Tom Schwartz on the crisis in Syria: Domestic politics as foreign policy

Vanderbilt Schwartz Political Science
Thomas Schwartz (Vanderbilt)

President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval to undertake a military strike against Syria has been seen by some critics as an example of a confused and hesitant foreign policy, while supporters have praised it as a brilliant political move to strengthen the basis of the American action.

“From a historical perspective, which looks at the American presidency since the end of World War II, Obama’s decision reflects a turning point, the clear triumph of domestic political considerations over foreign policy priorities,” according to Thomas Schwartz, a professor of history and political science at Vanderbilt. He is the author of ‘Winning an election is terribly important, Henry’: Partisan Politics in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations, Diplomatic History (2009) and currently is working on a biography of Henry Kissinger.

American presidents from Harry Truman through George W. Bush have consistently believed they needed to act swiftly and decisively, especially in military action, in order to defend American credibility on the world scene, Schwartz notes, with congressional approval a secondary consideration.

For a president who has made “nation-building at home” his priority, who prides himself on having ended American involvement in Iraq, and who made a deadline in Afghanistan, Schwartz says Obama’s decision “reflects an important change, and perhaps a decisive precedent of subordinating international questions to American domestic politics and concerns.”