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Obama's 'Let's Have Tea' Approach to Foreign Policy

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This week's Economist features an editorial cartoon depicting Secretary of State John Kerry hosting afternoon tea for the Palestinians and Israelis. The cartoon seems to capture well the tact that the United States has taken in addressing critical foreign policy issues around the world under the leadership of President Barack Obama. As the world comes to terms with the overreach of Russian "power" in Ukraine, the smoldering human rights violations in Syria, and the ongoing struggle toward peace in Israel, it's a shame that American foreign policy is able to be captured well as an invitation to tea that no one is accepting.

Compare the "let's have tea" depiction of American foreign policy to the classic image of President Theodore Roosevelt's "big stick" diplomacy and it's clear that something is terribly wrong with America's approach to crises around the world. In essence, we have gone from leading the global community to being viewed as a necessary bystander hosting comfortable get togethers.

As the world faces tyrants and unspeakable crimes against humanity, it's frightening to think that the United States has taken a backseat to addressing the most pressing issues facing the global community. We've gone from being the strong voice, backed-up by a willingness to use force when necessary, to preserve freedom and secure human rights to settling for tea parties that are attempts at diplomacy in name only. This absent foreign policy is even more disconcerting when we consider the risk it poses for both our national security and economic recovery.

In fact, the mediocre foreign policy of Obama is even more troubling in that U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel appears to be failing to follow his own guidance. In a 2004 article for Foreign Affairs, then U.S. Senator Hagel (R-NE) argued that, "A wise foreign policy recognizes that U.S. leadership is determined as much by our commitment to principle as by our exercise of power." The Secretary would do well to follow his own advice and exert a willingness to exercise power in the face of danger to the interests of the United States and the global community. In the absence of the Secretary of Defense adhering to his own principles, Republicans have been increasingly speaking out against the absent foreign policy of President Obama.

In the wake of the recent rebel strike against a plane flying over Ukraine filled with innocent passengers (with weapons likely supplied by Russia), Senator John McCain said that blame regarding the escalating situation in Eastern Europe was partly owed to the, "cowardly [Obama] administration that failed to give the Ukrainians weapons with which to defend themselves." Senator McCain then argued that the United States should respond to the crisis in Ukraine by supporting the Ukrainians with military assistance. Sadly, President Obama has chosen not to follow the wisdom of Senator McCain and instead has resorted to mere "teleprompter" assistance for the Ukrainian people with speeches and calls for economic sanctions, but a continued failure to exert the power of the United States in the face of Vladimir Putin's arrogance and disregard for sovereignty.

Even Governor Rick Perry has stepped forward with a call to end U.S. isolationism. In July, Governor Perry wrote, "Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further." Perry continues by arguing that we are in need of a president, like Ronald Reagan, who bravely led the world with "moral and strategic clarity."

Perhaps it's this absence of "moral and strategic clarity" that has led President Obama and Secretaries Kerry and Hagel to feel comfortable with a foreign policy forged around the distribution of "calling cards" and the hopes that someone will show-up for tea; however, thus far their approach has proved unfruitful. Although the rockstar image of Obama may have been popular around the globe when he first came to office, he's now led us to a point at which the world no longer views us as the great protector that we once were. In fact, he appears to be at great odds with Hagel's insightful observation that, "A sustainable [foreign] policy requires a domestic consensus and commitment. This begins with strong presidential leadership and vision about the United States' role in the world." It seems quite clear that Obama's vision is blurry at best.

If the United States is truly a nation of principles then our recent diversion from following through on our belief in the sovereignty of states and the protection of human rights should be questioned at length. The fact that we promise our allies support, but back away when such is required and that we fail to intervene when basic human rights are blatantly violated demonstrates that our leaders have failed to uphold the promise of American foreign policy. The United States need not be the great "policeman" of the world, however, the great power we have accumulated does burden us with responsibility to protect the global community from some of the great evils that now challenge our way of life.

Hosting an afternoon tea party, albeit a metaphor for a weak foreign policy, will not bring an end to the great challenges facing our world. As Democrats and President Obama continue in their failure to exert the power of the United States in responding to global crisises, Republicans have begun to pick-up the pieces and reconstruct a foreign policy that will serve to balance our principles with a willingness to use force when necessary to preserve freedom, sovereignty, and human rights.