Back when I was writing an op-ed column for the Chicago Tribune, I worried about the U.S. going turtle in its foreign policy.
That danger from the growing isolationist sentiment–later adopted by future president Donald Trump and then-president Barack Obama–has manifested in a world that is more dangerous.
Here is the column from then:
U.S. power in an unraveling world
Everyone would have been better off if we had just left Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein alone.
We would have saved the more than 4,000 American lives and $1 trillion wasted in the Iraq War.
Saddam was such a force for stability that we wouldn’t be worried today about the Islamic State barbarians. No beheadings. No genocide of the Christians and other
“infidels” in the territory surrendered to the fanatics. And, while we’re at it, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble by letting the Taliban continue to run their misogynist torture chambers in Afghanistan.
No one, of course, is stupid enough to come right out and say the world would have been ahead of the game if the cruel and repressive regimes had been left to run things in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that’s the implication of the recent and forceful reassertions that we should just mind our own business. We have no obligation to get involved in the ramped-up and monstrous barbarism now grinding up the Middle East.
Our civilized, 21st century selves believe that we have moved beyond the exterminations, carnages, butcheries, liquidations and other horrors that we now accuse our predecessors of having ignored until it was “too late.” If we had lived in the 1930s, no way could we have been as stupid, naive or uncaring as the Neville Chamberlains of the day who thought that handing Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler would have so mollified him that he wouldn’t have moved on to his next outrage — as if Obama’s sluggishness in the face of Putin’s blatant annexation of Crimea and the slicing off of eastern Ukraine is somehow vastly different.
Plenty of serious domestic and foreign policy issues are on the table in next month’s elections, but perhaps none is as important as the proper use of America’s power in an unraveling world.
The debate is broader than such tactical issues as whether we conduct only airstrikes against the Islamic State beasts or send in U.S. combat troops. (Can we henceforth stop using the insulting cliche of “boots on the ground?”) Like it or not, we again face decisions about America’s global purpose, as we were forced to do in the 20th century.
That debate has been held behind the Oval Office’s closed doors, with Obama again trying to fit America into an ideological straightjacket that predated the world wars and that encouraged, if not created, the kind of vacuum that was filled by the planet’s most evil opportunists.
As we are discovering thanks to recent tell-alls by those who were there for the internal debate, Obama defied the advice of his knowledgeable advisers, such as Leon Panetta, his secretary of defense and CIA chief, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They and others warned of the dangers of Obama’s going turtle. By most accounts, the president’s mind (and perhaps his superior ego) was made up long ago.
This is a decision that isn’t the president’s alone. Lawmakers should be in session at this very moment hashing it out, but shamefully they’re too busy with their campaigns back home. (An aside: With Congress’ approval rates lower than Obama’s, has it occurred to anyone that part of the blame for its gridlock rests with the second most powerful Senate Democrat, Illinois’ very own Dick Durbin? Anyone?)
Few question our moral obligation to insert ourselves into the West African Ebola crisis with our treasure and, yes, even our military. We do it not just because it serves our interests, but because it is right. It is the moral thing to do for a nation that is as blessed as the United States. Whether by God’s special favor, the superiority of the American know-how, the creativity and wealth of its people — take your pick — our successes impose on us an obligation that cannot in good conscience be so facilely abandoned because an ideology or raw politics requires it.
The only question is what’s the most effective and wise way to do it.
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