June 20, 2013
Virtual JFK: The 44th President’s Foreign Policy Challenge
Posted on Oct 29, 2008
This generation of Americans has already had enough of war. … We do not want war. … The world knows the United States will never start a war.
If strength becomes weakness because of the vanity to which strength may prompt the mighty man or nation … the situation is ironic.
After the Nov. 4 election the new U.S. president, either Barack Obama or John McCain, will face a bewildering array of dangerous foreign policy crises. To have any chance at successfully managing these crises, the new president must bring two qualities to the job, both of which are reversals from the norm established during the administration of George W. Bush: (a) skepticism about the utility of military solutions to political problems; and (b) the willingness and the ability to inform and instruct the American people as to why, as Churchill once put it, “to jaw-jaw is better than war-war.”
The historical precedent for such a president, we argue, was President John F. Kennedy, especially in his approach to the crisis he faced over what to do about the disintegrating situation in Vietnam. Understanding how JFK dealt with Vietnam helps us understand what we call virtual JFK: what JFK probably would have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated. The degree to which the next president emulates JFK’s success on both points—resistance to military solutions and the capacity to explain this resistance to the American people—is, we believe, the degree to which the president we elect on Nov. 4 has a chance of success.
Postelection U.S. Foreign Policy: The Return of the Repressed
Once elected and inaugurated, however, a U.S. president’s politics become global literally overnight. At that moment, issues of war and peace come to the fore for the new commander in chief. This was true during the Cold War. It is still true now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Shortly after noon EST on Jan. 20, 2009, either Obama or McCain will be thrust headlong into a withering array of foreign policy crises, whose number and potential threat to U.S. interests around the world rival those faced by presidents during the darkest days of the Cold War.
We will mention only four looming crises, all caused by, or greatly exacerbated by, the disastrous foreign policies of the Bush administration, all in the Middle East and South Asia, any one of which could spiral into a monumental disaster with dramatic repercussions for the U.S. and perhaps the entire world. The list of probable foreign policy crises could be made longer, to include an increasingly bold, anti-Western and belligerent Russia; a rising Chinese behemoth set to challenge the U.S. at every point in East Asia; the collapsing deal with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, a situation that carries potential consequences in Northeast Asia almost too horrible to contemplate; and a potential tinderbox in Cuba, following a half-century of rule by Fidel and Raul Castro.
Four epochal disasters are already under way, each of which is likely to wind up on the new president’s desk within 24 hours of his inauguration. They are:
• Iraq. More than five years after the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation, Shiites allied with Iran are poised to take virtually total control of the country as the U.S. withdraws. Their objective: to establish an Islamic republic on the Iranian model. The new president must decide: intervene militarily, again, to prevent this from happening, or accept the outcome as inevitable, try to manage the outcome politically in the U.S., and learn to deal with the Baghdad government, whoever may be in charge, and begin exploration of mutual interests with both Baghdad and Tehran.
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