President Obama’s Reflective and Encouraging Final Address to the United Nations in Light of Our Presidential Debates!

Via The Miami Herald

by Harry C. Blaney III

In light of the importance of Obama’s speech to the United Nations and the current presidential debates, both the first and those to come, we might reflect on how the Obama Administration and Secretary John Kerry have tried to shape our international landscape. It might be helpful to reflect on that speech in the context of the current debate:

 President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly is one of his best both in looking at our difficult and demanding global landscape, but also at his ideas of ways forward. I especially like his emphasis on the danger of inequality, and leaving the workers and I would add the “least among us,” behind and need of addressing their concerns. His pointing to the dangers of hate and ethnic conflict that must be addressed was right on.

I think among his quotes I like most are these:

“We are all stakeholders in this international system, and it calls upon all of us to invest in the success of institutions to which we belong.  And the good news is, is that many nations have shown what kind of progress is possible when we make those commitments.” …….

And: “In order to move forward, though, we do have to acknowledge that the existing path to global integration requires a course correction.  As too often, those trumpeting the benefits of globalization have ignored inequality within and among nations; have ignored the enduring appeal of ethnic and sectarian identities; have left international institutions ill-equipped, underfunded, under-resourced, in order to handle transnational challenges.”

In light of the current debate on foreign affairs we think this speech helps set a context for understanding better the challenges we face abroad and indeed at home.  We posted on our Rethinking National Security blog on the text of this speech but neglected sending it in a full post and it deserved a wider hearing.  We will continue with commentary on positions taken while adding as we have for many months quotes from the presidential campaign trail on foreign and national security issues.


“Mr. President; Mr. Secretary General; fellow delegates; ladies and gentlemen:  As I address this hall as President for the final time, let me recount the progress that we’ve made these last eight years.

From the depths of the greatest financial crisis of our time, we coordinated our response to avoid further catastrophe and return the global economy to growth.  We’ve taken away terrorist safe havens, strengthened the nonproliferation regime, resolved the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy.  We opened relations with Cuba, helped Colombia end Latin America’s longest warm, and we welcome a democratically elected leader of Myanmar to this Assembly.  Our assistance is helping people feed themselves, care for the sick, power communities across Africa, and promote models of development rather than dependence.  And we have made international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund more representative, while establishing a framework to protect our planet from the ravages of climate change.

This is important work.  It has made a real difference in the lives of our people.  And it could not have happened had we not worked together.  And yet, around the globe we are seeing the same forces of global integration that have made us interdependent also expose deep fault lines in the existing international order.

We see it in the headlines every day.  Around the world, refugees flow across borders in flight from brutal conflict.  Financial disruptions continue to weigh upon our workers and entire communities.  Across vast swaths of the Middle East, basic security, basic order has broken down.  We see too many governments muzzling journalists, and quashing dissent, and censoring the flow of information.  Terrorist networks use social media to prey upon the minds of our youth, endangering open societies and spurring anger against innocent immigrants and Muslims.  Powerful nations contest the constraints placed on them by international law.

This is the paradox that defines our world today.  A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the world is by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before, and yet our societies are filled with uncertainty, and unease, and strife.  Despite enormous progress, as people lose trust in institutions, governing becomes more difficult and tensions between nations become more quick to surface.

And so I believe that at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration.  Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.

I want to suggest to you today that we must go forward, and not backward.  I believe that as imperfect as they are, the principles of open markets and accountable governance, of democracy and human rights and international law that we have forged remain the firmest foundation for human progress in this century.  I make this argument not based on theory or ideology, but on facts — facts that all too often, we forget in the immediacy of current events.

Here’s the most important fact:  The integration of our global economy has made life better for billions of men, women and children.  Over the last 25 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from nearly 40 percent of humanity to under 10 percent.  That’s unprecedented.  And it’s not an abstraction.  It means children have enough to eat; mothers don’t die in childbirth.

Meanwhile, cracking the genetic code promises to cure diseases that have plagued us for centuries.  The Internet can deliver the entirety of human knowledge to a young girl in a remote village on a single hand-held device.  In medicine and in manufacturing, in education and communications, we’re experiencing a transformation of how human beings live on a scale that recalls the revolutions in agriculture and industry.  And as a result, a person born today is more likely to be healthy, to live longer, and to have access to opportunity than at any time in human history.

Moreover, the collapse of colonialism and communism has allowed more people than ever before to live with the freedom to choose their leaders.  Despite the real and troubling areas where freedom appears in retreat, the fact remains that the number of democracies around the world has nearly doubled in the last 25 years.

In remote corners of the world, citizens are demanding respect for the dignity of all people no matter their gender, or race, or religion, or disability, or sexual orientation, and those who deny others dignity are subject to public reproach.  An explosion of social media has given ordinary people more ways to express themselves, and has raised people’s expectations for those of us in power.  Indeed, our international order has been so successful that we take it as a given that great powers no longer fight world wars; that the end of the Cold War lifted the shadow of nuclear Armageddon; that the battlefields of Europe have been replaced by peaceful union; that China and India remain on a path of remarkable growth.

I say all this not to whitewash the challenges we face, or to suggest complacency.  Rather, I believe that we need to acknowledge these achievements in order to summon the confidence to carry this progress forward and to make sure that we do not abandon those very things that have delivered this progress.

In order to move forward, though, we do have to acknowledge that the existing path to global integration requires a course correction.  As too often, those trumpeting the benefits of globalization have ignored inequality within and among nations; have ignored the enduring appeal of ethnic and sectarian identities; have left international institutions ill-equipped, underfunded, under-resourced, in order to handle transnational challenges.

And as these real problems have been neglected, alternative visions of the world have pressed forward both in the wealthiest countries and in the poorest:  Religious fundamentalism; the politics of ethnicity, or tribe, or sect; aggressive nationalism; a crude populism — sometimes from the far left, but more often from the far right — which seeks to restore what they believe was a better, simpler age free of outside contamination.

We cannot dismiss these visions.  They are powerful.  They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens.  I do not believe those visions can deliver security or prosperity over the long term, but I do believe that these visions fail to recognize, at a very basic level, our common humanity.  Moreover, I believe that the acceleration of travel and technology and telecommunications — together with a global economy that depends on a global supply chain — makes it self-defeating ultimately for those who seek to reverse this progress.  Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.

So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration.  Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are broadly shared, and that the disruptions — economic, political, and cultural — that are caused by integration are squarely addressed.  This is not the place for a detailed policy blueprint, but let me offer in broad strokes those areas where I believe we must do better together.

It starts with making the global economy work better for all people and not just for those at the top.  While open markets, capitalism have raised standards of living around the globe, globalization combined with rapid progress and technology has also weakened the position of workers and their ability to secure a decent wage.  In advanced economies like my own, unions have been undermined, and many manufacturing jobs have disappeared.  Often, those who benefit most from globalization have used their political power to further undermine the position of workers.

In developing countries, labor organizations have often been suppressed, and the growth of the middle class has been held back by corruption and underinvestment.  Mercantilist policies pursued by governments with export-driven models threaten to undermine the consensus that underpins global trade.  And meanwhile, global capital is too often unaccountable — nearly $8 trillion stashed away in tax havens, a shadow banking system that grows beyond the reach of effective oversight.

A world in which one percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable.  I understand that the gaps between rich and poor are not new, but just as the child in a slum today can see the skyscraper nearby, technology now allows any person with a smartphone to see how the most privileged among us live and the contrast between their own lives and others.  Expectations rise, then, faster than governments can deliver, and a pervasive sense of injustice undermine people’s faith in the system.

