By Will Marshall, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.
Having recently warned of the high costs and limited utility of U.S. military force, President Barack Obama is in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of one of its grandest achievements: the D-Day invasion.
No contradiction there – that America helped win the “good war” obviously doesn’t mean military intervention will always succeed. But Friday’s ceremony is a timely reminder of a paradoxical truth: The long peace the world has enjoyed since World War II is no historical accident. It rests upon the bedrock of America’s willingness to use force not only in the defense of its core national interests, but also to uphold the liberal world order.
Over the past seven decades, there have been no great power wars, the Soviet Union and communism have expired, the community of democracies has grown larger, and unprecedented global prosperity has lifted billions of people out of grinding poverty. Despite terrorism and spasms of ethnic and religious violence, analysts say the number of people dying in conflicts has dropped dramatically since 1945.
On the debit side are the admittedly heavy costs of being a superpower: The hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers killed and maimed in overseas fighting; the diversion of national resources to the military; the Vietnam debacle, intelligence excesses and the torture scandal; Washington’s opportunistic backing of friendly dictators despised by their subjects; and, the spread of anti-American conspiracy mongering.
By any fair accounting, the strategic and moral balance sheet is strongly positive. But what happens to Pax Americana if Americans step back from global leadership? And are U.S. progressives ready to forsake the defense of liberal ideals for a myopic realism that aims only at minimizing risks and avoiding mistakes?
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S. foreign policy, President Barack Obama’s policy address at West Point on Wednesday, and how history might judge the Obama administration.
Critics of the Obama administration say military reluctance has left the United States weakened and openly defied by the likes of Russia and Syria. Is America weak?
No. Gosh, America is stronger than perhaps at most points in its history. You think about when we faced the Soviet Union, when we faced a communist China that was funding revolutionary movements all over the world against us – even when we faced a pretty powerful jihadi terrorist movement only 10 years ago. The United States is basically very strong, very secure. This debate is not really about American strength or weakness. It's about American engagement – how should America engage with the world?
Some might argue it's easier to appear strong when you're fighting one known enemy, like Japan during World War II, or Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan after 9/11. But now the United States is dealing with Russia, Syria, China, Boko Haram, al Qaeda affiliated groups all over the world. Should the president focus on one or two, or all of them? What should his foreign policy be?
That's a very, very good point. I think that it's not just that there are lots of different challenges as opposed to the central challenge during the Cold War. You know, you had the Soviet Union and that was a kind of moral and political and strategic challenge, but the world of many different challenges is also much more complicated. For example, China is our second largest trading partner, yet at the same time in some sense it is a strategic rival in Asia. We have good commercial ties with Russia, and yet Russia is a strategic adversary on many issues. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria
Part of Obama’s problem is that he has made grand pronouncements on issues where he would not use American power forcefully, Syria and the Arab Spring being the clearest examples. Speech became the substitute for action — hence the charge of fecklessness. And on the issues where the United States has been engaged — Ukraine, Asia — his statements have been strangely muted. In his speech to European leaders on Ukraine, Obama struck most of the right notes but also offered caveats about not acting militarily. It is difficult to stir the world into action, and into following the United States, if the president is telling you what he would not do rather than what he would do.
But the broader problem is that critics want the moral and political satisfaction of a great global struggle. We all accuse Vladimir Putin of Cold War nostalgia, but Washington’s elites — politicians and intellectuals — miss the old days as well. They wish for the world in which the United States was utterly dominant over its friends, its foes were to be shunned entirely and the challenges were stark, moral and vital. Today’s world is messy and complicated. China is one of our biggest trading partners and our looming geopolitical rival. Russia is a surly spoiler, but it has a globalized middle class and has created ties in Europe. New regional players such as Turkey and Brazil have minds of their own and will not be easily bossed.
Read the Washington Post column
By Daniel M. Kliman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Daniel M. Kliman is a senior advisor with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which has started with a visit to Japan, will send an unmistakable signal: the United States remains committed to a region that has become the world’s economic and military center of gravity.
