The Alternative Foreign Policy Option

By Herbert London
President, London Center for Policy Research

It is increasingly the case that foreign policy discussions often result in bipolar viewpoints characterized by those who contend why should we get involved in the affairs of others and those who believe the United States should deploy large forces with massive lethality to contend with enemies.

Each of these opinions has some validity. The trope that we cannot be the world’s policeman is somewhat accurate since we should not and cannot insinuate ourselves in every battle across the globe. Libertarians would contend that the limits of our capability have been reached, perhaps overreached.

Those who believe in a muscular foreign policy argue that our troops represent the only method to truly defend American interests abroad. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that when troops are deployed, it should be in the form of overwhelming force. While Neo-Cons would be inclined to deploy troops, it is instructive that the controversial invasion of Iraq was not initially intended to be an exercise in nation building. If toppling Saddam Hussein was the goal, this invasion force was successful.

Hence America is appropriately split between what are ostensibly international and isolationist positions, with each having ascendency depending on historical circumstances. The U.S. is not an imperial nation seeking neither territory nor colonies, but there are times when military deployment promotes global equilibrium. Conversely, there are times when the U.S. may overreach. The U.S. cannot be a world policeman, but it cannot overlook the fact that a world without a policeman is a very dangerous place.

These choices, however, are not dispositive. In the Middle East, for example, there are nations that would willingly take the fight to enemies like IS, al Qaeda and Iran. In collaboration these states form a formidable fighting force, but they require leadership, intelligence, logistics, and special forces. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and the UAE are prepared to do the fighting. These nations are imperiled and they realize it.

The Obama administration has not recognized the danger facing these Sunni state allies. A tilt to Iran as regional stabilizer has complicated and destabilized the foreign policy stance of the Sunni nations. Instead of leading from behind, there is simply no evidence of leadership at all. Yet this defense condominium is a position between isolationism and internationalist sentiments that could win widespread support and achieve the goal of regional stability. However, one feels about foreign policy, this strategic position is in the arsenal of potential assets we wish to deploy.

Similarly, the competition for harmony in the Pacific between China and the U.S. could be offset by a defense pact of nations that fear Chinese ambitions. These would include Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand among others. What is lacking in this prospective alliance is American leadership that can subdue historical enmity and distrust. Aside from the declaration of a pivot to Asia, there has been no evidence of substantive change in policy.

When President Obama said he was working on a strategy to cope with ISIS, he seemed confused and surprised by the progress of this rogue terrorist organization. Yet even at this time, a real strategy has not been forthcoming for either side of the globe. American foreign policy is adrift and the tides of time do not appear to be on our side, even though answers to what ails us are readily apparent.