So how do we fix this imbalance?  We cannot unwind integration any more than we can stuff technology back into a box.  Nor can we look to failed models of the past.  If we start resorting to trade wars, market distorting subsidies, beggar thy neighbor policies, an overreliance on natural resources instead of innovation — these approaches will make us poorer, collectively, and they are more like to lead to conflict.  And the stark contrast between, say, the success of the Republic of Korea and the wasteland of North Korea shows that central, planned control of the economy is a dead end.

But I do believe there’s another path — one that fuels growth and innovation, and offers the clearest route to individual opportunity and national success.  It does not require succumbing to a soulless capitalism that benefits only the few, but rather recognizes that economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor, and growth is broadly based. And that means respecting the rights of workers so they can organize into independent unions and earn a living wage.  It means investing in our people — their skills, their education, their capacity to take an idea and turn it into a business.  It means strengthening the safety net that protects our people from hardship and allows them to take more risks — to look for a new job, or start a new venture.

These are the policies that I’ve pursued here in the United States, and with clear results.  American businesses have created now 15 million new jobs.  After the recession, the top one percent of Americans were capturing more than 90 percent of income growth.  But today, that’s down to about half.  Last year, poverty in this country fell at the fastest rate in nearly 50 years.  And with further investment in infrastructure and early childhood education and basic research, I’m confident that such progress will continue.

So just as I’ve pursued these measures here at home, so has the United States worked with many nations to curb the excesses of capitalism — not to punish wealth, but to prevent repeated crises that can destroy it.  That’s why we’ve worked with other nations to create higher and clearer standards for banking and taxation — because a society that asks less of oligarchs than ordinary citizens will rot from within.  That’s why we’ve pushed for transparency and cooperation in rooting out corruption, and tracking illicit dollars, because markets create more jobs when they’re fueled by hard work, and not the capacity to extort a bribe.  That’s why we’ve worked to reach trade agreements that raise labor standards and raise environmental standards, as we’ve done with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so that the benefits are more broadly shared.

And just as we benefit by combatting inequality within our countries, I believe advanced economies still need to do more to close the gap between rich and poor nations around the globe.  This is difficult politically.  It’s difficult to spend on foreign assistance.  But I do not believe this is charity.  For the small fraction of what we spent at war in Iraq we could support institutions so that fragile states don’t collapse in the first place, and invest in emerging economies that become markets for our goods.  It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

And that’s why we need to follow through on our efforts to combat climate change.  If we don’t act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations, and cities submerged and nations displaced, and food supplies decimated, and conflicts born of despair.  The Paris Agreement gives us a framework to act, but only if we scale up our ambition.  And there must be a sense of urgency about bringing the agreement into force, and helping poorer countries leapfrog destructive forms of energy.

So, for the wealthiest countries, a Green Climate Fund should only be the beginning.  We need to invest in research and provide market incentives to develop new technologies, and then make these technologies accessible and affordable for poorer countries.  And only then can we continue lifting all people up from poverty without condemning our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.

So we need new models for the global marketplace, models that are inclusive and sustainable.  And in the same way, we need models of governance that are inclusive and accountable to ordinary people.

I recognize not every country in this hall is going to follow the same model of governance.  I do not think that America can — or should — impose our system of government on other countries.  But there appears to be growing contest between authoritarianism and liberalism right now.  And I want everybody to understand, I am not neutral in that contest.  I believe in a liberal political order — an order built not just through elections and representative government, but also through respect for human rights and civil society, and independent judiciaries and the rule of law.

I know that some countries, which now recognize the power of free markets, still reject the model of free societies.  And perhaps those of us who have been promoting democracy feel somewhat discouraged since the end of the Cold War, because we’ve learned that liberal democracy will not just wash across the globe in a single wave.  It turns out building accountable institutions is hard work — the work of generations.  The gains are often fragile.  Sometimes we take one step forward and then two steps back.  In countries held together by borders drawn by colonial powers, with ethnic enclaves and tribal divisions, politics and elections can sometimes appear to be a zero-sum game.  And so, given the difficulty in forging true democracy in the face of these pressures, it’s no surprise that some argue the future favors the strongman, a top-down model, rather than strong, democratic institutions.

But I believe this thinking is wrong.  I believe the road of true democracy remains the better path.  I believe that in the 21st century, economies can only grow to a certain point until they need to open up — because entrepreneurs need to access information in order to invent; young people need a global education in order to thrive; independent media needs to check the abuses of power.  Without this evolution, ultimately expectations of people will not be met; suppression and stagnation will set in.  And history shows that strongmen are then left with two paths — permanent crackdown, which sparks strife at home, or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war.

Now, I will admit, my belief that governments serve the individual, and not the other way around, is shaped by America’s story.  Our nation began with a promise of freedom that applied only to the few.  But because of our democratic Constitution, because of our Bill of Rights, because of our ideals, ordinary people were able to organize, and march, and protest, and ultimately, those ideals won out — opened doors for women and minorities and workers in ways that made our economy more productive and turned our diversity into a strength; that gave innovators the chance to transform every area of human endeavor; that made it possible for someone like me to be elected President of the United States.

So, yes, my views are shaped by the specific experiences of America, but I do not think this story is unique to America.  Look at the transformation that’s taken place in countries as different as Japan and Chile, Indonesia, Botswana.  The countries that have succeeded are ones in which people feel they have a stake.

In Europe, the progress of those countries in the former Soviet bloc that embraced democracy stand in clear contrast to those that did not.  After all, the people of Ukraine did not take to the streets because of some plot imposed from abroad.  They took to the streets because their leadership was for sale and they had no recourse.  They demanded change because they saw life get better for people in the Baltics and in Poland, societies that were more liberal, and democratic, and open than their own.

So those of us who believe in democracy, we need to speak out forcefully, because both the facts and history, I believe, are on our side.  That doesn’t mean democracies are without flaws.  It does mean that the cure for what ails our democracies is greater engagement by our citizens — not less.

Yes, in America, there is too much money in politics; too much entrenched partisanship; too little participation by citizens, in part because of a patchwork of laws that makes it harder to vote.  In Europe, a well-intentioned Brussels often became too isolated from the normal push and pull of national politics.  Too often, in capitals, decision-makers have forgotten that democracy needs to be driven by civic engagement from the bottom up, not governance by experts from the top down.  And so these are real problems, and as leaders of democratic governments make the case for democracy abroad, we better strive harder to set a better example at home.

Moreover, every country will organize its government informed by centuries of history, and the circumstances of geography, and the deeply held beliefs of its people.  So I recognize a traditional society may value unity and cohesion more than a diverse country like my own, which was founded upon what, at the time, was a radical idea — the idea of the liberty of individual human beings endowed with certain God-given rights.  But that does not mean that ordinary people in Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East somehow prefer arbitrary rule that denies them a voice in the decisions that can shape their lives.  I believe that spirit is universal.  And if any of you doubt the universality of that desire, listen to the voices of young people everywhere who call out for freedom, and dignity, and the opportunity to control their own lives.

This leads me to the third thing we need to do:  We must reject any forms of fundamentalism, or racism, or a belief in ethnic superiority that makes our traditional identities irreconcilable with modernity.  Instead we need to embrace the tolerance that results from respect of all human beings.

