In Foreign Policy, Smarter Works Better Than Tougher

The world will be a better place when normal relations are established between the United States and Cuba. But right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Cuba even worse than we do now. If we tighten the screws on Cuba, the Cuban people will eventually rise up or their government will see the error of its ways.

Likewise, it will be a step forward when the United States and Iran establish better relations. Right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Iran worse than we do now. We shouldn’t negotiate with Iran. We should tighten the screws even further and threaten military action. The Iranian people will rise up or their government will see the light.

The Atlantic has an interesting little article called “Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry” that helps explain the Republican obsession with “toughness” in foreign policy:

When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present [Iran nuclear] deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea….

.[Behind Obama’s] drive for an Iranian nuclear deal is the effort to make American foreign policy “solvent” again by bringing America’s ends into alignment with its means. That means recognizing that the United States cannot bludgeon Iran into total submission, either economically or militarily. The U.S. tried that in Iraq.

It is precisely this recognition that makes the Iran deal so infuriating to Obama’s critics. It codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.