05/31/2014 12:29 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2014

Obama's 'Passive' Foreign Policy Is a Welcome Change

I don't like everything about President Obama's foreign policy. I particularly do not like his policy on Israel and the Palestinians which alternates between being written by AIPAC and, like right now, being nonexistent. I think the drone war is illegal and immoral. Plus I worry that eventually it will blow back on us.

But, in general, I like the way Obama sees the world because it is clear that he does not view America as divinely-ordained to be the world's cop. Look at his Iran policy. If it wasn't for Obama, it is almost certain that Netanyahu and his fanboys in the United States would have led us into war by now. Instead, we are deep in negotiations.

I don't believe we will go to war with Iran even if the talks fail. That is because I don't believe that Obama is willing to send Americans to die in a war to prevent another country from possessing a technology that they are legally entitled to possess. Why should we? Because Netanyahu doesn't want his nuclear monopoly challenged?

To put it simply, I believe Obama's foreign policy is based on the premise that there are limits on U.S. power and that we need to respect them. And those limits are not just tactical, they are also moral. Who made us God? Who, for heaven's sake, gave us the right to invade or bomb foreign countries because we don't approve of their governments? In short, his policy is that the use of military force is reserved for situations where we ourselves are threatened -- the American people not companies like Halliburton and the other war contractors.

Obama's world view would have prevented war crimes like the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq. It would have prevented criminal interventions in Iran (in 1953), Chile, Guatemala and dozens of other instances where we used force to defend friendly fascist dictators or oil or the United Fruit Company.

Tens of thousands of Americans who never lived to have children or grandchildren would be alive if Obama's policies had been in effect over the last half century and millions of non-Americans too. We know what the alternative to Obama is because we lived through it for decades. It is the genocidal policies of thugs like Nixon, Rumsfeld and Bush, war profiteers like Cheney and war lovers like McCain. It is neoconservatism, applied everywhere and not just to the Middle East.

I am grateful that Obama is in the White House and am hopeful that his take on the world won't leave with him. (Although I don't like Rand Paul. I am pleased that a leading Republican shares the view that it is not America's role to police the world.)

As far as the question of how to deal with human atrocities abroad, Obama is right to try to engage other nations in the effort to stop them. The Syrian genocide is a horror with few parallels but given the U.S. record in the Middle East, we have absolutely no credibility to go in as peacemaker -- not when we support Israel's endless violations of Palestinian rights including their right to live. Not when we support the junta in Egypt and supported (until we changed our minds) Saddam Hussein.

As for Ukraine, our hypocrisy is literally awesome. Russia is simply behaving in their neighboring state as we have always behaved toward Latin and Central America. We are still embargoing Cuba after 50 years even though the supposed cause for the embargo (the Soviet Union) no longer exists.

No, Obama is right. Given our own history, we can no longer behave as if, in JFK's words, "here on earth, God's work is truly our own." It isn't. That was true during World War II. It hasn't been since. Obama's realistic humility and his reluctance to use force except in the case of direct threats on America is absolutely right.

Historians have revealed that when Richard Nixon inherited Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam war, he knew on day one (as did Henry Kissinger) that the war was lost. He understood that the South Vietnam regime would collapse once the United States pulled out and that the only reason to remain was to save face. The term " decent interval" was devised to describe the period Nixon would continue the fight until we could safely leave South Vietnam and allow its reunification with the north.

Again, the war was lost. Nixon and Kissinger knew it. But the killing and dying continued.

Almost half of the 58,000 Americans who were killed in Vietnam died during that "decent interval" before we got out. They died for nothing except Nixon and Kissinger's pride. As did hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

So, yes, compared to the likes of Nixon and Bush (and most of our recent presidents), Barack Obama is a very reluctant warrior. Thank God for that. The alternative offered by chicken hawks like Cheney, Lindsey Graham, Kristol and Krauthammer would result in more dead soldiers and kids for absolutely nothing.

Hopefully, those days are over.