It’s a truism that global integration has led to a collision of cultures; trade, migration, the Internet, all these things can challenge and unsettle our most cherished identities.  We see liberal societies express opposition when women choose to cover themselves.  We see protests responding to Western newspaper cartoons that caricature the Prophet Muhammad.  In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force.  Asian powers debate competing claims of history.  And in Europe and the United States, you see people wrestle with concerns about immigration and changing demographics, and suggesting that somehow people who look different are corrupting the character of our countries.

Now, there’s no easy answer for resolving all these social forces, and we must respect the meaning that people draw from their own traditions — from their religion, from their ethnicity, from their sense of nationhood.  But I do not believe progress is possible if our desire to preserve our identities gives way to an impulse to dehumanize or dominate another group. If our religion leads us to persecute those of another faith, if we jail or beat people who are gay, if our traditions lead us to prevent girls from going to school, if we discriminate on the basis of race or tribe or ethnicity, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray.  The world is too small, we are too packed together, for us to be able to resort to those old ways of thinking.

We see this mindset in too many parts of the Middle East.  There, so much of the collapse in order has been fueled because leaders sought legitimacy not because of policies or programs but by resorting to persecuting political opposition, or demonizing other religious sects, by narrowing the public space to the mosque, where in too many places perversions of a great faith were tolerated.  These forces built up for years, and are now at work helping to fuel both Syria’s tragic civil war and the mindless, medieval menace of ISIL.

The mindset of sectarianism, and extremism, and bloodletting, and retribution that has been taking place will not be quickly reversed.  And if we are honest, we understand that no external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to co-exist for long.  But I do believe we have to be honest about the nature of these conflicts, and our international community must continue to work with those who seek to build rather than to destroy.

And there is a military component to that.  It means being united and relentless in destroying networks like ISIL, which show no respect for human life.  But it also means that in a place like Syria, where there’s no ultimate military victory to be won, we’re going to have to pursue the hard work of diplomacy that aims to stop the violence, and deliver aid to those in need, and support those who pursue a political settlement and can see those who are not like themselves as worthy of dignity and respect.

Across the region’s conflicts, we have to insist that all parties recognize a common humanity and that nations end proxy wars that fuel disorder.  Because until basic questions are answered about how communities co-exist, the embers of extremism will continue to burn, countless human beings will suffer — most of all in that region — but extremism will continue to be exported overseas.  And the world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent it from affecting our own societies.

And what is true in the Middle East is true for all of us.  Surely, religious traditions can be honored and upheld while teaching young people science and math, rather than intolerance. Surely, we can sustain our unique traditions while giving women their full and rightful role in the politics and economics of a nation.  Surely, we can rally our nations to solidarity while recognizing equal treatment for all communities — whether it’s a religious minority in Myanmar, or an ethnic minority in Burundi, or a racial minority right here in the United States.  And surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.  We all have to do better as leaders in tamping down, rather than encouraging, a notion of identity that leads us to diminish others.

And this leads me to the fourth and final thing we need to do, and that is sustain our commitment to international cooperation rooted in the rights and responsibilities of nations.

As President of the United States, I know that for most of human history, power has not been unipolar.  The end of the Cold War may have led too many to forget this truth.  I’ve noticed as President that at times, both America’s adversaries and some of our allies believe that all problems were either caused by Washington or could be solved by Washington — and perhaps too many in Washington believed that as well.  (Laughter.)  But I believe America has been a rare superpower in human history insofar as it has been willing to think beyond narrow self-interest; that while we’ve made our share of mistakes over these last 25 years — and I’ve acknowledged some — we have strived, sometimes at great sacrifice, to align better our actions with our ideals.  And as a consequence, I believe we have been a force for good.

We have secured allies.  We’ve acted to protect the vulnerable.  We supported human rights and welcomed scrutiny of our own actions.  We’ve bound our power to international laws and institutions.  When we’ve made mistakes, we’ve tried to acknowledge them.  We have worked to roll back poverty and hunger and disease beyond our borders, not just within our borders.

I’m proud of that.  But I also know that we can’t do this alone.  And I believe that if we’re to meet the challenges of this century, we are all going to have to do more to build up international capacity.  We cannot escape the prospect of nuclear war unless we all commit to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and pursuing a world without them.

When Iran agrees to accept constraints on its nuclear program that enhances global security and enhances Iran’s ability to work with other nations.  On the other hand, when North Korea tests a bomb that endangers all of us.  And any country that breaks this basic bargain must face consequences.  And those nations with these weapons, like the United States, have a unique responsibility to pursue the path of reducing our stockpiles, and reaffirming basic norms like the commitment to never test them again.

We can’t combat a disease like Zika that recognizes no borders — mosquitos don’t respect walls — unless we make permanent the same urgency that we brought to bear against Ebola — by strengthening our own systems of public health, by investing in cures and rolling back the root causes of disease, and helping poorer countries develop a public health infrastructure.

We can only eliminate extreme poverty if the sustainable development goals that we have set are more than words on paper. Human ingenuity now gives us the capacity to feed the hungry and give all of our children — including our girls — the education that is the foundation for opportunity in our world.  But we have to put our money where our mouths are.

And we can only realize the promise of this institution’s founding — to replace the ravages of war with cooperation — if powerful nations like my own accept constraints.  Sometimes I’m criticized in my own country for professing a belief in international norms and multilateral institutions.  But I am convinced that in the long run, giving up some freedom of action — not giving up our ability to protect ourselves or pursue our core interests, but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term — enhances our security.  And I think that’s not just true for us.

If Russia continues to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors, it may be popular at home, it may fuel nationalist fervor for a time, but over time it is also going to diminish its stature and make its borders less secure.  In the South China Sea, a peaceful resolution of disputes offered by law will mean far greater stability than the militarization of a few rocks and reefs.

We are all stakeholders in this international system, and it calls upon all of us to invest in the success of institutions to which we belong.  And the good news is, is that many nations have shown what kind of progress is possible when we make those commitments.  Consider what we’ve accomplished here over the past few years.

Together, we mobilized some 50,000 additional troops for U.N. peacekeeping, making them nimble, better equipped, better prepared to deal with emergencies.  Together, we established an Open Government Partnership so that, increasingly, transparency empowers more and more people around the globe.  And together, now, we have to open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are desperate for a home.

We should all welcome the pledges of increased assistance that have been made at this General Assembly gathering.  I’ll be discussing that more this afternoon.  But we have to follow through, even when the politics are hard.  Because in the eyes of innocent men and women and children who, through no fault of their own, have had to flee everything that they know, everything that they love, we have to have the empathy to see ourselves.  We have to imagine what it would be like for our family, for our children, if the unspeakable happened to us.  And we should all understand that, ultimately, our world will be more secure if we are prepared to help those in need and the nations who are carrying the largest burden with respect to accommodating these refugees.

There are a lot of nations right now that are doing the right thing.  But many nations — particularly those blessed with wealth and the benefits of geography — that can do more to offer a hand, even if they also insist that refugees who come to our countries have to do more to adapt to the customs and conventions of the communities that are now providing them a home.

Let me conclude by saying that I recognize history tells a different story than the one that I’ve talked about here today.  There’s a much darker and more cynical view of history that we can adopt.  Human beings are too often motivated by greed and by power.  Big countries for most of history have pushed smaller ones around.  Tribes and ethnic groups and nation states have very often found it most convenient to define themselves by what they hate and not just those ideas that bind them together.

