truly dedicated his full efforts because he cares deeply for change and an improved quality of life for more people.

It is with respect to international relations and foreign policy, where the stakes for the American people are at least as high that again it has been his compassionate and sensitive nature which has dominated his policy making instincts. The Syrian refugee crisis and the millions of people who have been killed, wounded, and displaced over the past four years is an enormous human tragedy. To this the President has demonstrated extraordinary awareness and compassion. It is, however, to the geopolitical, military side of this tragedy that he has consistently shown reticence. So true with respect to Iran, where the fixation that he has shown to make the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) Iran nuclear agreement work that he has shown over the past several weeks an unwillingness to call the Iranians to task for their violations of U.N. resolutions banning ballistic missile firings.

Now the President is faced with a need to respond to the dangerous tension which has erupted between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The religious, sectarian, diplomatic, military, and economic strains between the Shiites in Iran and the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia threaten to throw the entire region into a major battleground—even a nuclear one. With various regional allies lining up on both sides of the conflict the President is again faced with a confrontation involving the potential use of force; something he has consistently sought to avoid. The problem for the U.S. now is that our Saudi allies recognize that as do the Iranians. Consequently, with the U.S. perceived as a paper tiger, American diplomatic credibility is being challenged far more than its actual military capability because the White House is perceived as not interested in engaging.

Lest anyone view this response as problematic, one need only consider what kind of response might be forthcoming in January 2017 should one of the Republicans seeking the nomination actually become President. Will Americans be called upon to follow the America First isolationists or the jingoistic international interventionists?

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