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FRANK SHATZ: Avoiding pitfalls

December 4, 2008
Lake Placid News
Nearly everyone thinks the first priority of the Obama administration must be the restoration of the economic health of the United States.

This is imperative, experts say, not only for the sake of the well being of our nation but also as the foundation of our national security. Vice President elect Joe Biden, at a fundraiser in Seattle, warned that Obama will face an international crisis early in his presidency. He recognized that the change in global perception of the United States in the wake of the election of the first African-American president would not deter our adversaries from testing his mettle.

To restore America’s prestige in the world, there is a need to modify some of our methods of conducting the war on terrorism. There is a need for change in our attitude in dealing with hostile nations and improving our working relationship with allies. But we should realize that goodwill and moral and intellectual superiority are not an adequate protection against brutal forces.

Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer, was one of the leading scientists in antiquity before he was killed in 212 B.C., in Syracuse, by a Roman soldier. He was sitting outside his house, drawing some geometrical circles in the sand. He told the soldier, “Don’t disturb my circles.” Those were his last words before he was slain.

This story may be a metaphor for the dangers our country faces. In a recent New York Times op-ed column, Robert C. McFarland, who served as national security adviser to President Reagan, recalled an event from 25 years ago.

He was awakened in the middle of the night and told that the U. S. Marine barracks in Lebanon had been attacked by Iranian-trained Hezbollah terrorists.

The bombing killed 241 Americans, he wrote, who were part of a multinational peace-keeping force. Once American intelligence confirmed who was responsible and where the attack had been planned, President Reagan approved a joint French-American air-assault on the camp, only to have the mission aborted by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

“Four months later, all Marines were withdrawn, capping one of the most tragic and costly defeats in the brief history of American counterterrorism operations,” McFarland concluded.

He asserts that this episode made the Middle East terrorists arrive at the conclusion that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack. They seemed to have been proven right when there was no effective response from the United States to the terrorist attack in 1993 on the World Trade Center. Or on Air Force troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, or on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, or on the destroyer Cole in 2000.

“It was not until the attacks on Sept.11, 2001, that our country decided to go to war against radical Islam,” McFarland writes.

He warns that cabinet officers often disagree on a course of action, and it is up to the president to make the final decision. During the Lebanon crisis, McFarland writes, President Reagan allowed his Secretary of Defense to refuse to carry out a direct order, “sending the terrorists a powerful signal of paralysis within our government, and missing an early opportunity to counter the Islamist terrorist threat in its infancy.”

Ambassador Thomas Pickering, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, who was the keynote speaker recently at the fifth annual Global Forum sponsored by the Friends of the Wendy and Emery Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary, in his lecture, “The Next President: Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities,” outlined an agenda that would help avoid the pitfalls that had befallen previous presidents.

“We are moving away from the notion that somehow all problems can be resolved by the use of force,” he said. “We are moving back into an age when diplomacy would play a significant role in our national life. The hammer is no longer an instrument of choice in dealing with our nation’s most pressing and significant problems.”

He pointed out that we have to recognize that the United States no longer can operate unilaterally. “The unilateral era has passed,” he said.

According to Pickering, it is not realistic to expect that everything we want to do would be accepted around the globe. Multilateralism and the use of diplomacy must be the major instruments of the next administration if it wants to meet the challenges facing our nation, he said.

In a recent interview with the Gazette, Pickering recalled that during the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, our country was rallying the world against an unprovoked aggression and America was seen as on “the right side of history.” It has to be seen in this light again.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.



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