The importance of voting carefully extends beyond the domestic realm and into an area that would ideally be almost completely non-partisan: foreign politics. Foreign policy oughtn’t be changed every four or eight years, because its objectives are longer-term than that. This has led some to believe that it doesn’t, that regardless of the party in power, there is some group controlling everything. A quick look over the last 11 years suggests otherwise.
Compare how George Bush and Barack Obama handled the use of America’s substantial military force. When the United States invaded Iraq, it pegged American credibility on the ability to improve the country, both in terms of liberty and in material conditions. In doing so, we gambled trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on a country we understood only poorly. Since Iraq in the years before we invaded was relatively stable, we set the bar pretty high – we had to destroy a country and rebuild it, better than it was, within the attention span of the global public. This opened an enormous opportunity to those elements wishing to discredit and reduce the power of the United States. They needed only to make Iraq unstable, to increase violence, to succeed. And since states like matter tend towards entropy unless there is a good reason for them not to, in the end the US was trapped in a hopelessly asymmetric conflict.
The fact that Obama authorized the United States to participate in the conflict in Libya said to some liberals that American foreign policy had not really changed. But even a cursory examination shows the difference in approaches. In Libya, the US waited until the proper time to act – when Libya was at its absolute worst, justifying intervention not with decades-old examples of violence, but with violence occurring at the time and with potential to occur in the future. And rather than going it alone or leading the charge, the US hung back and didn’t endorse intervention until the same had been proposed by numerous other relevant, regional powers. Adequate latitude was granted the armed forces to make the completion of the mission possible, but it was the Libyans themselves who dominated the operations and ultimately won victory, thus making the change in regime more palatable to Arab and Muslim sensibilities. End result? A hostile dictator is removed for a thousandth the cost of the war against Saddam, and much more importantly without the loss of American soldiers that characterized Bush-era foreign policy.
The conclusion? Well, we’d need more experiments to find out for sure, but it seems there are two hypotheses – something changed when we switched administrations, or else the secret committee that plots American foreign policy awoke in 2009 from a prolonged fit of nigh unbelievable stupidity.