Two powerful lions often go unnoticed in a largely overlooked corner of the U.S. Capitol. The lions, depicted in the Amateis bronze doors in our nation’s Capitol, represent brute force and stride near the top of a depiction known as the Apotheosis of America.
They are guided by a small boy who represents intellect. When viewed in light of the U.S. foreign policy blunders of the last eight years, this remarkable representation highlights the disconcerting fact that brute force, rather than intellect, has overwhelmingly guided our nation’s foreign policies under the Bush administration.
Crisis can bring out the best and the worst in people. It is a test of will, leadership and the ability to listen, learn, and make sound decisions. In the 1960’s, John F. Kennedy showed resounding leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy’s leadership, however, developed after learning from his administration’s failure during the Bay of Pig’s debacle. It was widely thought that the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs could have been prevented had he consulted a broader range of advisors leading up to the invasion. Heeding those lessons learned, President Kennedy made significant changes to his management style in order to foster more open debate. The new management style would help lead to the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In contrast, neither President Bush nor Sen. John McCain have learned from their previous foreign policy mistakes as President Kennedy learned from his. Senator Robert Kennedy wrote that one of the most important lessons the Kennedy administration learned was “how important it is that the president have the recommendations and opinions of more than one individual…and of more than one point of view. Opinion, even fact itself, can best be judged by conflict, by debate. There is an important element missing when there is unanimity of viewpoint.”
The Bush/McCain guidebook on foreign policy has not heeded this historical lesson-learned, and instead of fostering creative and conflicting debate, they have only managed to create conflict with other countries as their supporters march lockstep in the neo-con ideology.
During the early stages of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis some advisors, inside and out of the Kennedy administration proposed that the president immediately resort to tough military force to obliterate the Soviet-supplied nuclear weapons in Cuba. The advocates of a tough military response included many experienced public servants such as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Air Force General Curtis LeMay, but President Kennedy, thankfully, did not let their judgment become his judgment.
Instead, President Kennedy opened the floor to debate from all of his advisers, sometimes purposefully designating a “devil’s advocate” to take the opposing side if no one else was, in order to have a window into other viewpoints. President Kennedy, as his brother Robert wrote in “Thirteen Days,” knew that the problem wasn’t the U.S. military’s ability to execute the mission, but rather the fact that such a strike would damage the United States’ moral position and possibly lead to a grave holocaust that would destroy all humankind.
Today Russia has once again returned to the forefront of foreign policy. While most of the United States’ foreign policy attention has been focused justifiably on terrorism (and at the same time distracted by Iraq), many changes were already underway in the former Soviet Union and Russia. The Council on Foreign Relations in 2006, with a bipartisan council chaired by John Edwards and Jack Kemp, documented many of the changes occurring in the region and made recommendations about how to best approach the regional problems. The report included an in-depth analysis of U.S./Russian relations, which highlighted Russia’s growing oil economy, authoritarian rule and desire to become more deeply intertwined in the global economy. In addition, it highlighted the growing distrust between the two countries, and the growing acrimony between the East and the West in general.
When determining why there is growing distrust between the U.S. and Russia, it is important to look not only at the growing authoritarianism and lack of true democracy in Russia, but also at the inability of Bush and McCain to heed one of the other most important lessons-learned by President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, “the importance of placing ourselves in the other country’s shoes.” Most students and scholars of international relations understand that trust is one of the most important elements of developing sound relationships with foreign countries. In fact, even people who live together in neighborhoods know that trust is something that is developed over time and that distrust usually develops when a neighbor makes a promise and later reneges on that promise. The same is true of business, and in contract law, where litigators are forced to deal with perceived or real breaches of trust.
It took years of diplomacy for the United States and the Soviet Union to gain the trust of one another. President Nixon, a realist and not a neo-con, negotiated and signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which became the cornerstone of many other nuclear disarmament treaties. It was a treaty that both the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) came to rely upon to ensure nuclear parity.
