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Archive for the ‘US Foreign Policy’ Category

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-23-12

Could it be that despite all that tension and testosterone, that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree a whole lot more about foreign policy than they disagree? I learned from the debate that both candidates hope to stop Iran, contain China, support Israel, and magically conjure up a peaceful solution in Syria while seeing a flourishing Democratic Arab spring. I also learned that both candidates would prefer to speak about domestic issues than foreign issues, as they repeatedly segued into their economic and education programs, claiming that achieving a “strong America” is a foreign policy issue too. These shifts reflected the American people’s mood – this election is much more about domestic policy than foreign policy.

True, at heart Barack Obama is more an idealistic internationalist, preferring multilateralism and global cooperation, while Mitt Romney is a muscular isolationist, yearning for American autonomy and insisting on American strength. But these differences pale before the fact that it is difficult to assess any candidate’s foreign policy ideology – let alone how that candidate will act as president. Predicting how a president will function in foreign affairs is as reliable as guessing how first-time parents will act when their children become teenagers – lovely theories succumb to tumultuous unforeseen squalls.

Foreign policy is particularly elusive due to the unpredictability of foreign events, the mushiness in American foreign policy ideologies, and the often-constructive tradition of presidents abandoning their preconceptions once they actually start governing.  Barack Obama himself is proof of the haziness here.  To the extent that Senator Obama had a foreign policy vision in 2008 as a candidate – when he had as little foreign policy experience as Governor Romney has in 2012 – his presidency has frequently succeeded by forgetting it. As Obama boasts about getting Osama Bin Laden and approving the Afghanistan surge, and as Guantanamo Bay remains open, pacifist leftists are understandably wondering what happened to their anti-war, human rights hero. If Obama is correct that the Republican candidate’s newly moderate domestic policies reflect “Romnesia”; pacifist leftists could mourn many such “Obaminations.”

Ultimately, the convergence offered a welcome reminder, as this campaign intensifies, that America’s greatest foreign policy victories, including winning World War II and the Cold War, were bipartisan moments uniting the nation not dividing parties. Whoever wins will have to lead from the center, in both foreign and domestic affairs – moving from the theoretical clashes of the campaign trail to the necessary reconciliations of governance.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 9-30-12

In his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined the general pile on against the American presidential campaign. Trying to mock American democracy, he asked “Are we to believe that those who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on election campaigns have the interests of the people of the world at their hearts?” Well, I argue, the answer is “yes.”

Without millions of dollars spent in political campaigns, it would be impossible for candidates to communicate with the people — and make their case that their vision is indeed best not only for Americans but for others throughout the world. Ahmadinejad said that  “Despite what big political parties claim in the capitalistic countries, the money that goes into election campaigns is usually nothing but an investment.” Here, he is correct. The money is an “investment”; an investment in the democratic process.

I am not naïve. I know that too many plutocrats hold too much sway over the American political conversation. I know that too many politicians spend far too much time dialing for dollars rather than politicking with the people. Still, it is hard to take advice from a political hooligan who used violence to secure his own re-election, which a majority of the Iranian people seems to have opposed. And it reflects a lack of proportion in the rhetorical world of the UN, that Ahmadinejad would be tempted to take a very legitimate criticism that raises important questions and dilemmas regarding the mechanics of the American campaign and use it to try delegitimizing American democracy and America itself.

This tyrant’s tirade should remind us to view our current frustrations with the current campaign in context. Yes, there is much that could be improved in the campaign. Yes, the debates we are about to witness will pivot far too much on theatrical skills rather than political messaging. But we should not take the magic of the campaign for granted. This includes the power granted the people to change course, the efforts the President of the United States and his opponent are investing in communicating with the people, and the stability, peace, harmony, and order underlying what has been and will probably continue to be a non-violent, surprisingly efficient, deeply democratic exercise involving tens of millions of voters either validating the incumbent or gently but firmly replacing him, with no tanks in the streets, no thugs manipulating results.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, 5-2-11

Osama bin Laden died a spectacular failure. While his predecessor Yassir Arafat proved that terrorism can work, bin Laden proved terrorism’s limits.  Osama killed more people more flamboyantly than Arafat.  But, under Arafat, the Palestinians blasted their way onto the world’s agenda.  Osama’s nihilistic terrorism was so destructive it hurt his cause, miring Islamism in a bog of death and destructiveness.  Osama’s blood-splattered biography taught the world important lessons, including:  

We cannot escape history:  Too many Americans awoke on September 11, believing we were enjoying a holiday from history.  Communism had collapsed.  The Dow Jones was rising. Electronic gadgets were proliferating.  Serious thinkers and superficial commentators were claiming that Americans transcended history—using “history” as a euphemism for troubles.

