The Grand Presumption

by Doug Bennett

“President Obama’s policy toward Syria has failed, and it’s time to try a tougher approach.” Nicholas D. Kristof wrote those words in a column in the New York Times on August 28th. He went to urge that the U.S. arm those opposing President Assad, and launch missile strikes against the Syrian regime.

Kristof was hardly alone in urging military action when he wrote those words, and a good deal has changed since then. Kristof’s support of military action was striking because he seems like one of the least likely commentators to urge such a course. Most days and most situations, he would urge an approach grounded in dialogue, respect for human rights, and adherence to international agreements. But beyond the surprise of his hawkish urgings in this case, I want to focus on his judgment that U.S. foreign policy had “failed.”

By “failed,” I think Kristof means that we hadn’t gotten our way; our efforts did not produce the outcome we wanted. We hadn’t gotten the Assad regime to stop the violence against its own citizens.

That is an astonishing expectation: that the United States will always get its way in foreign relations. and if we do not, we should count the effort a failure. What anyone else wants doesn’t matter and doesn’t count. If we don’t get what we want, we fail.

Let us call this ‘the grand presumption.’

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