Time and again, human beings have believed that they finally arrived at a period of enlightenment only to repeat, then, cycles of conflict and suffering.  Perhaps that’s our fate.  We have to remember that the choices of individual human beings led to repeated world war.  But we also have to remember that the choices of individual human beings created a United Nations, so that a war like that would never happen again.  Each of us as leaders, each nation can choose to reject those who appeal to our worst impulses and embrace those who appeal to our best.  For we have shown that we can choose a better history.

Sitting in a prison cell, a young Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that, “Human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God.”  And during the course of these eight years, as I’ve traveled to many of your nations, I have seen that spirit in our young people, who are more educated and more tolerant, and more inclusive and more diverse, and more creative than our generation; who are more empathetic and compassionate towards their fellow human beings than previous generations.  And, yes, some of that comes with the idealism of youth.  But it also comes with young people’s access to information about other peoples and places — an understanding unique in human history that their future is bound with the fates of other human beings on the other side of the world.

I think of the thousands of health care workers from around the world who volunteered to fight Ebola.  I remember the young entrepreneurs I met who are now starting new businesses in Cuba, the parliamentarians who used to be just a few years ago political prisoners in Myanmar.  I think of the girls who have braved taunts or violence just to go to school in Afghanistan, and the university students who started programs online to reject the extremism of organizations like ISIL.  I draw strength from the young Americans — entrepreneurs, activists, soldiers, new citizens — who are remaking our nation once again, who are unconstrained by old habits and old conventions, and unencumbered by what is, but are instead ready to seize what ought to be.

My own family is a made up of the flesh and blood and traditions and cultures and faiths from a lot of different parts of the world — just as America has been built by immigrants from every shore.  And in my own life, in this country, and as President, I have learned that our identities do not have to be defined by putting someone else down, but can be enhanced by lifting somebody else up.  They don’t have to be defined in opposition to others, but rather by a belief in liberty and equality and justice and fairness.

And the embrace of these principles as universal doesn’t weaken my particular pride, my particular love for America — it strengthens it.  My belief that these ideals apply everywhere doesn’t lessen my commitment to help those who look like me, or pray as I do, or pledge allegiance to my flag.  But my faith in those principles does force me to expand my moral imagination and to recognize that I can best serve my own people, I can best look after my own daughters, by making sure that my actions seek what is right for all people and all children, and your daughters and your sons.

This is what I believe:  that all of us can be co-workers with God.  And our leadership, and our governments, and this United Nations should reflect this irreducible truth.

Thank you very much.”





Harry C. Blaney III

This is another text on foreign and national security platform of the Democratic Party with commentary with this post we have covered all but one of the more major issues in the platform. Climate change and environment will be posted shortly.



We must defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates, and prevent other groups from emerging in their place. Democrats will continue to lead a broad coalition of allies and partners to destroy ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria. We will press those in the region, especially the Gulf countries and local forces on the ground, to carry their weight in prosecuting this fight. We will dismantle the global network of terror, which supplies terrorists with money, arms, and fighters, and stop them from recruiting and inspiring potential radicals. We will improve our intelligence capabilities, with appropriate safeguards here at home, and ensure that the intelligence community and law enforcement is prepared to deal effectively with the threats we face. We will harden our defenses as well as those of our partners against external and homegrown threats. We will secure the homeland, investing more resources to improve mass transit, aviation, infrastructure, and port security. And we will remain a resilient nation, always coming together to stand up to terror.

Democrats will seek an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is more precise about our efforts to defeat ISIS and that does not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.

As we prosecute the fight against terrorism, Democrats will repudiate vile tactics that would do us harm. We reject Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative. It also alienates people and countries who are crucial to defeating terrorism; the vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace and tolerance. We reject Donald Trump’s suggestion that our military should engage in war crimes, like torturing prisoners or murdering civilian family members of suspected terrorists. These tactics run counter to American principles, undermine our moral standing, cost innocent lives, and endanger Americans. We also firmly reject Donald Trump’s willingness to mire tens of thousands of our combat troops in another misguided ground war in the Middle East, which would only further embolden ISIS. There is nothing smart or strong about such an approach.


Much of this text on terrorism followers the main elements of the policies and strategy of the present administration. As a general summary of the approach makes much sense and there has been much success in such areas as taking ground from ISIS and in denying money and other resources to ISIS. It has become writ that we expect the states of the region play a more prominent role in the defeat of ISIS.

This today is exemplified by the recent August 24th attack by Turkish forces including planes and tanks against ISIS terrorists along Turkey’s Syrian border in the area of the town of Jarablus. What is unsaid is to what degree this will impact our need to have the Kurdish forces that are key to defeating ISIS, taking on Assad, and also their role of actions against terrorists in Iraq. The press reports that American planes are supporting the Turkish advance but Turkish leaders have made clear they will attack Kurdish force if the advance into territory near Turkey. That makes for a very complex situation. The Jarablus town is only 95 kilometers from the key city of Aleppo. It is understood that Turkish backed Syrian rebels are working in cooperation with the Turkish forces.

Aleppo and success in Iraq may become a key indication of the success or failure of the joint American lead coalition strategy of destroying ISIS but it is also a very complex and difficult terrain both in military and political grounds. There are some six groups in Syria involved with different motives and alliances. Within the city are forces against Assad which are besieged by pro-Assad army forces, Hezbollah fighters, Iranian troops, and Iraqi Shia militia and even it is said Russian “contract soldiers.” The unknowns are first, the possible Russian response, second, the possibility of a clash between Kurd led forces and others allied with them largely supported by the US coalition, and Turkey’s own objective of destroying or limiting the Kurd power in the region near their border.

Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) are also in the fight and are made up of mainly but not solely of Kurd fighters. This mix of anti-Assad groups which have not always compatible goals makes for a high level of uncertainty of the outcome of the current fighting.

In the end, the test of the current American and allied strategy must be a Syria that is secure, a new government of all groups without Assad in control, and where terrorist do not hold large areas. At the moment the Kurdish and other Arab forces against Assad have taken the critical town of Manbij and want to advance further North and West including towards the Jarablus which could create a threat to both Turkey and Syrian rebels made up largely of Kurds if they engage each other and destroy the unity of the moment. Not least is the role North of Aleppo of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which plays a role in the defeat of ISIS and is backed by the anti-Assad coalition.

At this moment with the contending forces now fully engaged are creating an even more complex military and political situation with anti-Assad forces diminished yet still strong with Russian support. But a danger is some of these other anti-Assad forces might engaged with each other in a fight over territory and control of large areas and create still more instability. At this point American diplomacy will be key and the need for some kind of accommodation between forces is necessary to end the conflict and stabilize the region. The key today today is what will the region look like the day after ISIS is essentially defeated in both Syria and Iraq. It clearly will not stop all terrorism.

It is hard to argue with the platform idea of protecting our homeland and that of our allies against acts of terrorism. Here key specifics are missing.

Not least also in an anti-terrorist effort is the war in Iraq against ISIS which is also may be coming to some kind of unknown of conclusion but the goal of an Iraq that is untied between Sunni and Shia and Kurds and this will not happen just by defeating ISIS. This issue will be examined in another post.

The second part of the platform on terrorism reaffirms that this is not a war on Muslims, that Trump’s idea of making unlimited war is wrong, and that the idea of sending large numbers of American troops wold be counterproductive. On these stances I see no problem and are compatible with Obama’s perspective and strategy. But the presidential campaign needs to correct some of the false and dangerous assumptions and strategies by Trump that are dangerous to a true “win” over terrorism and for America’s leadership on this and other issues.

We welcome your comments!




