I said yesterday that I’m growing tired of my political arguing and whining. I realized that, in what I’ve been writing during this campaign, I’ve mostly been laying criticisms (which is easy) and not offering any real solutions (which is much harder). So as I wind down my political talk, in the interest of trying to helpful and productive, I tried to think of some realistic things that could be changed with our foreign policy.
A lot of times, people with my same criticisms and concerns can come across as pretty paranoid, conspiratorial, and anarchistic. I hope I haven’t. I’m still sleeping fine. These issues are the natural ebbs and flows that every powerful nation in history has gone through. We went through it with McCarthy and eventually corrected (mostly), but people pointing this stuff out and complaining about it is part of that corrective. I guess I’m just playing my part. Here’s hoping it does some good.
One more caveat. This list is meant to be as realistic as possible. My ideal list would be much more development-heavy, pacifistic, and non-interventionist. With that being said, here are my top 10 alternative realistic foreign policy solutions that the President could employ to put us on a healthier course:
(1) Establish clear definitions of the goals and boundaries of the War on Terror, so the military actually has a mission.
(2) Eliminate contracted operational and combat personnel. Still purchase contracted manufactured goods when needed (and perhaps some contracted non-combat services as well, like computer support), but there would be no contractor that would do combat or aggression on behalf of Americans.
(3) Re-instate the fundamental principle behind all foreign relations: Sovereignty. Stop doing war-like combat missions in nations we are neither at war with nor are actively working with in our goals within their borders. If the tables were turned how would we want a nation to go after their criminals in our country? Drone strikes that kill a bunch of our citizens as well as a couple of bad guys? Would we put up with a 881-to-41 success ratio here? No! Why should we throw our foreign aid and diplomatic weight around to demand that of other nations? Work with nations, not in spite of them.
(3a) I know I’m cheating with a sub-point, but this is related: end our military immunity agreements with those nations within whose borders we fight. Give them the right to prosecute our troops when they break laws. President Obama only left Iraq because they refused to continue their agreement with us to allow our soldiers to have immunity from their criminal courts while we occupied their land. (By the way, the President then lied about this in the last debate.)
(4) Write up, publish, and broadcast to the world some clear definitions and criteria to clear up some otherwise-ambiguous language that gives the government a lot of unchecked power: what defines a “terrorist”, an “associate”, and “affiliate forces”, and what defines “providing aid or support to al Qaeda”. Also lay out in the clearest of terms how one gets on the Presidential “Kill List“. Ideally, I’d like if after each “target” is killed in a foreign drone strike, the U.S. would publish or release how that person fit those definitions (and how their death advances the goals of #1 above), but that may be too much for The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ to handle all at once.
(5) In regions that we do drone strikes, spend at least half as much money on development efforts in those regions as we do on the “defense” operations there. Whatever happened to “winning hearts and minds”?
(6) Offer reparations to family members of those killed in drone strikes (or, if the other above reforms are made, then give it to those wrongfully killed in whatever missions we are doing in tandem with the Pakistan/Yemen military). “Collateral damage” is one thing, but only when you’re talking about war. We are not at war with Pakistan or Yemen, so those citizens are not “collateral damage” to a conflict their nation is embroiled in. They are in the cross-fire between forces entirely unrelated to them. They are not related to this conflict at all, and they deserve the dignity that fact should bring.
(7) When any intelligence-gathering effort involves American citizens in any way, run that by a court first and get a warrant. Set up a special court or process to do it faster if you need to, but just have some level of oversight.
(8) Make the definition of “dead enemy combatant” based in reality. Perhaps an “innocent until proven guilty” sort of stance? Not killing until one’s role and activities is actually established and credible? (But really, who believes in that principle any more?)
(9) After every drone strike, publish accurate numbers of the dead–both enemy and civilian–in that Sunday’s paper of record, the New York Times. As long American’s believe what we’re doing there is is honorable, they should be able to handle the truth of these strikes and support them.
(10) Have the President officially acknowledge the drone program in the first place and answer essential questions about it.
(BONUS) Pair-up each of the Joint Chiefs with a professor of military history and a professor of world history as advisors.
(BONUS #2) Make sure Debbie Wasserman Schultz (the current chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention) gets in no other place of influence. Ever.
Are there any points you disagree with? Any points you’d add to the list? How realistic do you think this list is? I’d love any and all of your thoughts.
[image credit: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images, from this Foreign Policy story]