February 17, 2023
Welcome to Home & Away. My domestic focus this week will be on the latest mass casualty shooting, in this case the one at Michigan State University that claimed the lives of three students and injured several others. I’d like to say it was a rare event but as we all know it was anything but. Shootings turn out to be a manifestation of American exceptionalism we could well do without.
This latest shooting underscores why democracy cannot be based on rights alone. Yes, there is a right to possess guns, but this right needs to be balanced against the right of other citizens to be safe. Not everyone is mentally and emotionally fit to own a gun, and certain weapons are not fit for possession or use outside law enforcement and the military.
All this points to the need to embrace compromise, the third obligation I put forward in my book The Bill of Obligations. Such compromise will only come about, though, when citizens who favor reasonable constraints on gun ownership become more politically active and offset the advocacy of those citizens and groups who oppose virtually any constraint no matter how limited or reasonable. Politicians may not always be responsible, but they are almost always responsive, and progress in this realm will only come when those in office see it as politically safe or even advantageous to stake out a middle ground.
On the Away front, I want to circle back for a moment to the recent State of the Union address. I was meeting with someone from Iraq, and his reaction to the speech — surprise that there was not even a single mention of the Middle East — got me thinking. For much of the past thirty years, since the end of the Cold War, American foreign policy was dominated by the Middle East to a degree few if any could have anticipated and that outweighed the region’s importance. Think about it: the 1990-91 Gulf War, the 2003 Iraq War, the Arab Spring, interventions and non-interventions in Syria and Libya, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the subsequent decision to unilaterally withdraw, negotiations between Israel and Arab states and between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Middle East has not gone away, but American enthusiasm for involvement there to a large extent has. U.S. interventions with only a few exceptions (the Gulf War and the Abraham Accords) led to much more in the way of costs than results. In addition, the emergence of Russian aggression in Europe and Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific has prompted a redirection of U.S. foreign policy. Global issues, above all the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, have likewise received considerable attention.
My sense is these changes will persist, that the era in which the Middle East played an outsized role in U.S. foreign policy has ended. Instead, great power dynamics in Europe and Asia and global issues will dominate U.S. national security for the foreseeable future. This is as it should be given U.S. interests and the threats to them. A bigger question, one better left for another day, is the extent to which even these issues will receive the focus they deserve given domestic divisions and distractions.
Much more on Ukraine next week given that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of Russia’s most recent invasion. An anniversary to be marked, not celebrated.
Below are some clippings of recent interviews I did, which may be of interest. In addition to appearing on Fareed Zakaria GPS, Morning Joe, and Bloomberg Balance of Power, I enjoyed discussing the book and much else in wide-ranging conversations on the Newt’s World and Enemies List podcasts.
In the news
Friday, February 10, 2023: Bloomberg Balance of Power with David Westin
Sunday, February 12, 2023: Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN: Clip 1, Clip 2
Monday, February 13, 2023: MSNBC Morning Joe, WFAE 90.7 “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins”
Thursday, February 16, 2023: “Conversations” on Kansas Public Radio