Thursday, February 12, 2015


I think there is much more behind the Presidents request to the Congress for authorization to use of military force (AUMF) than words on a page. As an intellectual, the President is a reluctant warrior. I remember my playmates and I getting into serious arguments some degenerated into a fist-swinging matches. These fights established a hierarchy. As I grew a little older, I realized that angrily swinging at my opponents reduced these battles to a test of physical strength. I was relatively small in stature, provoked by bigger boys, lost my temper, and unwisely fought bigger boys. Of course, the outcomes were often a bad experience. Somewhere along the line, I learned the wisdom of the expression, “If you lose your temper, you lose your fight.” This changed everything. The new message to myself was that if I was going to fight, have an obtainable objective, but also have a winning plan. I thought this was something unique to me but later realized most, but not all, children make these same realizations; it is what puts an end to childhood wrangling.

President Obama has modernized American Foreign policy in many ways but especially in the use of force as a tool of diplomacy. It may sound grandiose as an analogy, but the world seems to have grown out of its childhood. Compare the long prevalent American diplomacy epitomized by Henry Kissinger to the new diplomacy of President Obama. Kissinger was not president, but his policy prevailed in not only the Nixon and Ford administrations but prevailed in the world of international relations; realpolitik based on power and material considerations. In contrast, Obama based his diplomacy on ethical and moral premises. I saw this reflected in the AUMF.  The debate, as it is developing in Congress, immediately showed a partisan divide; some Republicans, as well as some Democrats, are “swinging wildly” in their criticisms of the Presidents wording. Speaker Boehner took time from trying to learn how to tie his own shoelaces to remark that the Obama did not think out the AUMF nor did it have a winning objective. The problem for these congressional representatives is that it is not the usual “big stick” diplomacy. It substitutes a well reasoned out solution rather than a bomb, bomb knock them dead solution. The John McCain Lindsey Graham “old fashion”, we must show them we are invincible and “beat them up” until they do what we say.

The AUMF clearly states the strategy is to have the people in the Middle East fight their own battle. Of course, there is an exception for rescue missions in recognition of ISIL atrocities. It says we will reluctantly step in to prevent extremist from winning, but the people in the region must do the bulk of the fighting. Clearly, the President is forcing Muslims to recognize and fight extremism in their midst. In addition, he explicitly designed the agreement to prevent Christian intervention in a Muslim secular war in which sovereign boundaries mean nothing. In addition, it I found it interesting that the wording would prevent Congress and/or the President from intervening in a ground war under the terms of the agreement. In other words, he is asking congress to muzzle the war hawks who want war for the sake of war, including those who want to destroy Iran in the name of Israel, which has implications for the Israel-American relationship as well as for Palestinian-Israeli relationships.

I see this AUMF as a broad sweeping United States policy document extending well beyond the regional conflict in the Middle East, which has implication for all religions and international relations making possible an extended peaceful future. It says under the able leadership of President Obama, the United States is growing up. 

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