Al Qaeda terrorism abruptly ended America’s post-Cold War idyll, highlighting even a super-power’s vulnerability in the modern world.  But the post-9/11 assumptions that this mass trauma would make American society serious proved as false as the September 10 assumptions that peace and prosperity would last forever or that anyone could escape from the various forces large and small which accumulate and shape us—which we then call history.

We can defeat terrorism:  Even before September 11, but certainly after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, the conventional wisdom imputed far too much power to terrorists.  These big bangs in New York and Washington, as well as the latest wave of Palestinian terror that had started a full year earlier in Israel, seemed to be harbingers of perpetual attacks.  But two leaders who were not afraid to be hated, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, showed that reacting to terrorist attacks was not enough.  Pushing back militarily, hunting terrorists down, keeping them on the defensive, was the best way to prevent future attacks.  Terrorists have trouble planning attacks on the run or under bombardment.

Islamists—and eventually the Palestinians—also suffered from their own, often-overlooked, version of blowback.  Suicide bombings of office buildings and cafes, buses and bar mitzvahs triggered mass revulsion.  The terrorists lost what little romance they cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s, appearing to be barbarians who hurt their own cause.  Ten years later, Al Qaeda has nothing to show for its spectacular mass slaughter in 2001; even Hamas is more likely to deny a terrorist attack than take “credit” for it.

Islamism is evil:  Prior to 9/11, the statement was doubly problematic.  Many of our greatest thinkers recoiled from such judgmental proclamations, especially concerning any non-Western phenomena.  The crime of 9/11 was so dastardly it shocked many—not all—back into a language of good and evil, right and wrong.  And, as politically incorrect as it may be, many recognized that this fight was not just against a tactic—terrorism—but an ideology—Islamism.

Islamism is a Jihadist, holy war-oriented, perversion of Islam, rooted in some Koranic teachings, but ignoring others.  Despite their fury against Bin Laden’s brutal Islamism, few Americans attacked Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans.  George W. Bush deserves tremendous credit for repudiating such bigotry.  American-Arabs and Muslims also helped themselves.  Most are neither Islamists nor jihadists.  The nineteen hijackers were foreign infiltrators not homegrown terrorists.  And anyone who examined America’s Arab and Muslim population encountered law-abiding citizens, many of whom sought refuge in the United States from this fundamentalist fanaticism.

Israel is not the problem:  Bin Laden’s own words demonstrated his hatred for the West, and for America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia.  He only redirected his Jihad toward Israel after 9/11, in a bid for popularity.  As with this year’s Arab spring, the facts from the Middle East disturbed the conventional wisdom in the West.  Nevertheless, so many supposed experts continued buying Palestinians’ propaganda line that solving their conflict is the keystone to world peace, when their future is not even the central regional challenge.

Democracies are resilient:  September 11 resulted from a dramatic American intelligence failure.  Following September 11, Americans feared terrorism would triumph.  President Bush made many, significant mistakes—or, as Republicans preferred to say it, mistakes were made.  Yet, like Londoners in the 1940s, or Jerusalemites in the 2000s, Americans showed a grit and a grace, a unity and a sense of community, a softness in their hearts and a toughness in their spirits, that ultimately defeated the terrorists and healed the country, even as over 3000 families, friendship circles, neighborhoods, communities continue to cope with unfathomable losses.

Presidencies often converge:  For all their differences in tone, style, and ideology, Presidents Bush and Obama have responded in remarkably similar ways to their respective presidencies’ biggest crises.  Bush looked downright Democratic in turning on the stimulus spigot to spend America out of its economic trauma.  Obama has looked downright Republican in assassinating America’s enemies whenever and wherever he can.  Perhaps, it is worth ratcheting down the rhetoric, just a bit, and understanding that responsible democratic leaders often have more limited options than it seems, and that responsible leaders often act responsibly, regardless of ideology.

In the great American musical “South Pacific,” the main character asked a soldier, “We know what you are against, what are you for?”  Bin Laden failed because he defined himself by what he opposed, while what he promoted was so chimerical, it made him look delusional and dastardly, addicted to death, with no plan for life.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Gil Troy “Canada’s best Presidents Relations with the U.S. still depend on how our leaders get along”:

Source: Macleans, 2-19-09

The interaction between Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Reagan makes an intriguing case study. At first glance, they seemed bound to clash. “There’s a great picture,” says Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University and author of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, “of Trudeau in an ascot, looking very European, and Reagan in a brown suit, looking sort of midwestern.” Yet he points out that Reagan writes favourably in his memoirs about his first meeting with Trudeau, recalling how they agreed on the need for a closer North American alliance, planting the seeds of the free trade deal Reagan eventually signed with Brian Mulroney.

When there’s a clash between American and international interests, or course, presidents tend, like politicians everywhere, to play to the home crowd. In Obama’s case, that might eventually spell disappointment for his legions of admirers abroad, including Canadians. “At a certain point it is more important for him to be popular in Peoria than in Ottawa, let alone than in Europe,” says Troy.

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