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By James D. Veltmeyer
Special to Valley News 

Toward a new realism in foreign policy

 

Last updated 8/1/2019 at 10:50pm



Since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, America’s foreign policy lost the unifying theme and focus which had guided it since the end of World War II. During the post-War period, Americans enjoyed a certitude of the moral imperative of resisting communist tyranny. After 1990, our purpose seemed to shift and sway from promoting “human rights” to encouraging “democracy” to various sorts of globaloney.

This shift has led to a variety of misplaced priorities and policies which have resulted in staggering debacles like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military interventions in Serbia, Syria, Libya and other nations, costing U.S. taxpayers trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. Only now is President Donald Trump attempting to extricate the U.S. from some of these quicksand conflicts, only to encounter stiff resistance from the “neo-conservative” pro-war Washington establishment as well as some of his own advisors, like National Security Advisor John Bolton, an architect of the Iraq War.

After World War II, as the sole economic superpower on the planet and an aggressive Soviet Union subjugating central and eastern Europe and fomenting a communist takeover of mainland China, leadership of the so-called “Free World” passed to the United States. For more than 40 years, the U.S. – practically singlehandedly – embarked on a policy of “containment” of Soviet and Chinese communism, leading to wars in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere. “Containment” was the bipartisan consensus of the foreign policy establishment, rejecting grandiose concepts of actually rolling back the communist advance and liberating the enslaved nations of eastern Europe. President Dwight D. Eisenhower rejected calls to intervene in the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Yet, even some of these “containment” strategies were misplaced as the disastrous war in Vietnam demonstrated, radicalizing an entire generation of America’s young people and almost provoking a civil war at home.

America – with its economic strength and nuclear arsenal – eventually prevailed in the Cold War, but not before President Ronald Reagan’s policies forced the Soviet economy to the brink of collapse and Secretary Gorbachev to the negotiating table. Reagan, who was cautious in his use of military force, employed a clever strategy of undermining the Soviet economy while arming anti-communist rebel armies around the world in order to weaken, and eventually, bring down the Soviet Empire. Reagan wisely avoided large-scale interventions abroad.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of eastern and central Europe, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, it was time for a new bipartisan foreign policy consensus and one seemed to emerge, but was it the right strategy for America’s third century?

With Republican President George H.W. Bush’s proclamation of a “New World Order” and initiation of “Operation Desert Storm” in 1990, it appeared as if the direction of U.S. foreign policy would abandon the high hopes of many for a post-Cold War “peace dividend,” a return to normalcy at home and abroad, and possibly a re-approachment with a non-communist Russia.

The Persian Gulf War ushered in a quarter-century of wars and military interventions around the world, often with little or no national interest involved. Was there any American interest in bombing Serbia for 80 days in 1999 under President Bill Clinton? Or Clinton’s prior interventions in Haiti and Somalia? How about President Barack Obama’s intervention to topple Khadafy in Libya in 2011? Or the ongoing involvement in the Syrian civil war? Will the American people benefit from replacing the secular ruler Assad who protects the religious rights of Christians with emissaries of radical Islam?

Of course, the tragic disaster of the Iraq War represents perhaps the worst foreign policy decision since President Lyndon B. Johnson went to war in Vietnam in 1965. Fabricated on false intelligence, egged on by the “neo-conservative” talking heads like Bill Kristol, and with no clear long-term strategy, the war simply served to destabilize the entire Middle East, upset the balance of power in the region, and exacerbate the threat from Iran. Far from creating “democracies” in that part of the world, it only unleashed the profoundly anti-democratic forces of Islamic extremism and terrorism and empowered groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

While noble concepts like promoting “human rights,” “Western values” and “democracy” sound good in political speeches, they are simply not appropriate to a hard-headed, common-sense foreign policy based on dealing with the world the way it is, not as we would wish it to be. We need a foreign policy based on enlightened realism and the national interest, not high-sounding campaign rhetoric.

Trump campaigned on a platform that shared the same vision as many of America’s Founding Fathers. George Washington warned against entangling alliances with other countries, and John Quincy Adams said the United States “does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” Trump condemned the Iraq War and nation-building overseas. He demanded that our NATO allies as well as Japan and South Korea start paying the cost of their own defense, instead of freeloading on American taxpayers. He sought engagement and negotiation, instead of war, with Kim Jong-un. He opposed the crazy notion of war with Russia and has paid dearly for it.

Unfortunately, the “neo-con” faction within the Republican Party that sees war as  a 24/7 necessity, has pushed back ferociously on a president who is in his heart, a non-interventionist. They pushed him into two bombings on Syria over still unproven allegations of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. They have denounced his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, apparently believing in a permanent U.S. military presence in those nations, something that only inflames native populations against us, as it did in Vietnam. They salivate for war with Iran which would likely lead to a bigger military and political disaster than Vietnam and Iraq combined. These warmongers embody the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned us against in his Farewell Address in 1961. They are ready to employ every tool in their arsenal to get what they want, including staging false-flag incidents.

Winston Churchill once said it is better to “jaw, jaw than war, war,” meaning it’s better to try to negotiate with your adversaries and only pull the trigger as a last resort. This method is what Trump believes. Unfortunately, too many members of the foreign policy establishment yearn for a return to the Bush-Clinton years of endless military conflict. We pray that the president’s vision prevails instead.

Dr. James Veltmeyer is a prominent La Jolla physician voted “Top Doctor” in San Diego County in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Veltmeyer can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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