Wanted: More Idealism?

At Bloomberg Jeffrey Goldberg provides a very positive and, I think, balanced review of President Obama’s foreign policy:

American troops continue not to die in Iraq. American troops are exiting Afghanistan with, so far at least, limited consequence. The Iran nuclear talks may not succeed, but trying to resolve this crisis peacefully is indispensably important — even if only to justify later, more dramatic, responses to the Iranian threat. It’s politically risky as well, and the president should be praised for trying.

A nationalist Russia has not been completely contained by the U.S. and its Western allies, but no would-be president — not John McCain or Mitt Romney or Hillary Clinton — would have developed a military option that could have prevented the conquest of Crimea. North Korea remains insane, but again, it’s unlikely that any other occupant of the Oval Office would have had better luck managing the threat it poses. China is flexing its muscles, but U.S. alliances across Asia are strong, and in some cases getting stronger. (Obama gets little to no credit for reopening the Philippines to a regular U.S. naval presence, and the U.S. now has a permanent Marine Corps contingent stationed in northern Australia.)

He concludes with what I think is a puzzler:

On domestic issues — health care, most notably — Obama sets grand goals. They may not all be attained, but he sets them anyway. I don’t want to see overreach in foreign policy. But more ambition and a bit more idealism? Over the past year, I’ve visited almost two dozen countries. Generally speaking, these countries — their leaders and people — want more American leadership in the world, not less.

Foreign leaders want American leadership until it gores their oxen. Then we’re imperialists. My own view is that American foreign policy should be calibrated to secure American interests narrowly understood. If you want to make the world a better place, don’t use force to do it. Take a longer view. As Confucius said, if your plan is a one year plan, plant rice. If your plan is a ten year plan, plant trees. If your plan is a hundred year plan, teach children. Life is not television. We can’t make the world a better place over the course of an hour.

1 comment… add one

  • Guarneri

    Why didn’t this post get more comments?? Foreign policy has previously gotten its fair share of comments here.

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