December 27, 2013

COMMENTARY: 10 stories that never happened in 2013

Stephen M. Walt

The year 2013 is coming to an end, so newspapers, magazines and websites are filled with Top Ten lists. You know the drill: “The Ten Best Movies,” “Ten Most Interesting Celebrities,” or the “Top Ten Books/CDs/Box Sets, etc.” of the past year. For foreign policy mavens, this ritual takes the form of the Top Ten Most Important/Surprising/Dramatic Foreign Policy Events of 2013.

That’s all well and good. But what about all those Important Events that didn’t take place? Plenty of good things that might have happened this past year didn’t, and a bunch of bad things that could have occurred fortunately did not. In that spirit, here’s my Top Ten Non-Events of 2013, in the form of the Top Ten Headlines You Didn’t Read Last Year.

1. “U.S. Airstrikes Pummel Syria (and/or Iran).” There were plenty of reasons for the United States to use force against Syria or Iran this past year — not good reasons, mind you, but reasons — yet the Obama administration resisted the temptation to make a bad situation worse. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s thugocracy is a deserving target for some precision-guided “tough love,” and Iran’s clerical regime has plenty of warts, but military force wouldn’t have solved our difficulties with either country, and another Middle East war is not what the world needs right now. Kudos to those who understood the value of diplomacy and the virtues of restraint.

2. “Hillary Rodham Clinton Endorses Interim Nuclear Deal with Iran.” Amazing, isn’t it? The former chief diplomat of the United States is supposedly an expert on foreign policy and still may harbor a desire to be leader of the free world. Yet she’s been completely silent on the whole question of the negotiations with Iran, even though I’ll bet the Obama administration would love to get her to endorse its efforts. Does she support it? Damned if I know. Does she think it’s naïve, foolish or not bold enough? Your guess is as good as mine. No doubt we will find out HRC’s true convictions just as soon as her focus groups report in or her major donors tell her what to think.

3. “Europe Gives Up the Euro.” Nope. Didn’t happen. Not in 2012, and not this year either. No country left the Eurozone; in fact, a few countries still want to get in. Go figure. Of course, nobody offered up a credible long-term solution to the Eurozone’s economic difficulties either, or explained how a bunch of sovereign states could share a common currency without a common tax system and fiscal policy, or much greater labor mobility. But let’s be thankful for small favors: So far, the Band-Aids are sticking.

4. “Obama Announces End to Drone Strikes and Targeted Assassinations.” By now, you’d think U.S. leaders would be a mite troubled by all the bad publicity they’re getting from the country’s drone policy, especially when innocent civilians keep getting killed by mistake. You also might think these same leaders would be worried about the precedent they were setting by using Special Forces and sophisticated technology to kill people in other countries merely because some intelligence information suggested that the targets might be planning to do something bad someday. After all, if the United States can kill people simply because it suspects them of contemplating wrongdoing, why can’t other states kill Americans whom they have some reason to believe are also planning some heinous act? President Obama did say the United States was going to reduce its reliance on drones, but that decision would be cold comfort to the wedding party in Yemen that got hit in early December. If they were still alive, of course. Maybe ending this policy is on Obama’s to-do list for next year — right after he finally closes Gitmo.

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