A Turn Toward Foreign Policy – Apr. 12, 2010

Now, on to foreign policy.  At first, I thought Obama was going to be a classic bipolar President – doctrinaire liberal on domestic issues, and hard-headed realist when it comes to foreign affairs.  And indeed, the opening stanzas appeared to be encouraging.  He downplayed the clarion call he made repeatedly during the campaign – to hasten toward the exits in Iraq.  At the time it was my great fear that he would indulge in a classic Democratic self-fulfilling prophecy, declaring that the Iraq war was was Bush’s terrible mistake and proving the point by leaving it in chaos at the first opportunity.  But to his credit, he hung in there, and now seems to be willing not just to see it through, but to take credit for it – remember Joe Biden’s remarkable prediction on Larry King that Iraq would be one of the Obama administration’s great successes (the audacity of chutzpah).

But then things started taking on a darker tone, and the theme seems to be to scorn our friends and make nice with our adversaries.  So we see the administration pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and Czech, both of whom, as an act of political courage amid controversy, agreed to house the missile defense capability negotiated under President Bush.  This was thrown overboard as part of the vaunted “reset” of relations with Russia, which have brought us precious little so far: little if any help in containing Iran, and a lopsided nuclear disarmament treaty.  And let’s not forget: relations were on the outs with Russia not because Bush was a cowboy.  It was because they invaded neighboring Georgia and annexed part of it, in pure violation of international law.  But Obama gives them a pass on that, as does the rest of prostrate Europe.

Then we have Honduras, who followed absolutely their own constitutional processes in removing a president who had violated the laws and the constitution, trying to foist a Chavez-style hijack of their democracy.  The removal was endorsed by all significant political parties, and the successor president was from Zelaya’s own party!  This was not a military coup, except insofar as the military did the bidding of the Supreme Court and removed the president.  Yet the United States sided with Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and others in demanding Zelaya’s return.

Even the British, with whom we supposedly have a “special relationship,” were not immune, as Obama within a month of taking office had the gracelessness to return a bust of Churchill that had pride of place in Bush’s Oval Office.  There has been decidedly less warmth and communication between London and DC than in earlier administrations.

Hamid Karzai, our guy in Afghanistan, flawed as he is, has been embarrassed by the President, who made a special trip to Kabul and let it be known afterward that he had given him a lesson in how to run a democracy.  Is anyone surprised that Karzai responded to being thus undermined by lashing out and criticizing his benefactor?  Then the White House, which ostensibly prides itself on its diplomatic prowess, acted instead like a petulant high schooler, with Robert Gibbs suggesting that Karzai might not be welcome on an upcoming visit if he doesn’t tone down his language.  Great way to project US interests in the region.

But the greatest snub has been reserved for Binyamin Netanyahu, who came to Washington at the head of a delegation to discuss the critical issues facing Israel and the US both, and he was humiliated.  Obama reportedly walked out of the meeting, saying essentially, “Call me if we have anything to talk about.”  No state dinner – they barely even brought in sandwiches for the Israeli delegation who sat in a conference room trying to salvage the mission.  Certainly no press conference afterward – not even the kind when leaders carefully say nothing.  This was humiliation of a high order.

And why?  The White House has made the issue of settlements an a priori condition for talks with the Palestinians, when that has not been the precondition in all the years before.  And the latest settlements, which occasioned this historic mistreatment, concerned building housing in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that have been Jewish for centuries, and which have never under any negotiations been part of proposed Palestinian territory.  This dispute is entirely gratuitous.  Meanwhile, there appear to be no preconditions on the Palestinians, that might include such minimal requirements as, say, acknowledging that Israel has a right to exist.

Meanwhile, just up the Straits of Hormuz, we have been spending the last year wagging our fingers at the Iranians, and telling them that they had better stop their nuclear programs, “or else.” Flaccid.  Now, after the last of several deadlines have passed with nothing but contempt from the mullahs, we are getting around to talking about sanctions, and pre-emptively surrendering point after point in the interest of getting China and Russia on board.  The result will be flat, meaningless, but we will have the comfort of saying that we had a lot of countries agreeing to the meaningless sanctions.  Meanwhile Iran continues on undeterred.

Parenthetically, while we are talking about undermining our friends, let’s not lose sight of how we did nothing whatsoever to support the brave individuals who went into the streets last year to protest Iran’s sham election.  That had the potential of being a real regime-changing force, and we could have given it a significant boost with little more than verbal support.  In our reticence, we threw our lot with the oppressors.

It is evident that Obama is preparing for a world in which Iran is nuclear.  Israel has been left to believe that their US patrons no longer have their back, and so their existential choice has become more wrenching – are they prepared or able to confront Iran with no US help?  What else can they do?  And if Iran does cross that line, would it be any surprise if Iraq, Afghanistan and others start making their own accommodations with the new regional hegemon?  For that matter, it should come as no surprise that little Lebanon, who at one point seemed to have a good choice of breaking free from Syria’s orbit, should now decide that it needs to repair relations as the US reaches its own understandings with Syria.

Meanwhile, in this hemisphere, the President gives a bear hug with Chavez and lets him thrust an anti-American book in his hands; cultivates relations with Ecuador, whose leader is allied with the FARC rebels, and generally consorts with people who do not wish us well.

Lastly, on the President’s new mission of nuclear reform: the vaunted re-START with Russia is apparently subject to their judgment as to whether we are raising a missile defense capability.  So as we proceed to disarm, they may well declare the agreement void and re-arm.  Today’s grand meeting of heads of state is a nice gesture, but also essentially meaningless – the Iranian issue is not on the table, Israel and Britain are represented by delegations rather than head of state, and North Korea is off the agenda.  It is good if the willing cooperate on arms reduction, but as they say in the gun debate: when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.  When you refer to nuclear weapons, that’s not a comforting thought.

Wrap all this up, and it appears Obama wants to project an image of the Good Global Citizen, America as a voluntary Gulliver, tying itself in knots so as not to offend those countries around the world who, through no fault of their own, are not as powerful as we are.  That will please one-worlders and others who actually believe that global government can work.  But at the end of the day, somebody has to field the police force.
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