Is Paul Ryan right that Obama’s Foreign Policy is Blowing up in Our Faces?

Paul Ryan knows nothing about the world or foreign affairs. I presume he may have been abroad at some point somewhere. I don’t know. As is usual in American politics, however, cavernous ignorance is no bar to holding forth, if it is not in fact a qualification. After all, ignorance is compatible with untainted national chauvinism (he would say patriotism), whereas if you actually know something it is harder mindlessly to wave the flag.

Paul Ryan has been attacking President Obama’s foreign policy as weak and resembling that of Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis, and as ‘blowing up in our faces.’

But is it true that Obama’s foreign policy is ‘blowing up in our faces?’ And how could that have been prevented? Rembember, Ryan’s running mate, Mitt Romney, began calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down on Feb 1, 2011. .

Is Ryan reversing that position and saying Obama should have clung to Mubarak? There are only two possibilities, Paul. If you support democratic elections, a majority will express itself democratically, and the Egyptian public might well veto US policies. If you want a puppet dictatorship, well, that might be easier said than done.

There are Republican loonies who wanted to stick with ‘our allies Mubarak and Gaddafi'” like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. Is Ryan channeling him?

Obama stuck with Mubarak almost to the bitter end. He let him go only a few days before he was overthrown, when it was clear from the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets all over the country, and from the army’s announced refusal to intervene, that Mubarak had to go.

Let’s just recall what was happening in Egypt in February, 2011:

What could Obama have done to keep Mubarak in power, if that is what Ryan is advocating? Some honest journalist should ask Ryan if he believes the US government should have encouraged the Egyptian military to shoot down the Egyptian youth who were demonstrating, and how many exactly it would have been legitimate to massacre in that way.

If Ryan actually knew anything about Egypt, he would know that there was no way for Obama to keep Mubarak in power. Moreover, by acquiescing in Mubarak’s departure, Obama got some grudging credit from many Egyptians and took the issue of America’s long years of monetary and diplomatic backing for Mubarak off the table. When I was hanging out in Tahrir Square in summer of 2011, during a revived period of demonstrations demanding that Mubarak be tried, I saw no anti-American posters or graffiti.

If Obama had called Gen. Hussein Tantawi and Gen. Sami Anan in late January of 2011 and told them they had to mobilize troops and shoot the protesters, that would have become known, and the US embassy would not even be there at all anymore, in all likelihood. The Egyptian Revolution would have become an anti-American revolution.

Moreover, shooting the crowds does not work once they are already mobilized. Mohammad Reza Pahlevi tried taking the people out and shooting them on Black Friday in September of 1978, and it arguably was the nail in the coffin of his reign:

So if urging Mubarak to remain in power through genocide is what he has in mind, Ryan is just wrong that it could possibly have worked. Their position, moreover, is highly immoral. Are they really arguing that the United States should have done whatever was necessary, including fomenting massacre, to keep a brutal military dictator in power in the face of popular demands for democracy? Really? That’s your position?

Although it is true that small crowds of hard line hotheads did attack US embassies two weeks ago, the governments of the countries involved intervened to protect the embassies where they could, and apologized to the US for the attacks.

In Libya, angry pro-American crowds attacked the militia headquarters of Muslim militants suspected of involvement in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, and drove them out of the city. While it is tragic that the consulate was assaulted at all, and that Ambasador Stevens and 3 others died, that was not Barack Obama’s fault; and where you have the Libyan government and tens of thousands of the people of Benghazi showing solidarity with the US, the episode can’t exactly be viewed as anything blowing up in our faces. Foreign policy is not a matter of a day. It is long term, and long term US relations with the four Arab spring countries (especially Libya) have been good.

By the way, does Ryan always consider attacks on US embassies a sign that an administration’s foreign policy is blowing up in our faces? For instance, if if the US embassy in Athens, Greece, was attacked in 2007,, would that have been an indictment of George W. Bush’s foreign policy? What about if the US embassy in Serbia was burned down early in 2008? If the US embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, were attacked in September 2008? If the US consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, was attacked in 2004? What if thousands of anti-American Iraqis were regularly demonstrating and even shelling the Green Zone in Baghdad where the US embassy is, in 2008? Did all that mean that Bush’s foreign policy, the most recent foreign policy outing of the Republican Party, blew up in our faces, according to Ryan?

The Ryan-Romney attack on Obama’s foreign policy because of a rash embassy demonstrations (one of them very serious) is full of logical holes and hypocrisy. I doubt most of the American public wants to hear it.

17 Responses

  1. good post. It would have been better if you would have considered whether Ryan is asking for a return to times when the US did sanction attacks on citizens seeking democratic reforms. Latin American examples are rife, e.g. El Salvador, Guatemala. It’s not as though he’s not drawing on precedent.

    • “It would have been better if you would have considered whether Ryan is asking for a return to times when the US did sanction attacks on citizens seeking democratic reforms. Latin American examples are rife, e.g. El Salvador, Guatemala.”

