Monday, January 26, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

What Americans really want in a foreign policy

By
May 06, 2014 |

To understand how President Barack Obama feels about the frustrations of foreign policy in an uncooperative world, just look at his testy response to a question from a Fox News reporter last week.

Are critics wrong, the reporter asked, to say that America’s global position is marked by “weakness”?

“Most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures,” Obama replied.

“Proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again,” he continued.

Instead, Obama argued, he is trying to “steadily advance the interests of the American people” without using force.

“That may not always be sexy,” he said. “But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles. Every once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run.”

But there are two problems with what the president said.

The first is that most of his critics aren’t demanding that he go to war in Syria or Ukraine. Yes, many of them argue that the United States should send weapons to Ukraine’s army and Syria’s rebels, but that’s a long way from advocating a rush to war.

The second problem is that the president ducked the critics’ chief complaint: that his aversion to all forms of military intervention, even indirect ones, has emboldened malefactors like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar Assad to test the limits. That’s a legitimate worry, and much of the public appears to share it, according to recent public opinion polls.

It’s true that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans have no appetite for more military adventures. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 52 percent said the United States should “mind its own business” overseas, the highest percentage to endorse that proposition since the question was first asked in 1964.

But as foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan noted recently, there’s a paradox in those polls: The same public that wants to stay out of foreign entanglements also thinks the president isn’t doing a very good job on international affairs. A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that only 38 percent of those surveyed approved of Obama’s handling of foreign policy; that was fewer than approved of his handling of the economy.

Why the apparent contradiction?

Kagan suggests that Americans are psychologically conflicted. “They may want a narrowly self-interested American policy,” he wrote. “But they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to (Obama) for giving them what they want.”

I think the explanation is a little simpler: Yes, Americans want to stay out of foreign messes, but they also want to see their country’s foreign policy succeed. And at the moment, Obama is suffering from a shortage of successes. Whatever he’s doing, it isn’t working. Russia is still threatening Ukraine. Syria is still mired in bloodshed. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s thankless mediation between Israelis and Palestinians seems doomed.

To which Obama replies: Hey, you can’t always swing for the fences. Sometimes, singles and doubles – what baseball fans call “small ball” – are the best you can do.

But wait a minute. This is a president who used to say we could swing for the fences. We could repair America’s relationships with its allies, enjoy a “reset” with Russia, embrace the Muslim world and make peace just about everywhere.

The failures call to mind the question a famous Alaskan foreign policy analyst once asked: “How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for ya?”

Obama’s initial foreign policy of engagement fell short. The world turned out to be a harsher place than he had hoped. But the problem now is that the president hasn’t laid out a clear new strategy in place of the outmoded old one.

Now that engagement has faltered, the strongest message of U.S. foreign policy is one of disengagement, and not only from Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has been eloquent about the things he doesn’t want to do: get sucked into Syria, send troops or military supplies to Ukraine. But what does he want to do? That’s not as clear.

It’s still possible that, with lower expectations, Obama’s foreign policy can succeed — modestly, with singles and doubles. No swinging for the fences anymore — a focus, instead, on avoiding errors.

It’s even possible (to continue the president’s baseball metaphor) that he’s merely a hitter in a temporary slump. If economic sanctions persuade Putin to keep Russian troops out of Ukraine, that will be a low-cost success. If talks with Iran produce a nuclear agreement, that will be a major success. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Nobody really thought that had a chance, which is why it was entrusted to Kerry, not Obama.

But if the president wants Americans to admire his less-ambitious foreign policy on the way to those not-yet-achieved successes, he’s going to have to explain it better. And not just in cranky outbursts when reporters ask him why nothing seems to be going right.

Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 5 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • The MisterMay 06, 2014 - 7:14 am

    "What Americans really want in a foreign policy"? NO FOREIGN ENTANGLEMENTS. But if you want a crystal clear understanding of our "foreign policy", then Google "All Wars Are Bankers Wars" and watch the 43 minute video that will clear up any brainwashing you had been subject to.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike KirchubelMay 06, 2014 - 10:53 am

    Thanks for the tip. Good stuff. He had a couple of banker quotes that I hadn't heard before, which is quite an accomplishment. I could not find a source for one quote, though “I will not free the black man by enslaving the white man.” allegedly by Lincoln. It's a great line, but I think it's fake.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodMay 06, 2014 - 11:38 am

    All the United States has to do is win the hearts and minds of young people around the globe. We don't do that by going to war or acting like a bully. We do that by being non-threatening and providing an example in our domestic affairs of a nation in which people want to live. But there are limits to how far we can be pushed. Putin will not threaten a NATO ally.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodMay 06, 2014 - 11:40 am

    And Islamic fundamentalists don't get to blow up buildings full of Americans. Somali pirates don't get to take Americans hostage. There is a list, and Obama keeps true to it.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich GiddensMay 06, 2014 - 3:00 pm

    Obama the foreign traitor / imposter's Foreign Policy is one of treason against the United States and is hallmarked by failures, betrayals and rat party excuse making, lies and denials.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Teen finds entrepreneurial path at young age

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Time for Relay for Life kickoff event

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Fairfield schedules workshop on downtown plan

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Suisun Senior Center offers monthly dance

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
 
Wedding Faire offers one-stop browsing for couples

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Crab feed tradition continues this week

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Local government agencies post meeting times

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
.

US / World

 
Millions of GMO insects could be released in Florida Keys

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Boy shot by Los Angeles deputies treated for graze wound

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
US gas prices fell 13 cents per gallon, but expected to rise

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

2 Marines identified in deadly California helicopter crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Santa Ana winds knock out power to thousands in California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Obama to seek wilderness designation for Alaska refuge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Navy wants to increase use of sonar-emitting buoys

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Ukraine: Phone calls prove rebels attacked city, killed 30

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Zambia: Edgar Lungu sworn in as new president

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Greek radical left wins election, threatening market turmoil

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

‘Potentially historic’ storm headed for Northeast

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Balloon crew launches in bid to break 2 major records

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Obama: Counterterrorism operations in Yemen not affected

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Zoo offers creepy way for lovelorn to get even with exes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
.

Opinion

Democracy or republic?

By Earl Heal | From Page: A8, 7 Comments

 
Editorial Cartoon: Jan. 26, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Do elected officials get it?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 8 Comments

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Jan. 26, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Jan. 26, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Horoscope Jan. 27, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

 
My sister is jobless and homeless and I’m not sure how to help

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A7

 
Horoscope Jan. 26, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
TVGrid Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Miss Colombia crowned Miss Universe in Miami

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

‘Birdman’ tops SAG Awards, Redmayne upsets Keaton

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Complete list of winners at 21st annual SAG Awards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

.

Sports

Curry leads Warriors to 19th straight home win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Serena Williams to meet Cibulkova in Aussie Open quarters

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Watt gets 2 turnovers, dances in friendly Pro Bowl

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Tavares scores 4, Team Toews outscores Team Foligno, 17-12

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Coach K gets 1,000th win as No. 5 Duke tops St. John’s 77-68

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Quinn has led Seattle to record-setting defense

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Chip Ganassi Racing’s ‘star car’ wins Rolex 24 at Daytona

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Patriots’ Browner gets a 2nd chance at a Super Bowl ring

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Family attorney: Cubs great Ernie Banks died of heart attack

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Bill Haas pulls away to win Humana Challenge

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jeff Gordon to be Fox guest analyst during XFINITY season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Sherman doubts any punishment ahead for Patriots

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
AP Source: Browns WR Josh Gordon fails another drug test

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

AP Interview: Selig says MLB could expand internationally

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Don Johnson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 7 Comments

 
Thomas Clark

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Pickles Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Sally Forth Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Wizard of Id Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Blondie Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

B.C. Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

For Better or Worse Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Dilbert Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Garfield Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Word Sleuth Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Cryptoquote Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Bridge Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Baldo Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baby Blues Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Sally Forth Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Dilbert Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Zits Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Get Fuzzy Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Beetle Bailey Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Pickles Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Garfield Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

B.C. Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
For Better or Worse Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Peanuts Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Frank and Ernest Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Blondie Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Cryptoquote Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Bridge Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Word Sleuth Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Crossword Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Sudoku Jan 26

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7