(Providence, Rhode Island) – The big news this week was President Obama ordering air strikes on ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) rebels and their positions in Iraq. The President – who strongly opposed the war in Iraq and ended it – was suddenly in a position of having to do something he did not want to do. It's not the first time he, or other Presidents, have been reluctantly forced into action. Let's “brunch” on that this week:
“Continuity of U.S.. Foreign Policy” – Sometimes a Presidential action is strongly shaped (if not dictated), by what a previous Commander in Chief has done. With his actions, President Obama becomes the fourth consecutive U.S.. leader to take military action in Iraq. Why? Well ISIS is trying to undo previous American actions. It's trying to topple the Iraqi government we as a nation helped to create. For it to fall into a completely Islamic state targeting our best interests or becoming a base for terrorists is not something any U.S. President (even one who opposed the war) can allow to happen.
“Déjà vu All Over Again” – Iraq is not the first time that President Obama had to change course on a previous policy stance. In 2008 when he ran for President he advocated closing the U.S.. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six years later, the prison camp is still open for business. Why? It's one thing to campaign for President; it's quite another to actually have the job. I am sure some of his first national security briefings were real jaw-droppers. He probably got a more accurate picture of how bad these prisoners were, and a more realistic impression of how much of a threat or target they would create if actually moved to U.S.. soil.
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” – Speaking of Guantanamo Bay, its most infamous prisoner will actually be put on trial there. Originally the Obama administration wanted him prosecuted in the U.S.. District Court in Manhattan – the site of the 9/11 attacks which he led. Ultimately, the White House reversed course, and he will be tried by a military tribunal at Guantanamo. That was a procedure set up previously by the Bush II administration. The main concern was likely the fear that holding a trial on U.S.. soil would make that trial a target for other terrorist attacks.
“On the Border” – Certainly one of the biggest stories over the past month has been the plight of tens of thousands of foreign children being illegally dropped at the U.S.. Southern border. While many Americans have called for their immediate deportation, in many cases it isn't that simple. Children claiming refugee status or political asylum are guaranteed legal representation and deportation hearings. Some of the provisions for those delays were not put in place by President Obama, but rather by his predecessor George W. Bush. So, it's not as simple as a liberal versus conservative issue. It's another case where a sitting President's policy, is shaped – in part - by the policy of a previous President.
“The Marshall Plan” – Sometimes, though, a sitting President will make a sharp change from previous policy and it will affect many Presidents to come. Such was the case from the Marshall Plan, conceived at the end of World War II. It's interesting to note that the Marshall Plan was a bipartisan effort by Democratic President Harry Truman and the Republican-led Congress. The goal was to rebuild Europe after World War II. Many believed that when the allies left the region devastated physically and economically after World War I, it helped create the simmering resentment against the West that allowed Hitler to amass so much support and power. The U.S.. vowed to never let that happen again. This is why later Presidents spent so much time and money rebuilding places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing economic trade with Japan and Vietnam. In diplomatic terms, the U.S.. policy was to make friends with a former enemy. To a large measure, it has paid dividends over the years.
“Why All of this Matters” – The point of today's column is to explain the often seeming contradictions of any President's foreign policy. Yes, they said one thing on the campaign trail; they did something different once in office. Decisions are not made in a vacuum. As we've seen, contemporary decisions are often shaped by what was done in the past, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. There is an attempt to have continuity and consistency in U.S.. foreign policy, without major lurches to the right or left. That's not to say major changes don't happen, but changes are most often incremental over time.
What are your thoughts? What further actions do you think the U.S.. should take in Iraq? Just let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.