      I’m confused. What do you mean “return”? We’re still doing it! If anything, Obama’s policy toward Latin America is further right that Bush II. Remember the U.S.-backed military coup in Honduras? See this report for more depth.

      That’s one frustrating thing about this blog – the criticism of Romney’s policies without stating that Obama favors the EXACT SAME policies. E.g. the Palestinian question. Obama’s major accomplishment has been to confirm Ralph Nader’s contention that it doesn’t matter which party gets elected.

      In fact, if anything, the Democrats end up governing to the right of the Republicans because the opposition is neutralized. Remember that Bush Jr. never claimed the right to assassinate American citizens without trial . . .

      • What about Bush’s failed coup against Venezuela, an act that would have completely derailed the progressive wave in South America? In fact, Obama did not launch the Honduras coup; he was cowardly in not fighting it harder and longer but we did not recognize the new president until he agreed to an election which he lost – to someone even further to the Right. The Honduran left had no resources or weapons to fight back, unlike their Venezuelan counterparts.

        You people said the same things about Bush versus Gore. Boy, by 2008 no one was going to say that there was no difference between Bush and the Democrats.

        And the GOP has moved far, far to the Right since Bush, embracing mandates of neo-Confederate, theocratic, and Ayn Rand craziness. Every time a Republican president wrecks the country, the far-right movement successfully sells the same lie to the GOP base: “He wasn’t pure enough!”

        Their attainment of purity is what you should fear, but many peaceniks hate the US government so much that neo-Confederate, theocratic and Ayn Rand craziness actually seems to attract them.

    • Good point. Ryan could have praised Jimmy Carter for continuing military aid to El Salvador while it was killing it’s citizens. Carter did the same for Indonesia when it killing the East Timorese.

  2. Juan, your third paragraph is incomplete. Last sentence terminates in the middle:

    “But is it true that Obama’s foreign policy is ‘blowing up in our faces?’ And how could that have been prevented? Rembember, Ryan’s running mate, Mitt Romney, began calling for Hosni Mubarak to step down on Feb 1, 2011. . It is hard to see Romney”

  3. Juan, it is easy to make the case that Obama has the edge on Romney/Ryan on foreign policy knowledge and experience. Tom Engelhardt makes a really great case that Obama’s has been an administration of “managers” who failed to understand the basic changes taking place in the world. Instead they set about to manage the “Bush Legacy”.

    As far as whether this foreign policy will blow up in their faces he marvels at Obama’s determination to keep that from happening before November… but then what? link to tomdispatch.com

  4. ” I presume he may have been abroad at some point somewhere.”

    Juan, Juan, Juan. you don’t suppose he got to be a VP nominee without the mandatory visit to Israel do you?

  5. It would be helpful if each candidate would actually define his foreign policy. Is it just reacting to crises as they arise and/or after the fact? Is it bombing civilians from stealth bombers? Is it detaining American civilians and foreign nationals indefinitely, with no legal recourse? Is it torture of prisoners? Is it supporting corporate colonialism and land grabbing?

    What would either of them do to defuse tensions between China and Japan, North & South Korea, Iran and Israel? Is there anything they can do now, before it is too late? What would they do to prevent gross human rights abuses, rape, hunger, and disease from ravaging the entire continent of Africa?

    I would really like to know.

  6. Nit-picking a bit, I know, but is ‘genocide’ really the right term here? A crime against humanity. But not the extermination of an entire people, so not strictly within the definition of genocide.

      • Wiki’s definition seems pretty good.
        “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”

        The twenty year long policy of slaughter of the Iraqis killing somewhere over 2 million would seem to qualify.

  7. Obama may be a bit more cautious sometimes, and prefers bombs to boots on the ground. Liberal interventonism, however, is not really preferable to the more unilateralist style of the GOP.

    We should abandon prattle about “human rights” and “democracy,” in favor of a cautious reference to “national interest.” ‘Twould save us and the world a lot of lives, and us a lot of money.

  8. What candidates should state about the current regional transformations, if they were actually interested in explaining what is truly occurring, is that historical processes are complicated and take a certain amount of time to fully play out. It simply is not possible to develop rational policies and reactions to events by fixating only on very brief blocs of time, like periods of one year of even just a few months.

    People now can look back at how Europe and other areas changed to reach their present conditions, and how encouraging long-term success is infinitely superior to false perceptions of short-term stop gaps to problems. Europe would not have been better off if time had halted and the conditions that existed either before or right after the French Revolution had frozen in place. Likewise, the new order in the Middle East/North Africa is being gradually ushered in and is clearly necessary for the region to achieve a more sustainable and effective situation. Thus, policies and ideas that take into account historical awareness and the fact that the coming decades will matter more than any given election year should be enacted.

  9. I wonder how many libertarians like Ryan supported the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia on the grounds that black people can NEVER govern themselves – ’cause they’re not entrepreneurial!

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