Harry C. Blaney III

There is much one can learn from the most recent Trump speech on foreign policy. It is still scary and incredulous that there is no real “there there” with any of Trump’s foreign policy perspectives. This is especially true when he is off his text and speaks what is really in his mind at that moment and it leads him to express ideas that are his own unbalanced perceptions of reality and his worst prejudices. Yes they are often crazy and silly and not least dangerous.

The examples of going off tract and into the realm of “extreme” views is exemplified in much of this speech which was billed as a means to show a serious policy side in the foreign affairs sector. Between a few peremptory statements that were written by his so-called foreign affairs “experts” that in large part were often along the lines of our current policies, much of the speech’s content would make the world a less secure and more dangerous in a host to areas.

Some examples:

His statement that he would institute what he called “extreme interrogations” of Muslim immigrants and visitors to America. Once again, along with building a massive “wall” between the US and Mexico, and clear bigotry against Muslims and even deceased American Muslim war heroes, he sees only what the people at the NRA and the KKK see and this is perhaps more destructive to American democracy, its internal unity, and yes our security globally than almost any other external challenge we face abroad.

On the question of dealing with ISIS, Trump adopted much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the so-called Islamic State. Trump’s outrageous perception of “solutions include in his words: “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in.” Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. All of this is clearly absurd, crude unthought through strategy, and also illegal under international law.

What he has not made clear is whether he would send massive troops into the Middle East conflicts?

One lie was his statement was when he said that he has been right about the Middle East from the start. This is not true, old video and audio clips shown on the
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showed footage against his claim that “I have been an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” as he said in his address at Youngstown State University in Ohio. But The “Morning Joe” video played a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show. At that time he asked Trump if he was for invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The same is true when Trump also contradicted himself on the troop withdrawal or draw down in Iraq.
He said on August 15th: “I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out,” But the record shows he supported pulling out of Iraq in 2007, when he said “You know how they get out? They get out,” Trump told CNN that year. “Declare victory and leave.”

He also prevaricated on Libya. In his speech he said “Libya was stable and President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya,”
But he also he advocated for deposing Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In February 2011, Trump also said in a video filmed in his office that “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. We should go in. We should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”

He has been all over the map on the Middle East and time and time again he has change his position but never admitted it that he was wrong. What this shows is his clear lack of analysis, willing to face hard facts on the ground, and unwilling to accept being wrong. That is dangerous for a president and for our nation’s effective leadership in the world.

Trump repeated his previous policy to continue the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and even fill it with new detainees. He hinted at including, possibly some U.S. citizens. This facility is one of the great weapons that terrorists point to of the evil of America and a recruiting tool for ISIS. Trump does not even acknowledge this and seems to think that water boarding, torture, and mass bombing including killing of civilians is the way to conduct an effective policy in the Middle East. Even worse he has hinted at using atomic weapons. The Obama administration is trying to close Guantanamo via sending current detainees abroad, which he did recently with 15 individuals, and more are planned. But the easy and right answer is to send them to American maximum security prisons and bring them under US laws.

His stands on climate change, NATO’s unity and that of EU, the Iran deal, trade, and dealing with Russia, and on many other issues are the among the most dangerous for a viable and peaceful world and US national security.

In sum, the time has come, given Trump’s own words over time and especially now, for a true deep serious analysis of what Trump might do to American respect and security and indeed just rationality in our vital foreign and national security area.

Some in the media have done this, but in the vast conservative Republican owned mainline media and right wing radio talking heads have done little to challenge Trump’s lies and clearly deranged and unnecessary aggressive statements that have frightened our allies and embolden our adversaries. It is a high risk world where idiocy is our greatest danger. Indeed, we need more debate and even more serious examination in the media of the full range of global challenges and of what our own corrosive politics has done to our global position. Time has come for more public questioning and more attention to the implications of Trump’s policies if we are to achieve a sane and safe world.

We welcome your comments!




In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.



The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.


In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.


We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.

Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.


The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.

On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution,  which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal. 

What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.

Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced.  Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace.  Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups.  Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.

The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.

Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.

Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.

What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.

We welcome your comments!

See our 2016 Campaign coverage


In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Republican Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security.  Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.

The Platform:

The Middle East is more dangerous now than at any time since the Second World War. Whatever their disagreements, presidents of both parties had always prioritized America’s national interests, the trust of friendly governments, and the security of Israel. That sound consensus was replaced with impotent grandstanding on the part of the current President and his Secretaries of State. The results have been ruinous for all parties except Islamic terrorists and their Iranian and other sponsors.

We consider the Administration’s deal with Iran, to lift international sanctions and make hundreds of billions of dollars available to the Mullahs, a personal agreement between the President and his negotiating partners and non-binding on the next president. Without a two-thirds endorsement by the Senate, it does not have treaty status. Because of it, the defiant and emboldened regime in Tehran continues to sponsor terrorism across the region, develop a nuclear weapon, test-fire ballistic missiles inscribed with “Death to Israel,” and abuse the basic human rights of its citizens. A Republican president will not be bound by it. We must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.

Over the last four years we have seen the rise of a murderous fanaticism in the form of ISIS, the so called Islamic State. Its reach now extends far beyond the Middle East to virtually every continent. ISIS has brought ancient butchery into the 21st century. Nations are imploding, erasing long-established borders.

The Obama Administration and its Secretary of State so mishandled the Arab Spring that it destabilized the entire region. The hope some saw in the Arab Spring has transformed into disappointment. The dictator of Syria, Bashar Assad, has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people and created millions of refugees, and an American president has been unable to rally the world against him. Understandably, our allies fear for their future in a region far more dangerous than it was eight years ago. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility. We must stand up for our friends, challenge our foes, and destroy ISIS.

Hezbollah, controlling over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon, must be isolated and Lebanon’s independence restored. We will support the transition to a post-Assad Syrian government that is representative of its people, protects the rights of all minorities and religions, respects the territorial integrity of its neighbors, and contributes to peace and stability in the region. The Iraqi people have been on the front lines in the fight against terror. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and the attacks against them continue, even in Baghdad. Our partnership with them should continue as long as ISIS and others like it survive in the region. We are deeply concerned that, in the face of genocide against them, Christian communities in cities like Gerbil are receiving no financial support from either the U.S. government or the UN to help with displaced persons and urban refugees. Their survival is sustained only by private charities. This must change immediately.

Defeating ISIS means more than pushing back its fighters while abandoning its victims. It must mean aiding those who have suffered the most — and doing so before they starve. It means supporting the long-term survival of indigenous religious and ethnic communities, punishing the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and conditioning humanitarian and military assistance to governments on their observable commitment to human rights. We continue to support the Kurdish people, whose bravery and cooperation with our forces merit our respect and their autonomy. Many countries in the region have given, and continue to give, substantial assistance to the United States because they understand that our struggle against terrorism is not an ethnic or religious fight. They consider violent extremists to be abusers of their faith, not its champions. We applaud their courage and value their counsel. The U.S. government, together with its global partners, should mobilize its political, economic, and military assets to support the creation of a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect those ethnic and religious minorities continuing of ISIS.


This is the usual criticism without a clear answer and examination of the risks and cost of any alternative policies and actions. Just looking at a few of their statements and positions we see how far away the Republican Party is from the reality is on the ground. 

First, we should take the statement that “sound consensus was replaced with impotent grandstanding on the part of the current President and his Secretaries of State. The results have been ruinous for all parties except Islamic terrorists and their Iranian and other sponsors.”