Yet once the afterglow of the visit fades, U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific are bound once again to question American staying power. True, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiative – the pivot or rebalance to Asia – has achieved many of its initial objectives. Countries in the region recognize this. But they are ultimately more focused on what will come next. And with less than three years of Obama’s presidency remaining, now is the moment to lay out a vision for U.S. Asia policy through 2016.
Two opposing sets of forces have long co-existed in Asia. Deepening economic interdependence, a growing constellation of regional forums, and the spread of democratic values promote peace. At the same time, rising nationalism, territorial disputes, military buildups, and the adverse impact of climate change create an undercurrent of instability.
For more on the latest developments in Ukraine, watch a special live edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Inevitably, the crisis in Ukraine is being discussed in Washington largely through the lens of political polarization. It seems like any and every topic is fodder for partisan dispute these days, even the weather – actually, especially the weather.
Many Republicans are arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the Crimea region of Ukraine because of President Barack Obama's weakness. Putin saw that Obama didn't want to go to war in Syria, for example, and this emboldened Putin.
Well, who knows right? It's tough to know what would have happened in an alternative universe. Imagine that we still had Putin around in charge of Russia, but imagine he faced a different president, one who was tough, aggressive, who had no compunctions about invading countries.
Oh wait, we ran that very experiment in 2008! Putin faced George W. Bush, a president who had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq for good measure (and, in the latter case, defying massive international pressure and opposition). And yet, Putin invaded Georgia. And not, as he did this time, in a stealthy way with soldiers who were already there who simply switched their uniforms. He sent in Russian tanks roaring into Georgia and – without any referendums – simply annexed two pieces of that country.
By Will Marshall, Special to CNN
President Barack Obama has demoted liberty and democracy as primary U.S. foreign policy goals, at least where the Middle East is concerned. So the president informed the world in his address to the United Nations last week.
Obama said four “core interests” would henceforth guide U.S. policy toward the Middle East and North Africa: protecting our allies, ensuring the flow of oil, fighting anti-American terrorists, and preventing the use of weapons of mass destruction. While he said U.S. efforts to “promote democracy, human rights, and open markets” will continue, they are now relegated explicitly to the second tier of U.S. interests.
Not so fast Mr. President. Shouldn’t Democrats at least be questioning Obama’s logic, if not raising objections? After all, the president’s embrace of realpolitik is at odds with the party’s liberal internationalist outlook, which on balance has served America and the world well for seven decades. And it collides with America’s strategic interest in banking the fires of political violence and extremism in the world’s most turbulent region.
By Robert Hutchings, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert Hutchings is dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas and co-director of its “Reinventing Diplomacy” initiative. He served as chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005. The views expressed are his own.
Clausewitz famously wrote about the fog of war – the confusion and chaos that undermine even the best laid battle plans. The same could be said of diplomacy, particularly the last two weeks of American diplomacy toward Syria.
In an earlier commentary, I praised the Obama administration for handling an intractable challenge reasonably well, but warned of the danger of escalation once military action commenced. That was before the decision to delay action while consulting Congress. Since then, the administration’s cautious approach has unraveled, and the president has wholly lost control over U.S. policy.
There was no need to go to the full Congress – and many reasons not to do so. The limited strikes the administration was considering did not rise to a level that required Congressional endorsement. Consultations with senior Congressional leadership, even without gaining their full support, would have been sufficient. The policy would then have been judged by its effectiveness, and had the objectives been limited to punishment for the al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, there were good prospects of success. Taking such limited but important action without Congressional authorization could easily have been defended on grounds of urgency.
