Ap­ply­ing smart power ver­sus don’t do stupid stuff

The Covington News - - OPINION - To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www. cre­ators.com.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Last Septem­ber, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the me­dia were cheer­ing hap­pen­stance as vic­tory. A quick re­view of last year’s events: the use of chem­i­cal weapons by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment on civil­ians, tough talk by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, an ad­min­is­tra­tion push for a con­gres­sional vote for use of force, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark re­gard­ing Syria giv­ing up chem­i­cal weapons, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin lever­ag­ing the remark into ac­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion claim­ing a great so­lu­tion.

The events led the ad­min­is­tra­tion to be­lieve that let­ting a sit­u­a­tion play out, thereby lead­ing to a hap­pen­stance vic­tory, is the same as a strate­gic course of ac­tion. This has been rolled out in the past year by the ad­min­is­tra­tion as “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

A June 1 ar­ti­cle by Mike Allen for Politico ti­tled, “’Don’t do stupid sh--’ (stuff),” tracks the dis­til­la­tion of Obama’s ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy be­gin­ning with the April 28 Los An­ge­les Times ar­ti­cle, “Obama ar­gues against use of force to solve global con­flicts,” by Christi Par­sons, Kath­leen Hen­nessey and Paul Richter. “The pres­i­dent’s aides have scram­bled to put things in sim­pler terms. ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is the po­lite-company ver­sion of a phrase they use to de­scribe the pres­i­dent’s for­eign pol­icy.”

This ap­proach to not do­ing stupid stuff pre­ceded Obama’s remark this past week, that “we don’t have a strat­egy yet” for deal­ing with the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria. While it might have been truth­ful, it was not com­fort­ing. The fact is we should have a strat­egy that un­der­stands the frame­work and fo­cuses on us­ing all pos­si­ble tools to work to­ward an Amer­ica-cen­tric so­lu­tion.

In­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics is chal­leng­ing, as there are al­ways mul­ti­ple play­ers with mul­ti­ple view­points, goals and op­tions. For­mer U.N. Am­bas­sador Jeane Kirk­patrick, un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, writ­ing in her Novem­ber 1979 es­say “Dic­ta­tor­ships & Dou­ble Stan­dards” in Com­men­tary Mag­a­zine, laid out the ev­i­dence that the tran­si­tional pe­riod be­tween an au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment and its po­ten­tial demo­cratic re­place­ment could re­sult in chaos: “Au­thor­ity in tra­di­tional au­toc­ra­cies is trans­mit­ted through per­sonal re­la­tions: from the ruler to his close as­so­ciates (rel­a­tives, house­hold mem­bers, per­sonal friends), and from them to peo­ple to whom the as­so­ciates are re­lated by per­sonal ties re­sem­bling their own relation to the ruler. The fab­ric of au­thor­ity un­rav­els quickly when the pow- er and sta­tus of the man at the top are un­der­mined or elim­i­nated. ... With­out him, the or­ga­nized life of the so­ci­ety will col­lapse, like an arch from which the key­stone has been re­moved. ... The speed with which armies col­lapse, bu­reau­cra­cies ab­di­cate, and so­cial struc­tures dis­solve once the au­to­crat is re­moved fre­quently sur­prises Amer­i­can pol­i­cy­mak­ers and jour­nal­ists ac­cus­tomed to pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions based on uni­ver­sal­is­tic norms rather than par­tic­u­lar­is­tic re­la­tions.”

Kirk­patrick’s point was that tran­si­tion­ing to demo­cratic rule re­quires more than oust­ing an au­to­cratic gov­ern­ment; that the foun­da­tions of democ­racy are nei­ther eas­ily nor rapidly repli­cated, and, if they are not in place, any at­tempt to cre­ate democ­ra­cies of­ten proves short-lived. Why is this im­por­tant in re­view­ing the op­tions? The foun­da­tion of the Mid­dle East dif­fers from that of Amer­ica in the 1700s. When we re­view for­eign re­la­tions, we must step back and con­sider the mul­ti­ple back­grounds, foun­da­tional struc­tures and reper­cus­sions of our po­ten­tial ac­tions.

Christian Whiton, for­mer diplo­mat, lays out in his book, “Smart Power: Be­tween Diplo­macy and War,” a crit­i­cal er­ror in that “two dis­tinct but over­lap­ping el­e­ments” were nei­ther clearly iden­ti­fied nor ar­tic­u­lated to the Amer­i­can pub­lic or even to the na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus after the at­tacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He iden­ti­fies them as Is­lam and Is­lamism.

“The for­mer is a re­li­gion of nearly a quar­ter of the world’s pop­u­la­tion; the lat­ter is a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy whose cen­tral tenet is uni­fy­ing gov­ern­ment, and Is­lam and is ad­vo­cated by a small sub­set of Mus­lims.” With­out our aware­ness of the sit­u­a­tion, it is not pos­si­ble for us to cre­ate a work­able plan.

This still has not been clearly and plainly ar­tic­u­lated. Is­lamism is the base, the foun­da­tion for ISIS. To craft and ex­e­cute a strat­egy for ISIS, we must un­der­stand what they are, and who we are as well.

Re­gard­ing who we are as a na­tion, we would be wise to re­mem­ber and heed the words that Kirk­patrick spoke dur­ing her 1984 speech at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, where she con­tended that Democrats “al­ways blame Amer­ica first.” In com­par­i­son, the Amer­i­can peo­ple un­der­stand “the dan­gers of end­less self- crit­i­cism and self-den­i­gra­tion,” Kirk­patrick noted. “Clearly, a civ­i­liza­tion that feels guilty for ev­ery­thing it is and does will lack the en­ergy and con­vic­tion to de­fend it­self.”

There is a wide chasm be­tween “don’t do stupid stuff,” and ap­ply­ing smart power. The first re­quires us to re­main re­ac­tive, and the sec­ond re­quires us to be proac­tive and shape the world in which we live.

JACKIE GIN­GRICH

CUSH­MAN

COLUM­NIST

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