The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 13, 2013

America needs foreign policy plan for nation, military

The Back Porch column

By Nerissa Young

Historically, it’s been difficult for American presidents to be simultaneously successful with domestic and foreign policy.

President Kennedy got high marks for facing down Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, but he was accused of foot dragging at home during the turbulent, deadly fight for civil rights.

President Reagan enjoyed domestic prosperity that gave him the opportunity to focus on the Cold War and tearing down the Berlin Wall.

President George H.W. Bush, who carried into office one of the more impressive foreign experience dossiers of modern presidents, was hugely popular immediately after Gulf War I but lost re-election because the economy was in the toilet.

President Clinton pushed through several important domestic policies such as the Family Medical Leave Act and balanced budgets. Yet, the bodies of American solders were dragged through the streets in Somalia, and he gets some blame for not knowing about the activities of al-Qaida that led to the 9/11 attacks.

President George W. Bush came into office with an ambitious nation-building foreign policy that, in history’s short run at least, is deemed a major bust.

And now America is poised in this nether region where her leaders understand that the nation’s new combatants don’t play by the same Western values, cyber attacks can do much greater damage much more quickly and stealthily, and countries across the Middle East are in revolution.

President Obama had his hands full with domestic problems when he took office. Now that it appears the American economy is in recovery, he needs to devote his second term to foreign policy. He’s made a start with the trip to Israel.

But foreign policy must be more than visiting foreign countries. The missing puzzle piece is figuring out how and when to use American military resources to further the country’s objectives and global role.

That lack of vision is causing problems for military members, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said last weekend at the Region 4 Society of Professional Journalists conference in Dayton, Ohio.

Hoyer is the adjutant general of West Virginia and the commanding officer for 6,500 citizen soldiers in the state’s Army and Air National Guard.

Reductions in the all-volunteer military have caused the repeated deployment of Guard units to fill the gaps.

He said today’s citizen-soldiers are more soldier than citizen. Whereas Guard members once spent a weekend a month and two weeks during the summer in their military roles, the changing world has reversed that scenario. They are more likely to get one weekend and two summer weeks off from their military duties.

The lack of a clear foreign policy leaves his soldiers stuck in a permanent spin cycle, Hoyer said.

Without a plan for allocating military resources, it’s difficult to train troops.

Should troops be training for humanitarian missions, cyber attacks, guerilla urban warfare or high-tech surgical strikes?

Instead of expecting full-time and part-time soldiers to be all things to all people, perhaps Guard members should specialize in humanitarian missions. In their roles as de facto state militia, that’s a function they often perform at home. Sure, they must be trained for combat, but why send combat-seasoned troops into a disaster area when they don’t need to shoot bullets? Send the folks with the greater expertise in disaster recovery.

President Obama and Congress need to sit down together and talk over many things as adults, not the least of which is the threshold for deploying American military service members.

The nation owes its soldiers that much for all it asks them to do.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist and moderated the panel titled “After the War” that featured Hoyer. E-mail:

© Nerissa Young 2013