Events of the last week should give American foreign policy watchers pause. As we wind down 2016 and the end of President Obama’s term, we would expect that short of some crisis there would be no major policy statements or new initiatives. And, similarly, we would expect that the incoming President would be quiet and deferential until he took office just after the turn of the New Year.
But both expectations have turned out to be wrong this year. For all of the initial display of maturity and respect for the process of transition that the President and President-elect had shown after the election, both now have gone into temper tantrum mode.
It used to be said that US politics stopped at the water’s edge, meaning that people of both political parties supported US foreign policy and didn’t talk bad about US policy when overseas. No more. Our politicians now don’t care about anything but trying to promote their own view. Congress had foreign leaders address the Congress over the objections of the State Department. And President Obama went overseas prior to the most recent election to express his views on how bad the candidate of the other party was.
And now we have a new round of childish behavior in front of the world. The Obama Administration, in the person of Sec. of State John Kerry (he who, as an aside, sings “You’ve Got A Friend” to allies and thinks that will make it all good) decides that the last few week s of the Presidency is the proper time to give a major address outlining the President’s view on how to get peace in the Middle East, scolding the government of Israel and calling it ‘extremist’. Why now? In roughly three weeks, there will be a new President with a different view and there is nothing that can be accomplished or changed in the next three weeks. There was absolutely no reason for that, and the dissension that it has caused both in Congess among members of both political parties and on the international stage. It was simply a giant temper tantrum by the Obama Administration, likely driven by their frustration of dealing with an Israeli government that they did not like. Yet it served no positive purpose whatsoever.
However, President-elect Trump can’t be outdone and so he has inserted himself and try to be the center of attention. Trump had to throw his opinion of the issue out, via Twitter of course. And has also inserted himself into other areas of foreign policy such as the sanctions that the President issued on Russia for their email hacking. The US should have one foreign policy, and until the President leaves office he is the one that should be setting that policy. Trump should keep his mouth shut until that time. After all, Trump will become the one setting US policy within a matter of weeks and nothing of significance is going to change in that time. Why can’t he leave it alone, show a united front to the world and then if he wishes change the policy when the time comes? Well, he can’t because he just can’t not be the center of attention. So he has to remind the world via Twitter that the US has two foreign policies and what it is today may not be what it is tomorrow.
Can we go back to showing the world that we are Americans, and not a country which feels we need to speak out of both sides of its mouth? Maybe that’s too much to wish for, or maybe that’s what we get after so many years of not calling ourselves Americans but being hyphenated Americans (“I’m an ______-American”). But that’s a topic for another day…..