If you agree with the argument below, please sign my petition. You don’t have to sign up for anything – name and email address are enough to log your signature. After 150 signatures, the petition will get a public spot on the website for all visitors to see. If somehow it gets to 100,000 signatures by May 26th, the White House will respond.
After today’s primaries, it’s a near certainty that the presidential nominees for both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are going to be people who want to do stupid shit abroad. Any Republican nominee will re-establish torture as official American policy, antagonize Russia, threaten war with Iran, and re-commit large numbers of American troops to our misadventures in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton’s poor foreign policy instincts (Iraq War!) are well-known, though we may hope her experience as Secretary of State in President Obama’s administration has had some moderating influence on her worst tendencies.
There are probably many good reasons for him not to do this, but I’d like to see President Obama give a speech in which he tries to establish a new foreign policy doctrine based on his “don’t do stupid shit” principle. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a fantastic profile of President Obama and his foreign policy for the April issue of The Atlantic. From the article, in a section about what to do about Syria:
- Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama’s secretary of state, argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence. In 2014, after she left office, Clinton told me that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” When The Atlantic published this statement, and also published Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-shit angry,” according to one of his senior advisers. The president did not understand how “Don’t do stupid shit” could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that “the questions we were asking in the White House were ‘Who exactly is in the stupid-shit caucus? Who is pro–stupid shit?’ ” The Iraq invasion, Obama believed, should have taught Democratic interventionists like Clinton, who had voted for its authorization, the dangers of doing stupid shit. (Clinton quickly apologized to Obama for her comments, and a Clinton spokesman announced that the two would “hug it out” on Martha’s Vineyard when they crossed paths there later.)
“Don’t do stupid shit” is a critique of generations of American foreign policy consensus that prescribes military action as the logical response to all crises, be they manufactured like Iraq in 2003, or real like Libya in 2011. The principle suggests that Americans be realistic and self-aware about what we can and cannot influence abroad, and be prudent about the use of force, which should only be deployed when there is a “direct threat.” I would very much like to see President Obama publicly state and clarify this doctrine before his presidency ends. With any luck, it would go down as one of those transformational statements about American behavior in the larger world, constraining would-be military adventurists and becoming a benchmark by which future presidents are judged. If you agree, please click the link below and sign the petition: