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The following is an exchange between Ambassador William Harrop (ret.) and Ambassador (ret.) Thomas McNamara in response to the latter’s articles (links below) in previous issues. We welcome your comments in response to the article and the discussion below are most welcome. —Ed.

“National Security: Terrorism and Violent Regime Change” Keynote Address, 2013 DACOR Annual Conference, September 27, 2013 (October 2013)
Rebalancing National Security Policy After Afghanistan and Iraq (November 2013)

Ambassador William Harrop wrote:

I do not agree that Obama has no foreign policy strategy. He has been consistent, with the exception of the foolish early bombast on Syria, but is repeatedly cornered by events. He is constant in refusing to go to war in Syria or in Ukraine, crises that do not threaten American security, in the face of taunts by Republican nationalist senators, the undaunted neocons, and the “Americans are responsible for the world’s human rights and we must impose democracy everywhere” crowd. And he is withdrawing—finally—from the costly, misguided mission of nationbuilding in Afghanistan.

Mounting ever tougher economic sanctions against Russia is the sensible policy, and will likely prove effective. Resistance to waving the sword or sending the Marines at every turn should not be confused with isolationism. In fact we have a big stick, by far the most powerful military, and the world knows that without swagger from Washington. Obama displayed political cowardice in his failure to back his own deficit commission—a tragic retreat from presidential leadership— and his shrinkage from confronting the Israel Lobby and Netanyahu on settlements and two states. With courage and determination I believe he could have won both of those huge battles. But, aside from Israel/Palestine, his foreign policy has shown structure and consistency.



Some comments I would make in reply to yours:

1. The main purpose of a national debate—or national discussion if that sounds less contentious—is not to change policies we are pursuing. If our policy on Syria, or on Ukraine is succeeding, the policy would continue. But, we would test it in the context of a national strategy. One of the main purposes of the debate/discussion is to articulate publically a strategic vision of goals and objectives, which are prioritized. The priorities must be directly related to resources and capabilities, which we have, or we commit to develop, to carry out those policies over a defined period (e.g. 5 or 10 years). This helps to identify what we can realistically accomplish for different elements in the strategy. It, also, demonstrates to us (i.e. public and Congress) and to others (i.e. allies, partners, and adversaries) that we have studied, coherent, integrated, realistic national security policies within a grand strategy. [If “grand” is too grand, then “global” will do.]

2. I agree with much of what you say. But, I disagree that this administration has a grand strategy—or even grand strategies. It has many strategies and policies. Some are mutually consistent; some are not. Some are related to long term global and regional goals and objectives; some are not. Almost none are articulated so that we can know how they hang together, or don’t hang together. Policies have the appearance of adhocery because they are largely ad hoc. For example, what is the “pivot,” which was announced in 2010? Is it primarily military? Is it related to the TPP, which we joined in 2009? Neither of these has been explained or prioritized in the context of an Asia strategy, much less globally.

3. Success in any specific policy does not mean the nation knows how successes relate to our national goals and objectives, or are correctly prioritized, or have proper resources available to follow them to conclusion, etc. For example, staying out of the military conflict in Syria is only part of a Syria policy (a pretty sound part, I think). What we can do short of military involvement encompasses a huge range of possible actions costing a range of resources. Some actions may conflict with other Mideast goals, or may be consistent with other goals, but absorb too many resources, thereby limiting what we can do and expect to accomplish elsewhere. What are our objectives and priorities in Syria? Israel? Iran? Iraq? Egypt? And if they are not contradictory, what resources do we have to put against those prioritized objectives?

4. I also agree that we and the European allies, given the situation, are on a good path in Ukraine. But, how stable is Ukraine and what do we realistically expect them and our allies to do to contribute to a success? How does our policy relate to our long term policy with Russia? What happened to the “reset?” Why are we doing what we are doing in Ukraine, but did not do in Georgia? What do we think are NATO’s role and the EU’s role now and in the future? We need to explain the complexity of the sanctions approach, e.g. European energy needs. We should link the Ukraine policy with necessary steps in our and European energy policies.

5. Much of this is using the bully pulpit to educate the nation, and to put our actions in understandable context. It is what we did in the 1940s on containment, and what we did in the 1970s on China, and on the Gulf War in 1990-91. But, it is hard to educate until one has thought through the issues and gains a strategic perspective of where we want to go and how we can get there. This the administration has not done.


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