Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Worry Less About Being Labeled Weak, Worry More About Getting It Right"

President Obama gave a speech today about the Iran nuclear deal. But in many ways the ideas he expressed went beyond that particular issue and attempted to knit together some of this country's lessons about what it means to be a part of the 21st century world.

Her reminded us of some of the mistakes we made just a few years ago.
When I ran for president eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn't just have to end that war. We had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place.

It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus, a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.

Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history.

And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive while dismissing those who disagreed as weak, even appeasers of a malevolent adversary...

I raise this recent history because now more than ever, we need clear thinking in our foreign policy, and I raise this history because it bears directly on how we respond to the Iranian nuclear program.
The President went into a lot of detail about what led up the the negotiations with Iran and what is included in the current agreement.  He then addressed the critiques that have been made against it. Finally, he reminded us of what we should have learned from our recent history.
But if we've learned anything from the last decade, it's that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.

The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences.

I've ordered military action in seven countries. There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it's possible that we don't have an alternative.

But how can we, in good conscience, justify war before we've tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives, that has been agreed to by Iran, that is supported by the rest of the world and that preserves our option if the deal falls short? How could we justify that to our troops? How could we justify that to the world or to future generations? In the end, that should be a lesson that we've learned from over a decade of war. On the front end, ask tough questions, subject our own assumptions to evidence and analysis, resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war, worry less about being labeled weak, worry more about getting it right.

I recognize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran. It is offensive. It is incendiary. We do take it seriously.

But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to taunts or even provocations that can be addressed short of war.
These are lessons that it seemed like the majority of Americans had learned by 2008. Initially most of us sighed in relief at a President who was known more for his thoughtfulness than his swagger. But our memories are waning and our fears are being exploited once again. And so perhaps we need this reminder:
We live in a complicated world -- a world in which the forces unleashed by human innovation are creating opportunities for our children that were unimaginable for most of human history.

It is also a world of persistent threats, a world in which mass violence and cruelty is all too common and human innovation risks the destruction of all that we hold dear.

In this world, the United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth, and I believe that we will remain such for decades to come.

But we are one nation among many, and what separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional, is not the mere fact of our military might.

Since World War II, the deadliest war in human history, we have used our power to try and bind nations together in a system of international law. We have led an evolution of those human institutions President Kennedy spoke about to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security and promote human progress.

We now have the opportunity to build on that progress. We built a coalition that held together through sanctions and negotiations, and now we have before us a solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without resorting to war.

As Americans, we should be proud of this achievement.
The President ended by laying out the consequences of this decision.
If Congress kills this deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran's nuclear deal or the sanctions we have painstakingly built. We will have lost something more precious: America's credibility as a leader of diplomacy. America's credibility as the anchor of the international system.

John F. Kennedy cautioned here more than 50 years ago at this university that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war. But it's so very important. It is surely the pursuit of peace that is most needed in this world so full of strife. 

1 comment:

  1. This was a globally historic speech from a man whose policies are changing the world for the better. Nothing else to say.

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