As they used to say before we got a GOP presidential candidate that specializes in lying, self-contradiction, and racism, the facts and premises and assumption are all wrong, as they are with the denial of climate change that accompanies the 2016 GOP platform. Let’s try a little facts. Obama and Kerry are the farthest apart from “grandstanding” than any president and Secretary I have known in my many decades as diplomat and foreign affairs scholar. The are cautious and not high on doing “stupid things.” 

They have avoided sending troops into the Middle East to be killed for no good reason after the results of Bush II and the neo-cons that still advocate more “war” without reason. They have sent in non-combat troops and provided training, advice, and resources, and the reality is that those in Iraq have made astonishing progress so far with minimum costs in American blood and resources. This is a war the Iraqi multi-ethic combined forces need to fight. In fact the Obama/Kerry strategy has shown that ISIS can be reduced by just the strategy and approach that Obama has decreed and the military has instituted. In Syria I know of few good options and it is certain that the GOP will not come up with any that won’t shed American blood or make the situation worse, as we did in Iraq in 2003. I have no idea what the platform means to create a “safe haven” in Iraq and I am not sure the drafters know either. The idea of a “no fly zone” in Syria has been examined and former Secretary Clinton is said to have supported it in the past, but the military say that it is not feasible. Perhaps this needs to be looked at again with care but not without a full assessment of its feasibility.

As for Iran, the nuclear deal has so far been a sound success regarding its sole aim to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and its related technology. In the GOP platform is a direct lie in saying that Iran “develop[ed] a nuclear weapon,” the word for this factually untrue statement is its boldness and mendacity to scare people. The GOP may wish to take away this victory of American and allied diplomacy  just when it achieves our key objective. It would be the height of stupidity and dangerous to the whole region if we renounced the Iran deal and consequently permitted Iran to start immediately building nuclear weapons, especially because of the possibility of others in the region to build their own as a reaction. The word stupid hardly covers this disastrous position.

Regarding the empty rhetorical points and lies about the tragic situation in Syria, which is dangerous, complex, and risky and where America has indeed rallied allies and with them to engage in this murky environment in both diplomacy and assistance to moderate elements against both ISIS and Assad,  I see not a single suggestion from Trump and his ilk on how to do better and not with more cost to US lives. Not to mention without even greater civilian deaths and any assurance of a true end point in which that country can return to security, democracy, peace, and the elimination of conflict between the many powers now involved — including Russia and various Shia groups.  All the Republicans can offer is a man without any knowledge of foreign affairs and with the least regard to truth and facts on the ground. The danger of these positions and the baseless and wrong views of past and present conditions and risks is a show of deep ignorance and irresponsible stances.

The point on “abandoning” its victims, read civilians and refugees, is a canard. America has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to support displaced persons and refugees under Obama via the UN system including UNHCR, our aid programs, and NGOs and other relief groups. More than anyone else. The Republican controlled Congress can pass a bill tomorrow to increase aid by billions of dollars, without cutting any assistance to other vulnerable groups or from any other programs, and Obama would sign the bill overnight. This is a plain hypocritical stance that uses the suffering of others for partisan political points and doing nothing to solve the problem.  Also the fact is that many places, especially cities, are inaccessible to safely provide assistance due to the military action of Assad and the Russians blocking assistance. How would Trump change that? Secretary Kerry is trying to change this  via diplomacy as this is being written.

In short, this GOP platform is filled with misstatements, very bad ideas, platitudes, and little of positive new practical or useful ideas on how to solve the many problems of the Middle East.  It show the shallowness of Trump’s perspective on a critical issue and even of the Republican Party.



By: Harry C. Blaney III



On July 6th, against the background of the Brexit referendum, the long-awaited report (click here to read) by Sir John Chilcot on the British participation in Iraq War was released after seven years. The Inquiry had approximately 2.6 million words that condemned the British decision to invade and the subsequent conduct of the Iraq War.

The report contained wide-ranging censure of the UK’s decision to enter the Iraq War and also the implementation of that war. It focused on former Prime Minister Tony Blair and UK intelligence reports that led to decisions on the planning and the strategy in Iraq that were made with insufficient debate in Britain. Chilcot said it was an intervention that “was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.”

Chilcot and the report concluded that Britain went to war on the basis of unreliable intelligence. He added that planning for war was totally inadequate, concluding that there was insufficient debate on the decision.  Chilcot further said that “in March of 2003, there was no imminent threat from the Saddam Hussein regime.” The implication was that the military action taken was not justified.

There was much criticism of the UK intelligence agencies, and in time more will likely come out on this in the UK and with implications also for the US intelligence agencies. Some have said the intelligence reports were flimsy and that MI6 in particular has been highly criticized.

The report found that diplomatic options had not been fully explored before the decision was made to go to war. This is a lesson today for both the UK and the US.

The families of the troops that were killed have supported the report and have both questioned how and why all went wrong in the buildup to war and argued for Blair to pay in some way for the cost of his actions. There has been talk about a legal action either domestically or in an international court. From a legal perspective, that is highly unlikely, however. But emotions will remain for a long time. The media has been exceptionally critical of Blair to the point of imbalance and unfairness, which indicates that the issue has created massive anger and bitterness in Britain.

After the release of the report, former Prime Minister Tony Blair held a two hour press conference (coverage linked above) in which he said he did not regret his decision to invade, which he said was the hardest of his term in office. He said he made the initial decision “in good faith,” adding that he “did not have the option to delay in response to the quick decision.” He also said he had more sorrow and regret over the decision than others will ever believe.

In a 2002 memo to Bush, Blair said “I will be with you, whatever.” But he added, which the UK media did not fully report, that he also wrote that all of the difficulties must be examined. He said it was a good act to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but added that they underestimated the potential for subsequent upheavals. There was also criticism in the report that the UK military and intelligence leaders were under-resourced, arguing that the troops did not have the tools to do their best and do it safely.

Blair said that he “will take full responsibility for any mistakes that were taken.” However, he “will not apologize for going to war.” Blair also added “the report makes it clear there [were] no lies.”

Some of the commentators have noted Blair’s efforts to moderate US Policies, which in the end were only partly successful. They noted in particular the effort to go to the UN Security Council to get the authority to go to war, which was stopped by a veto by Russia.

Neither the report nor Blair’s statement will put an end to the politics of this emotional issue for many years. It is still unclear if some kind of general agreement on what took place has finally been reached. I doubt that there will be much relief from the bitterness and acrimony that clouds British politics and society.

The report and the response by Blair will sadly not lay to rest the criticism or the bitter debate in Britain about the Iraq War. It will continue to influence public and governmental attitudes towards going into conflict situations for a very long time.

In America, this report will likely continue the debate (which has never stopped) over the wisdom of the US decision to go to war in Iraq. That was, in my view, an unforgivable act by the George W. Bush administration and one that was based, as we all know now, on lies and false intelligence reports by our own agencies.

Blair’s most relevant statement for the world of 2016 was that “we do not have the right strategy to deal with terrorism.” That is, as they say, a British understatement. On this Blair is quite right. We all need to re-think our global strategy and it will take a united effort and deep assessment to go forward with new military conflicts. I have argued that we need always to seriously assess the costs before going into conflict situations. Decision makers must consider the consequences of our actions. One clear failure was the poor policies and efforts to deal with the post-conflict need to establish security and ensure a stable government in Iraq. Neither America nor Britain took this problem seriously.

