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The Most Important Foreign Policy “Secret” of All

March 7, 2013

Earlier this week North Korea threatened to break the 1953 ceasefire with South Korea, citing the probability of new international sanctions and U.S.-South Korean military exercises scheduled for later this month and next. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by saying Pyongyang continues to make “belligerent and reckless moves that threaten the region, their neighbors and now directly the United States of America.”

Rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula are one more stunning reminder that U.S. foreign policy must be supported by the international perception that America has its act together. Unwillingness or inability to find a well-ordered approach to our fiscal and budget issues has flagged to the world that in Washington political acrimony is at an all-time high. Don’t fool yourself: overseas they see our domestic and international approaches as part and parcel of the same thing. For that reason, great effort was made, especially during the Cold War, to try and put a good face on our internal political differences. For the most part, we consigned much of the rough and tumble to “behind closed doors”—lest the USSR see a vulnerable America that couldn’t agree on or advance its national interests. And when we failed—amid the discord of the 1960s, for instance—our divisions were exploited abroad though propaganda and manipulation.

Today, the overt demonstration of a dysfunctional political system allows our adversaries to see openings where once they did not.  As much as we think we are talking to ourselves and each political machination is for internal consumption only, there is no such thing as a domestic conversation within the confines of a country anymore. Technology today assures that dirty political laundry gets left out to dry and, given its ubiquitous nature, an international breeze picks up the scent.

That’s why the last eighteen months have been especially hard to watch. The international community – including many of our bond holders – has observed the way we handle unfolding events. What many of them have concluded is that our two political parties are intent on putting their ideological fortunes ahead of our national interest.  This impacts them. That’s why we, as global leaders, should have provided predictability and cooperation in dealing with these sensitive issues.

At the same time, a number of prominent GOP senators attacked the president’s choice for secretary of defense—a Republican— knowing full well that former Senator Chuck Hagel had the votes to be confirmed. It was an unprecedented display of political grandstanding. I predict that Secretary Hagel will prove his critics wrong.  But did those senators, who purport to be national security hawks, really believe that only Americans were listening to their personal slurs of a former colleague?

It appears that our politicians don’t know the difference between politics and policy anymore, which has brought us to a leadership crisis at the very point in our history when our country’s future depends on our capacity to find compromise. Political leadership is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, putting the country first, and demonstrating moral courage. That sense of moral bravery, seemingly absent in recent times, would have required both sides to engage in a series of intensive closed door sessions until they had hammered out a comprehensive deal—which would have averted other rounds of crises. Instead, over the last eighteen months they “negotiated” with each other via Twitter, Facebook and friendly 24/7 cable programs. This wasn’t a serious effort to find a solution for the country; it was only an attempt to talk to their supporters. Guess who was listening and watching?

News just in tells us that President Obama is now reaching out to the Republicans to see if  a compromise is possible. This is a welcomed move. We need to reverse our image overseas that the federal government is hobbled by paralysis and dissension. If we don’t, our nation’s rivals and adversaries may have all the information they really need to know. Appearances of acrimonious gridlock or a failure of “collective will” can be more important intelligence for a foreign power than any specific security breech. 

 —

Many Americans are deeply concerned about this country’s crisis of governance. I am pleased to have been asked to serve on The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. Over the coming year we will be engaging the American public on issues of concern, and providing recommendations that may help create an impetus for change. Follow our activity hereThey have put together an impressive program that deserves your attention.  You may also be interested to read of the Commission’s kick-off event, which was held earlier this month. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Charles Clarkson permalink
    March 7, 2013 11:51 am

    This is very critical insight. All of us should understand and pay heed to this important message. Thank you, Ms Eisenhower

  2. PAUL J. HANSEN permalink
    March 7, 2013 12:36 pm

    HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF -ONCE AGAIN THE FAR RIGHT IS DRIVING A WEDGE BETWEEN RESPONSIBLE REPRESENTATIVES WHO WANT WHAT IS BEST FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-AND WHIPPING THEM INTO THE PARTISAN DIVISION THAT
    VERY NEARLY LEFT THE COUNTRY IN ECONOMIC SHAMBLES IN 2008 WHEN THE RECOVERY WAS CRUCIAL. THIS GROUP IS DEDICATED TO RISING FROM THEIR OWN ASHES BY OBSTRUCTING ANY ECONOMIC PROGRESS AND WEAKENING OUR MILITARY TO ADVANCE THEIR AGENDA FOR THE PURELY POLITICAL INTENT OF GAINING SEATS AGAIN IN 2014 JUST AS THEY DID IN 2010.

    MICHAEL GRUNWALD WROTE TELLINGLY OF THIS STRATEGY IN HIS BOOK
    “THE NEW NEW DEAL”-AMAZINGLY IT WORKED FOR THEM IN 2010 AND MAY WORK AGAIN IN 2014 UNLESS WE AMERICANS DEMAND BIPARTISAN ACTION NOW TO SUPPORT THE ELECTION OF REPRESENTATIVES IN 2014 WHO WILL MAKE THIS COUNTRY WORK AGAIN!

    CONGRATS SUSAN ON SUPPORTING A NEW ATTEMPT AT BRINGING BI[PARTISAN
    ACTIVITY BACK TO CONGRESS-AND GOOD LUCK, NOW MORE THAN EVER.

    PAUL J. HANSEN

  3. D. Kothmann permalink
    March 7, 2013 1:11 pm

    Susan,

    A beautiful piece of writing…..spot on!