However, in a unilateral swipe, President Bush pulled the U.S. out of this treaty in December of 2001. According to Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, who wrote in Foreign Affairs “Losing Russia,” the withdrawal “wounded the Kremlin’s pride,” and coupled with the expanse of NATO, increased their “animosity.”
It is then no surprise that Russia has reacted very strongly to the United States’ recent agreement with Poland to create a missile defense system. Many scholars, including Professor Kier Lieber of the University of Notre Dame and Professor Daryl G. Press of the University of Pennsylvania, have stated that the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty and other maneuvers by the Bush administration have tilted the nuclear balance of power, which may have created both distrust and an increase in “crisis instability” between the U.S. and Russia. “Crisis instability” may be the most frightening potential situation between two nations, because it could increase the chances that less powerful nuclear states, afraid due to their inferiority, inadvertently trip into a deadly nuclear war due to perceived or real threats by other nuclear powers.
Russia was not correct to use violence and military force in Georgia, but it would be unwise for the U.S. to escalate the situation via our words and actions. President Kennedy once said, after reading The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman that he was amazed by how the great powers prior to the First World War “seemed to tumble into war…through stupidity, individual idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and personal complexes of inferiority and grandeur.”
Sen. Barack Obama best summed up tumbling into war as “bluster,” and “bluster” is not only a deficient way to conduct foreign affairs, but also a perilous route which also led us into Iraq. Showing no departure from Bush’s tendency towards “bluster,” Sen. McCain, as former U.N Ambassador Richard Holbrooke wrote in Foreign Affairs, has already “gone overboard…speaking in a highly confrontational manner and calling for the expulsion of Russia from the G-8…”
Rational decision-making requires that you look at the facts on the ground and from every angle before making a decision, not rushing to speak harshly with threatening tones before the facts are known.
As a prime example of rational decision-making, President Kennedy eventually found a diplomatic solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis, a solution that would ensure that neither side would lose face. The Soviets removed the missiles from Cuba and the United States ceased its blockade and pledged not to invade Cuba. The United States also removed its nuclear missiles in Turkey without fanfare and relied on a less contentious solution to deter the Soviets: the Navy’s submarine ballistic missile systems.
All of this was accomplished under the guise of the United Nations and with the support of our allies in NATO and our friends in the Organization of American States.
Sen. Obama is the best choice to represent our country in the realm of foreign affairs because he understands the importance of respectful and well-reasoned debate before coming to a conclusion, particularly on decisions related to U.S. foreign policy. Unlike Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama understands the importance of stepping back and viewing the situation, as President Kennedy put it, from “the other country’s shoes.” Sen. Obama understands that Russia’s newfound power is based in petrol money, and that our country, with its unquenchable thirst for oil is actually helping Russia gain power by transferring wealth to Moscow while giving them leverage over our allies in Europe that depend on the oil.
Sen. Obama understands that this complicated situation is not a game and to resolve the current dilemma, he has proposed a ten-year plan to eliminate our dependency on foreign oil, whereas Sen. McCain’s proposed solution is the equivalent of a game-show’s resolution, of a prize for a clean car. Sen. McCain would squander our natural resources by drilling every inch of American land in a misguided and futile hope of finding enough oil to sustain our oil-dependent economy for years to come.
There may unfortunately come a time when we really need those oil reserves for the ships and jets that future generations will pilot to protect our national security, but now is not that time. Furthermore, the unexpected selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee, shows that Sen. McCain is prepared to further weaken our nation by not providing the proper incentives for a green economy.
Gov. Palin has supported drilling in ANWR, a prized national refuge and treasure with maybe six months of oil according to many experts. It is a clear sign that the McCain/Palin administration would favor the oil industry’s narrow priorities at the expense of our national interest.
Now is the time to restore our place in the world by rebuilding trust with other nations, and freeing ourselves from the bonds of foreign oil. For too long, the current administration has made decisions in isolation, offering only temporary short-sighted solutions which have atrophied what was once our strength…our independence.
We all need to pitch in and add to the debate, patriotically, to make our nation strong again. Foremost, it is time for leadership in Washington that will once again, as the Apotheosis of America represents, place intellect ahead of brute force.