Arlington, VA September 1, 2013
What ever happened to National Purpose?
Some years ago, I happened to have the opportunity to listen to Walid Phares speak at the US National Defense University in Washington DC on the topic of National Policy. For those of you who are acquainted with Dr. Phares, it is clear that he is no radical; rather a dedicated, studied, and relatively conservative voice on the issues of the day--we probably in better days would have called him 'balanced' in his views.
On this particular day, he was speaking on the creation of National Strategy, and how that strategy is constructed. At the center of concentric circles is something called National Purpose, which are the basic ethical standards and obligations were have as a republic, and are expected to use as guiding principles for our governmental actions. Radiating out to the next concentric circle we find National Interest, those more specific principles we hold that relate to how we choose to make decisions on actions in specific cases. It is often the case that we might be, as a Nation, concerned about something, because our National Purpose as a democracy tells us that an event is wholly un-democratic in nature. Our National Interest, however, may indicate that this kind of event is not high on the radar, deserving an immediate response.
Indeed, when some event or policy does rise to a level that the issue could impact on our National Interest, then we evaluate how to respond, based on another of the principles Phares discussed, that being National Policy. The question at this juncture is that, if the event or practice is against our national interest, does it also rise to require action as a matter of National Policy? The answer to that question can be very complicated, because it represents both a governmental and a political question. The answer to that question determines the execution of the last principle--National Action--by which we move forward with a decision, based on purpose, interest, and policy, to react with some form of social, military, or mixed approach response. This kind of planning and analysis has long been the basis for military actions, especially, over a number of generations, and presidencies on both sides of the political spectrum.
Taking these principles to present day issues, such as that in Syria, where chemical weapons have been used against the population, we believe by the Assad regime, it seems that these long-held principles have no place in determining foriegn policy in the current administration. As has been reported widely by the media, Barack Obama first established a so-called 'red line', which, if crossed by the Assad Regime, where chemical weapons had been used, it would result in actions by the US and its allies to stop their further use.
The 'red line' was crossed months ago. Evidence is clear they had been used at least twice, and so far the US response has been simply to deny facts, and then move the line. Now, with nearly 2,000 killed and sickened in the latest attack, it has become too public to ignore, and too late to effectively create a meaningful response. The British did what we used to do routinely. They analyzed Purpose, Interest, Policy, and Action, brought the issue to the British Parliament, and decided this was not a pressing issue for them to commit their forces.
Obama had that opportunity months ago. Unfortunately, he has spent so much time using the Congress--which alone has the right to declare war under our constitution--and bombing Syria would be an act of war however he describes it--that effective consultation now would probably be fruitless. Instead, he held a press conference, saying he would refer it finally to the Congress, and immediately stated that he would act anyway, even in the Congress voted not to intervene.
From a National Interest and National Action perspective, one has to ask the very pertinent question--Why is it important for us, the United States---to be intervenor in these affairs, when the other countires of Europe and the Middle East want no part of intervention themselves?
Much of the rhetoric we are seeing now is due to the indecisiveness of the Obama. He claims to be a peacemaker, and the one who got us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. That is partially true. The Bush administration had already set dates for withdrawal from Iraq, and had started the surge in Afghanistan as a means of pushing for some kind of victory before draw down there. The concept of ending the wars was not new to the Obama Administration.
This situation is not like withdrawal. it is much harder to decide to intervene than to withdraw. Moreover, this president is not like JFK, LBJ, or Bush 41, all of whom faced similar decisions and made them without long-term waffling. We may not agree with results in all cases, but the Nation was seen as strong, decisive, and protecting of our National Interests.
We don't see that here. What we see is a president, coming toward the end of his final term in office, who has built a reputation as a political bully in Washington, acting a lot like a socialist dictator, while trying to force a legacy that will somehow show his constant indecisiveness as strength in the face of obstinate opposition. What he fails to realize is that he does not determine his legacy--the people, the historians, and the rest of the world will determine the legacy of Barack Obama, and, frankly, that legacy does not look bright, at least from this vantage point.
There is a more important issue, however, and one that bears all of our attention. Indecisiveness, while is does not directly affect National Purpose, or even National Interest, both of which can remain relatively intact without firm decisions, it does affect both National Policy and National Action. When we are seen, as a nation, as indecisive, they other nations cease to regard our national policies as worthy of their attention. Witness the british Parliament versus the Prime Minister, or the UN, or the Arab League. In addition, indecisiveness leads to mistakes in military action, as we put our warriors on alert, and then stand-down like a yo-yo, they soon lose their critical military edge. We also lose considerab le face, as we are seen to be backing down to ther major powers, like China and Russia, and seemingly afraid of facing even an incompetent force, like the Syrian Army. Indecisiveness breeds contempt.
By the time action in Syria occurs, if it ever does, the weapons will be moved, the military will be repositioned, and the artillery gone into hiding. Even the most incompetent of administrations can do that. Obama will be left, as he seems to usually be, giving a strongly worded reproof to Assad, who will return an obscene gesture and continue to kill his own people. That's politics at its best, and Obama seems to be the best at politics and not governance.