Both the US report (which was critical of many decisions by the Bush administration) and the UK report made it clear that both governments did not understand the high potential costs of their actions. As Chilcot said, the consequences of the war were misjudged. I hope that, in time, these reports and a more historic assessment will compel both nations to make future decisions based on a careful debate on a long-term strategic and moral judgment, as well as look at the facts on the ground. War is always costly and sometimes necessary, but the argument must be made with great care. I hope that we will have more clarity rather than hate and divisions. In the end, we need to make careful decisions that will create a safer world for all.

We welcome you comments!




By:  Harry C. Blaney III

donald_trump_august_19_2015_croppedtwitter_cards_potusdownload (5)


After the tragedy in Orlando, our political leaders took to the podiums and social media to express their condolences and suggest ways to move forward.  Below you will find a compilation of some of the most indicative recent quotes grouped by topic (Muslims in America, Gun Control, and Combating ISIS) with the name of the speaker noted before each quote.

Anyone who reads the words, Tweets, remarks, and speeches of those who aspire to lead our nation, including those found elsewhere on this blog, can only wonder what dichotomous universe we must be living in.

Most recently Donald Trump, as we all know, tried to use the Orlando killings to divide our nation and increase hate of the “Other.”  Time and time again, he has scapegoated our Muslim citizens and proposed acts that are contrary to our constitution – to which, if president, he would have to swear support.  The unforgivable statements by Trump, who has a history of bigotry, of disparaging others, of ethnic and gender discrimination, and of claiming that Obama is not a natural born citizen, now he implies that our President’s acts are maybe not those of someone who loves his country.

Trump’s accusations against Muslims – singling them out for special observation and banning coming into the country – are all the acts of bigotry and are contrary to American values and clearly illegal.   President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders have all spoken about how this stance is contrary to American law and values.

With his statement below, Trump seems to support the proliferation of guns, tying himself closely to the NRA.  It indicates that he has no problem with mass assault rifles, even by eliminating access by those found legally insane or incompetent, or even to potential terrorists on our “No Fly Lists.”  Now there are reports of pressure on the GOP nominee to moderate that stance, and Trump announced a meeting with the NRA.  After the filibuster last night, Congressional leaders said they might consider some kind of ban for those on the “Terrorist Lists” whatever that means.  Nothing however on assault rifles.

The final section of quotes addresses Obama’s ISIS strategy and includes a point by point refutation by President Obama of Trump and others’ unsound views and assumptions that stem from a lack of strategic understanding of the complex national security policy landscape and ignores, above all, the cost in both American and civilian lives and treasure. It also is oblivious of the possibility that the humanitarian costs from any all-out assault on the ground in Syria and Iraq could be greater than we have so far seen.  But we and other nations do need to protect the refugees and provide assistance urgently.


“I want surveillance of certain mosques if that’s OK,” (Rally in Birmingham, AL, November 21, 2015)

 “I think Islam hates us…[the war is against radical Islam, but] it’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” (Interview with Anderson Cooper, March 10, 2016)

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” (Press Release, December 7, 2015)

          When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.

After a full, impartial and long overdue security assessment, we will develop a responsible immigration policy that serves the interests and values of America.

We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.

Many of the principles of Radical Islam are incompatible with Western values and institutions.

I refuse to allow America to become a place where gay people, Christian people, and Jewish people, are the targets of persecution and intimidation by Radical Islamic preachers of hate and violence. ….    It’s not just a national security issue. It is a quality of life issue.

We need to tell the truth, also, about how Radical Islam is coming to our shores.

We are importing Radical Islamic Terrorism into the West through a failed immigration system — and through an intelligence community held back by our president….

I want us all to work together, including in partnership with our Muslim communities. But Muslim communities must cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad – and they do know where they are.

This argument of labels has mostly just been partisan rhetoric, and sadly, we have all become accustomed to that kind of partisanship, even when it involves the fight against these extremist groups.

That kind of yapping has not prevented folks across the government from doing their jobs, from sacrificing and working really hard to protect the American people.

But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mind set and this kind of thinking can be. We are starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we are fighting, where this can lead us.

We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America. And you hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complacent in violence.

Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer — they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminate them, because of their faith?

We heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this?

Because that’s not the America we want. It does not reflect our Democratic ideals. It won’t make us more safe, it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims, making Muslims in this country and around the world feel like, no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack.

It makes Muslim-Americans feel like their government is betraying them. It betrays the very values America stands for.

We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it. We have seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history.

This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don’t have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are clear about that.

And if we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect.

The pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make this country great. The very things that make us exceptional. And then the terrorists would have won and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.

You know, two weeks ago I was at the commencement ceremony of the Air Force Academy and it could not have been more inspiring to see these young people stepping up dedicated to serve and protect this country.

Inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric and threatening to ban the families and friends of Muslim Americans as well as millions of Muslim business people and tourists from entering our country hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror.

So does saying that we have to start special surveillance on our fellow Americans because of their religion. It’s no coincidence that hate crimes against American Muslims and mosques have tripled after Paris and San Bernardino. That’s wrong. And it’s also dangerous. It plays right into the terrorists’ hands.

Still, as I have said before, none of us can close our eyes to the fact that we do face enemies who use their distorted version of Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. They’d take us all back to the Stone Age if they could, just as they have in parts of Iraq and Syria….

And finally, finally let me remind us all, I remember, I remember how it felt, on the day after 9/11, and I bet many of you do as well. Americans from all walks of life rallied together with a sense of common purpose on September the 12th and in the days and weeks and months that followed. We had each others’ backs. I was a senator from New York. There was a Republican president, a Republican governor, and a Republican mayor. We did not attack each other. We worked with each other to protect our country and to rebuild our city .

President Bush went to a Muslim community center just six days after the attacks to send a message of unity and solidarity. To anyone who wanted to take out their anger on our Muslim neighbors and fellow citizens, he said, “That should not, and that will not, stand in America.” It is time to get back to the spirit of those days, spirit of 9/12. Let’s make sure we keep looking to the best of our country, to the best within each of us. Democratic and Republican presidents have risen to the occasion in the face of tragedy. That is what we are called to do my friends and I am so confident and optimistic that is exactly what we will do.

“The Muslim people did not commit this act. A man named Omar Mateen did. To blame an entire religion for the acts of a single individual is nothing less than bigotry, and that is not what this country is supposed to be about.”

“I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. It’s not reflective of our principles not just as a party but as a country.  This is a war with radical Islam. It’s not a war with Islam. Muslims are our partners.  Ultimately, we ought to have the tools where we have a security test, not a religious test, a security test, and we think that’s the preferred route to go.” (CNN, June 14, 2016)


“If you had some guns in that club the night that this took place, if you had guns on the other side, you wouldn’t have had the tragedy that you had. If people in that room had guns with the bullets flying in the opposite direction right at him… right at his head, you wouldn’t have had the same tragedy that you ended up having”

“We’re getting rid of gun-free zones. OK. We’re getting rid of them” (Speech to the NRA, May 20, 2016)

If we really want to help law enforcement protect Americans from home-grown extremists, the kind of tragedies that occurred at San Bernardino and that now have occurred in Orlando, there is a meaningful way to do that. We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents.

It is absolutely true, we cannot prevent every tragedy. But we know that consistent with the Second Amendment, there are common sense steps that could reduce gun violence and could reduce the lethality of somebody who intends to do other people harm. We should give ATF the resources they need to enforce the gun laws that we already have.

People with possible ties to terrorism, who are not allowed on a plane should not be allowed to buy a gun. Enough talking about being tough on terrorism. Actually be tough on terrorism and stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons.

Reinstate the assault weapons ban, make it harder for terrorists to use these weapons to kill us. Otherwise, despite extraordinary efforts across our government, by local law enforcement, by our intelligence agencies, by our military — despite all the sacrifices that folks make, these kinds of events are going to keep on happening. And the weapons are only going to get more powerful.

Even as we make sure our security officials get the tools they need to prevent attacks, it’s essential that we stop terrorists from getting the tools they need to carry out the attack.

And that is especially true when it comes to assault weapons like those used in Orlando and San Bernardino.

I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets and we may have our disagreements about gun safety regulations, but we should all be able to agree on a few essential things.

If the FBI is watching you for a suspected terrorist link, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked.

And you shouldn’t be able to exploit loopholes and evade criminal background checks by buying online or at a gun show.

And yes, if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.

Now, I know some will say that assault weapons and background checks are totally separate issues having nothing to do with terrorism. Well, in Orlando and San Bernardino terrorists used assault weapons, the AR-15. And they used it to kill Americans. That was the same assault weapon used to kill those little children in Sandy Hook.

We have to make it harder for people who should not have those weapons of war. And that may not stop every shooting or every terrorist attack, but it will stop some and it will save lives and it will protect our first responders.

And I want you to know, I’m not going to stop fighting for these kinds of provisions.

For this topic, we have also included a quote by Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times from his recent column titled “Orlando and Trump’s America” (June 13, 2016), to show how Trump’s vitriol and shallow analysis has even permeated the media and given solace to those that would be happy to mindlessly put American troops on the ground but do not take into account its cost and risks for possible “blowback.”

COHEN: “President Barack Obama described the shooting as “an act of terror and an act of hate.” He made clear his disapproval of gun laws. He called for solidarity. He said nothing about ISIS, or the way the Islamic State’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq reinforces the charismatic potency of its ideological appeal, disseminated from that base through the Internet. …  He also said this: “To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

“Yes, to have actively done nothing in Syria over more than five years of war — so allowing part of the country to become an ISIS stronghold, contributing to a massive refugee crisis in Europe, acquiescing to slaughter and displacement on a devastating scale, undermining America’s word in the world, and granting open season for President Vladimir Putin to strut his stuff — amounts to the greatest foreign policy failure of the Obama administration.

It has made the world far more dangerous. I hope for the best but fear the victory of the politics of anger in America and Europe.”

Well I said they don’t know much because they’re not winning, I tell you this, they’re not winning for a different reason. I think Obama is hurting them… From what I hear, it’s being run from the White House. It’s all being run from the White House. I’ve spoken to certain generals— I’ll keep it quiet, highly respected people. We could knock them out fast. (Via Real Clear Politics, June 5, 2016).

“Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” (MSNBC Town Hall, March 30, 2016)

 “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families” (Fox & Friends, December 2, 2015)

At the outset, I want to reiterate our objective in this fight. Our mission is to destroy ISIL. Since I last updated the American people on our campaign two months ago, we’ve seen that this continues to be a difficult fight, but we are making significant progress.

Over the past two months, I’ve authorized a series of steps to ratchet up our fight against ISIL. Additional U.S. personnel, including special forces in Syria to assist local forces battling ISIL there, additional advisers to work more closely with Iraqi security forces and additional assets, including attack helicopters and additional support for local forces in northern Iraq. Our aircraft continue to launch from the U.S.S. Harry Truman, now in the Mediterranean. Our B-52 bombers are hitting ISIL with precision strikes. Targets are being identified and hit even more quickly. So far, 13,000 airstrikes.

This campaign at this stage is firing on all cylinders and as a result, ISIL is under more pressure than ever before. ISIL continues to lose key leaders. This includes Salman Abu Shabib, the senior military leader in Mosul, who plotted external attacks, Shaker Wahib, ISIL’s military leader in Iraq’s Anbar Province, and Maher al-Bilawi, the top ISIL commander in Fallujah.

So far we have taken out more than 120 top ISIL leaders and commanders. And our message is clear, that if you target American and our allies, you will not be safe. You will never be safe.

ISIL continues to lose ground in Iraq. In the past two months, local forces in Iraq with coalition support have liberated the western town of Rutba and have also pushed up the Euphrates River Valley, liberating the strategic town of Hiit and breaking the ISIL siege of Haditha.

Iraqis forces have surrounded Fallujah and begun to move into the city. Meanwhile in the north, Iraqi forces continue to push up the Tigris River Valley, making gains around and now preparing to tighten the noose around ISIL in Mosul.

ISIL has now lost nearly half of the populated territory that it once controlled in Iraq and it will lose more.

ISIL continues to lose ground in Syria as well. Assisted by our special operations forces, the coalition of local forces is now… tightening around ISIL in Raqqah as well.

In short, our coalition continues to be on offense. ISIL is on defense and it has now been a full year since ISIL has been able to mount a major successful offensive operation on either Syria or Iraq.

As ISIL continues to lose territory, it also continues to lose the money that it is — that is its life blood.

As a result of our strikes against its oil infrastructure and supply lines, we believe that we’ve cut ISIL’s revenue from oil by millions of dollars per month. In destroying the storage sites where they keep their cash, we’ve deprived ISIL of many millions more.

Thanks with great work of Secretary Lew and many others here today and working with nations and financial institutions around the world, ISIL is now effectively cut off from the international financial system. Cutting off ISIL’s money may not be as dramatic as military strikes, but it is critically important and we’re seeing the results.

ISIL’s cash reserves are down, it has had to cut salaries for its fighters, it’s resorting to more extortion of those trapped in its grip. And by ISIL’s own admission, some of its own leaders have been caught stealing cash and gold. Once again, ISIL’s true nature has been revealed. These are not religious warriors, they are thugs and they are thieves.…

ISIL’s ranks are shrinking as well. Their morale is sinking. As one defender — as one defector said, ISIL is not bringing Islam to the world and people need to know that. Thanks to international efforts, the flow of foreign fighters, including from America, to Syria and Iraq has plummeted. In fact, our intelligence community now assesses that the ranks of ISIL fighter has been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two and a half years.

Even as we continue to destroy ISIL militarily, we’re addressing larger forces that have allowed these terrorists to gain traction in parts of the world. With regard to Iraq, this means helping Iraqis stabilize liberated communities and promote inclusive governance so ISIL cannot return.

With regard to Syria, it means our continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities there. The cessation of hostilities has not stopped all or even most of the hardship on the Syrian people, the hardship on civilians. And the Assad regime has been the principal culprit in violating the cessation of hostilities.

ISIL and al-Nusra, which is Al Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, also continue to terrorize Syrians. But as fragile and incomplete as the cessation is, it has saved lives and it has allowed the delivery of some life-saving aid to Syrians who are in desperate need. And as difficult as it is, we will continue to push for a political process that can end the civil war and result in a transition away from Assad.

Beyond Syria and Libya — beyond Syria and Iraq, ISIL is also losing ground in Libya. Forces of the Libyan Unity Government are going after ISIL in their stronghold in Sirte and we’ll continue to assist the new Libyan government as it works to secure its country.

(Note: Unless otherwise noted all quotes above of President Obama come from his National Security Speech on June 14, 2016 and more recent reaction to Orlando; quotes from Hillary Clinton come from her National Security Speech on June 13, 2016, and all Donald Trump quotes are from his Foreign Policy Speech on June 13, 2016 and other statements as cited.)