  4. Tony DuPuis permalink
    March 7, 2013 1:44 pm

    PERFECT THAT YOU ARE SERVING ON THIS COMMISSION !!!!!!!!!!!
    THANK YOU!
    as ALWAYS Susan… you have your finger directly on the pulse.
    Washington/America has become a laughing stock of the World with it’s “games”…
    Extremely hard to imagine HOW our leaders can seriously be doing these childish, potentially devastating actions of none participation with the President…

    As an Award winning Louisiana Artist/Musician, years back I wrote a song called “It’s Not a Game”…
    The summation of it is more true now than ever!
    You may see the music video on youtube… I think you will appreciate it…
    Another is called “All Hearts Matter”…I think you will appreciate that one as well…it’s quite a clear summary of the times and both are also more true in 2013 than when I wrote them in 2004.
    Thank you Susan for all you do and being YOU!
    P.S.
    since I’m certain no links allowed,
    type in on youtube;
    Tony DuPuis It’s Not a Game
    and
    Tony DuPuis All Hearts Matter
    Thanks and Blessings Susan! :-)

  5. March 7, 2013 3:51 pm

    It’s a bit Pollyannaish, to say nothing of politically bigoted, for any one party in a two party system to complain about division then damn the other party and suggest the division is their fault. That’s like a tug-of-war where the rope breaks and one side piously rails at the other for breaking it.

    Our legislators would like nothing better than to meet for a half-hour annually, agree on everything and retire to a local pub. But while we all profess to want ‘compromise’ and “bi-partisan cooperation”, neither party defines that as surrendering anything they deeply believe in. Big surprise.

    Right or wrong, we don’t pay politicians to ‘compromise’, we pay them to go the Washington and get what we elected them to get, whatever that mission requires. If they fail in the name of ‘compromise’ and ‘bi-partisan’ spirit, history shows we quickly replace them with someone who will achieve (or at least try to achieve) our ends. That’s politics.

    Dems who imagine themselves distinguished above the alley fight would do well to recall the last three years of the Iraq war under Bush where Dems doggedly committed ipso-facto treason in the name of their partisan gain, that gain being to ensure no resolution of the Iraq war occurred under a Repub president, lest it turn the public from a Dem candidate at the polls in ’08.

    For three unnecessarily extended years of death on both sides and additional horrible cost, Dems promised the enemy an internally orchestrated American surrender if they’d just blow up another Humvee full of American soldiers or another town square full of Iraqi civilians. They obliged. Harry (“This war is already lost!”) Reid, Barney (“The Iraq war is clearly unwinnable!”) Frank, and one obscure, unaccomplished, “present” senator, Barack (“The [Iraq] war can’t be won.”) Obama, were just a few of the legions of Dems who gave active aid and comfort to the enemy by demoralizing our troops in the field, threatening to defund them, encouraging the enemy to persevere, and declaring our cause a bad one. Proof? What better could there be than the instant cessation of Iraq war criticism from the left upon the election of Obama?

    All this was done for Dem partisan political expediency, blood and dollars be damned. Treason in any sane age. History will hold Bush et al accountable for starting the Iraq war but it will hold self-obsessed Dems responsible for the last three deliberately extended unnecessary years of deaths and cost that a united American front from Dems would have alleviated. As Susan alludes, internal US division has real impact on foreigners.

    Let no side be overly impressed with its nobility.

    Of course this outrages most Dems who bleat that their motives weren’t treason, nay, why they were selfless noble quests for ‘peace’ and ‘bringing our boys home’ and ending an ‘unjust’ war. But Repubs would today use the very same self-aggrandizing semantic propaganda to indignantly declare their “obstructionism” as merely dutiful loyal opposition and a noble quest to keep the constitution and freedom safe from epidemic Dem corruption, taxation fetishism and the reckless spending that threatens to render us Greece-west.

    So who’s right?

    My 40yo, black, field training officer when I was a rookie on the DCPD in 1970 told me one of the wisest and most reliable axioms I’ve ever known: “Listen ta me, boy, and listen good. They’s always at least two sides to ever’ story, and the gat-damned truth ain’t never any of ‘em. It’s always something messy in between that you got’s to figger out fo’ yo-sef.”

    williamslusher-writer.com

  6. Milos Puaca permalink
    March 8, 2013 5:02 pm

    Reading Stars and Stripes in 1979 while stationed in Korea, I remember wondering what the American public wanted by demonstrating against the Iranian hostage situation. Part of the problem was created by the insistence of the Carter Administration in keeping the American presence inside the cleric martial law in effect in Iran. Added to that situation, the admission of the Shah to the U.S. for medical reasons was a direct insult to many Iranians who opposed his recognition of Israel and the conduct of the secret police, SAVAK.

    The problem with that situation is the executive branch operated from good intentions rather than good policy. The “other party” operated from good politics rather than good policy (or good intentions). We all know that “hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works”.

    The problem with today’s situation is the laissez faire approach to life: Let the politicians and talk show hosts inform me and take care of the country. Let the teachers take care of my kids. Let someone else deal with the problems and responsibilities. This causes others to enter the vacuum and take control of the dialogue, the direction, and even the truth. The public should be informed, diligent, expecting the truth and results from politicians, and able to volunteer or help at some level of time or resource. To have quality, you need to have consistency, planning, execution, and continuous improvement.

    We need about 600 good people in the top of the three federal branches of government. The state of the union can only be measured by the union of the state, the spouses, the students, and the citizens.

    Our foreign competition means we need domestic cooperation and the continuous improvement of every person and every process. True patriots come from the process and not the publicity.

  7. March 23, 2013 12:16 am

    Your assessment and thoughtful analysis is impressive. You seem to be the equal of your grandfather in intelligence, wisdom and leadership. If we were ever to have a woman President, I know of no one as qualified as you. I’ve read your books and enjoy reading your essays.

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