The Obama administration is right to carefully and thoroughly pursue the diplomatic path — even though it will be difficult. While Syria and Russia are doing so as a way to avert an attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin might also be happy to see Assad’s weapons locked up or destroyed. In fact, this gambit might be a way for Russia to achieve its real goals in Syria: no regime change and no chemical weapons. Russia has always worried that these weapons could fall into the hands of jihadi groups, which could give them to compatriots in Russia’s south, which is teeming with religious militants. Syria’s other chief sponsor, Iran, historically has been strongly opposed to chemical weapons since Iranians were brutally gassed by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
If the Obama administration believes that the ban on chemical weapons really is an international norm in danger of erosion and that the threat of a military strike is the way to shore it up, it needs to build some support among Congress, the U.N. Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the Arab League or other such groups. Recall that the Bush administration in the run-up to Iraq got congressional authorization; as its basis for action, it could point to 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iraq had broken. After the invasion, 38 countries sent troops. It is ironic that Washington’s sole goal is to uphold an international norm, but it faces opposition from most countries and international public opinion. The negotiations do buy time for Syria, but also for the Obama administration.
Read the full Washington Post column
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
In the fifth year of the Obama presidency, the United States’ image remains strong around the world compared with the last years of the administration of President George W. Bush. Still, pro-America sentiment is slipping.
The decline is in no way comparable to the collapse of U.S. standing in the first decade of this century. But the “Obama bounce” in the global stature of the United States experienced in 2009 is clearly a thing of the past. And this gradual erosion of support is, in part, due to the diminishing popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama himself in some nations.
In 28 of 38 nations, half or more of those surveyed express a favorable opinion of the U.S., according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. This includes more than half those surveyed in seven of eight European countries, including three quarters in Italy, two thirds in Poland and 64 percent in France. Only in Greece does just 39 percent of the public say they have a favorable view of Uncle Sam.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
So, the Obama administration has now decided that Syria’s use of chemical weapons crosses a red line and, as a result, the United States will supply the opposition with small arms and ammunition. This strikes me as a risky decision – too little to have a real impact and enough to commit the United States in a complex civil war.
First, let’s be clear. This will not ease the humanitarian nightmare unfolding in Syria. The opposition forces will now have some more arms and will fight back, presumably killing more of the regime’s soldiers and supporters. Levels of violence might well rise not decline.
So what exactly is the objective of this policy shift? Is it the defeat of Bashar al-Assad? If so, can such a small shift in American support for the opposition really do that? The opposition forces are disorganized. Joshua Landis, the Syria scholar, estimates that there are 1,000 militias that make up the rebel forces. Such a decentralized opposition would need a lot more than more small weapons and ammunition to succeed.
By Elizabeth Economy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr senior fellow and director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.
Presidential summits between the United States and China have become disappointingly predictable. Before every summit there is a sense of anticipation. What issues will be at the top of the agenda? What new agreements might be reached? How will the two presidents get along? During the summit, news is scant. There are hints of common purpose, but mostly there are admissions of significant differences. And then, inevitably, there is the post-summit letdown. The issues were the same as always. The leaders didn’t really get along (although no one quite says that). And new agreements were never in the cards.
It is possible for President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping to break this summit stalemate when they meet on June 7 to 8 at the Sunnylands estate in California. To do so, however, will require flipping the summit process on its head. Rather than working toward agreement across all the areas of conflict before them – which after all will take years not days of negotiation – the two presidents need to begin by headlining what in the U.S.-China relationship actually works and then delivering that message to the American and Chinese publics.
By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN
Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech Thursday did not deliver any radical policy changes or huge revelations, but it was well done nonetheless. It explained his reasoning behind the use of certain techniques of warfare including drone strikes and Guantanamo detentions, even as he also promised to minimize the use of these methods in the future and try to move towards a world in which the 2001 authorization for war against al Qaeda and affiliates would no longer be needed. It was an intelligent blend of the tone of his more idealistic speeches, such as the Cairo address of June 2009, with his more muscular messages like the December 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
But one section of his speech is worth particular focus – the use of armed unmanned combat vehicles or drones. Even though President Obama did not specify exactly how drone strikes would change in the future, and did not provide a great deal of new information about them, the modest amount of detail he did provide was welcome. That is because U.S. drone strikes are badly misunderstood around the world, a point underscored by a New York Times op-ed today contained the following statements:
“...the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.”
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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