Paul Greenberg

How sum up the shambles -- as far as the eye can see -- that remain of American foreign policy after the past few weeks of zigs and zags, of appeals to high principle followed abruptly, even in the same presidential speech, by a headlong abandonment of it?

How reconcile this president's demands for action and then equal but opposite embrace of inaction? There have been enough contradictions in this administration's shifts and reversals, sidesteps and evasions, advances and retreats to mystify not just friends and foes alike, and neutrals, too, but any observer -- and maybe a squad of psychiatrists to boot.

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It wasn't that this great ship, the U.S.S. Foreign Policy, was dead in the water but that those in charge of it, if anybody is, had ordered Full Speed Ahead -- in all directions. Which might explain why American foreign policy continues to go 'round in circles at a record pace -- not just from day to day but hour to hour. Dizzy yet? That's understandable. Anybody who once took American foreign policy seriously would be. Now there is only confusion to contemplate.

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Having painted a graphic picture of the latest horror in Syria (there have been many others, but this administration has ignored them for two and a half years going on three), the president made it clear that at last a line had been crossed by the use of poison gas, specifically his red/lavender/pink/vanishing line. "This is not a world we should accept," he told the American people, and then accepted it. Even before he'd finished speaking, he'd signed on as his refound friend Vladimir Putin's junior partner in betraying still another small country.

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How summarize these head-spinning changes of course? Especially since the various reversals and counter-reversals and who-knows-what-next continue every day, even hour -- in Syria, at Geneva, at the United Nations, around the world. If there's a strategy here, maybe it's to confuse everybody, especially those supposedly in charge of it. How evaluate such a foreign policy? It's too inchoate even to criticize. I was stumped.

Then a simple way to summarize this crazy-quilt that is our ever new American foreign policy occurred to us. Of course. It's the policy of another, earlier president of the United States, and, no, not the general collapse of American will and confidence under Jimmy Carter. It generally went in only one direction: toward weakness at home and abroad.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.