US economy Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Don’t Do Stupid Economic Stuff

For seven decades, the US government has been the ultimate fireman of the global system. Over that period, it has dealt with myriad crises worldwide and has learned to value discretion more than policy consistency.

PARIS – On August 30, 2013, the United States was about to launch air strikes on Syria, where more than a thousand civilians had died in a sarin gas attack perpetrated by the army of President Bashar al-Assad. But a few hours before the strikes were to commence, US President Barack Obama canceled them, surprising America’s allies. Instead, US diplomats engineered a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whereby Russia would take responsibility for removing chemical weapons from Syria. The Syrian civil war went on, without the US becoming directly involved.

According to his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine, Obama is “very proud” of the moment when he considered, pondered, and, bucking his advisers, decided not to follow the “Washington playbook.” Not everybody applauded. According to Goldberg, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately complained that “if you say that you are going to strike, you have to strike.” But Obama refused to give priority to credibility: “Dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone,” he said, “is just about the worst reason to use force.”

Obama’s stance was in keeping with his now-famous foreign and security-policy mantra: “Don’t do stupid shit.” That dictum obviously alludes to his predecessor’s ill-judged decision to intervene in Iraq; but, more fundamentally, it expresses the way Obama approaches the balance of risks involved in major policy choices. Evidently, he does not hold concerns about credibility in high enough regard to let his hands be tied. The adequacy of the ultimate decision matters more to him than consistency with previous statements. Preserving freedom of choice in addressing a problem is more important than sending the right message. Judgment should not be obfuscated.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/PQJHn9E;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now