American Foreign Policy: From Over Reaction To Total Inaction Rougue states take comfort when the US is out of the game. "If you want peace, get ready for war"

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By Paolo von Schirach

May 28, 2013

WASHINGTON – America’s posture in world affairs is hardly ever properly balanced. Unfortunately it is mostly reactive, rather than proactive. Quite often, reaction turns into over reaction which is then followed by disappointment and retreat beyond what should be considered prudent engagement.

The “War on Terror” was over reaction

Stunned by 9/11, President George W. Bush launched what amounted to an intergalactic global “War on Terror” that became the theme and the major legacy of his presidency. However, by dealing with the complicated and subterraneous issue of terrorism mostly with all out military campaigns that accomplished far less than initially advertised, Bush turned US public opinion against the very notion of military interventions, no matter where or for what purpose.

Retreat is alos over reaction

And so now America, under Obama’s much more cautious leadership has become gun shy to the point of appearing weak, feraful and powerless. The far weaker Russians are happily and openly supplying arms to Syria. In America even a modicum of non lethal aid delivered to the Syrian rebels is highly controversial. Obama talsk about the end of war as some kind of just deliverance , as if any and all military engagements were totally discretionary. 

Rogue states take notice when America is not in the game

The truth, of course, is that neither approach is correct. Not all problems or threats should be dealt with a massive use of force. And it is true that most wars are wars of choice, rather than necessity. However, by essentially taking off the table military options as a matter of course, America does very little to advance the cause of peace. If I were President al Assad in Syria, today I would feel reasonably reassured that I could do almost anything I wanted without having to face an American engagement. It would be clear to me and to the rest of the world that America does not have the stomach to get involved into a new conflict. And this is bad. Really bad.

In a world in which a number of aggressive moves are made by governments and/or non state actors, such as terrorist organizations, on the basis of calculated risk, if America is no longer thought of as a fully engaged player, rogue states are encouraged to be more reckless.

“If you want peace, get ready for war”

Look, the Romans said it best: “Si vis pacem para bellum“, “If you want peace, get ready for war“. In essence this is deterrence. And real deterrence consists of two equally relevant parts: 1) real and credible military capabilities; and 2) clear and unmistakable willingness to act when the national interest is threatened. Right now America, defense budget cuts notwithstanding, still retains impressive capabilities. As for the willingness to act though, I would not be so sure.

Deterrence is about capabilities and political will to use them, when the need arises

While we should recognize our national tendency to overreact, doing nothing is not always the best alternative to doing too much. Doing nothing, while saying publicly that action is ill advised, gives others the impression that we shall keep doing nothing. And US declared inaction encourages mischief. Again, if we really cared about peace, we should be able to send out a clear message that, make no mistake, we can and we will act resolutely and swiftly should the need arise.

Of course, “acting” and “acting appropriately”, according to the circumstances, are not one and the same thing. That said, everybody can recognize the lack of willingness to act. And this is today’s America.

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