Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Making U.S. foreign policy is what the Presidency is all about. Whether Obama or any other modern day President likes it or not, it is conducting international affairs that consumes the major portion of any President’s time. Domestic policy, except at key moments of crunch-time while negotiating on a specific issue, does not require the constant hand-holding and oversight inherent in conducting foreign relations and national security policy.
Many Presidents have issued pronouncements that they now want to spend the next year/session/term on their domestic agenda, only to find themselves overwhelmed by another intractable foreign policy or security issue. Before running for President, candidates need to understand that a person ought not to seek the Presidency and if he/she is too political or too ideologically locked-in the job will be overwhelming. A President must engage issues within a “big” picture strategy at the same time as addressing details with a decisive, decision-making style.
International relations and national security policy work hand in hand. Both components must be connected and respected with all appropriate limits. At a theoretical level and a practical level, it is now fairly evident as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ memoir apparently corroborates, President Obama does not appreciate this necessity; as well as did not his predecessor. Lest this analysis strictly form a focus on Syria or Iran, as the frustrated Saudi’s—in addition to the Israelis- have repeatedly declared, one should consider the tragically absurd situation which has developed in South Sudan.
Having facilitated the separation of the largely Christian South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, the U.S. has become enmeshed in another civil war now in South Sudan between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-President Riek Machar. In the past month alone there are reported to be an additional 200,000 refugees and hundreds dead. As the major mid-wife for the breakaway South Sudan, the Obama Administration already has given more than $300 million in humanitarian assistance since fiscal 2013 (including an additional $49 million last week).
In other words, the U.S. supported the breakaway of South Sudan because of ethnic violence committed against the Christians by the Muslims. The President and Secretary Kerry have urged both sides to the violence now in South Sudan to sit down and negotiate their differences. Not that U.S. troops are the answer in this case or in every instance, but was there ever a reasoned consideration of what would or might develop after the division of Sudan?
The President appears clearly moving into a foreign policy mode of talk, negotiate, give money, talk, and compromise, because the U.S. should not have gotten involved. This modified lawyering approach to foreign policy plus a commitment to extricating the military from harm’s way is the apparent growing style of this Administration. Alternatively, like the TeaParty, it is sign of declining U.S. ability or desire to operate on the tough main ring of world activity or is it creeping isolationism. The Administration makes the assumption that rationality and compromise will solve all the world’s problems. Doesn’t the Administration understand that rationality and compromise—as understood in the West– do not appear in the lexicon of some other parts of the world?