So what’s on the Middle Eastern agenda for the Obama administration?
Frankly that’s the question being asked by a lot of foreign policy watchers right now, especially since President Obama has added Saudi Arabia to his trip itinerary for an upcoming trip to the area. Originally scheduled to first make a stop in Cairo for a speech, he is now stopping in SA first. This, of course, has the Egyptians a bit miffed. Egypt was touting his trip and speech to Cairo as a sort of vindication of their foreign policy as well as their resurgent leadership role among Arabs in the area. Now that’s not quite as easy to claim.
One group sees it as tied closely to the Israeli-Palestinian track, focusing on the Arab Peace Initiative and the coming unveiling of the Obama approach to Israeli-Arab relations. Another sees it as tied more closely to Iran, preparing the Saudis for the coming engagement (or confrontation) with Tehran.
I happen to think it is a little bit of both, but mostly tied to Iran. NoKo has popped a nuke (and we’re aware of the ties between Pyongyang and Tehran). Iran has fired a long range missile. Intelligence says Venezuela and Bolivia are providing Iran with uranium (which both deny). That requires a bit of a change in focus of the mission from one exclusively focused on Israel/Palestine. Iran has heated up and the Arabs are not friends of Iran, certainly feel threatened by them and darn sure don’t want to see Iran establish itself as a regional (and nuclear) power. SA would be a logical stop for discussions on that issue.
As to the Israel/Palestine question, Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine wonders:
… will he reinforce or challenge the “moderates vs resistance” frame which he inherited from the Bush administration? The Arab leaders he has been meeting, like the Israelis, are perfectly comfortable with that approach, dividing the region between Israel and Arab “moderates” vs Iran and Arab “resistance” groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. That’s the easy path. If followed it is likely to fail badly, destroy the hopes for change which his engagement policy has raised, and leave the region right back where Bush left it.
I think there is no question he plans to shake up the status quo. But how he chooses to broker “change” in the engagement policy, his change may face the same risk of abysmal failure other policies have produced. The Hill is reporting that Obama plans on challenging Israel’s plan to continue to allow West bank settlements to grow.
“Each party has obligations under the road map,” Obama said after referencing his meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he has been “very clear” on the need to stop settlement and outpost activity, and he also said Israel has obligations to ensure a viable Palestinian state emerges from the peace process.
Israel has rejected that portion concerning the settlements on the West Bank. That rejection came after the Netanyahu/Obama meeting in Washington DC.
Netanyahu has set out the Israeli negotiating position:
“The government of Israel under my leadership is committed to the political and international agreements signed by the governments of Israel, and we expect others to honor their commitments as well,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “We want an end to the conflict, and we want reciprocity in the claims on both sides and their implementation. Unfortunately, in this we are also being innovative. We should not have to innovate; it should have been obvious. However, when we are asked to recognize our international commitments, I say yes, and I want others to respect their commitments as well.
“We are prepared to act, and we will take concrete steps towards peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu continued. “We also expect the Palestinians to take such concrete steps on their side, and it would be good if the Arab countries joined in the effort towards peace, and take both concrete and symbolic steps towards normalization, and not later, but right now. They are asking us to act now, and so the Palestinians and the Arab countries should also be asked to act now.”
Or shorter Israeli stance – if we’re required to live up to international commitments, the same demand must be made of (and accepted by, and acted upon) by others included in these negotiations.
Right now, one of the major obstacles to any such negotiations is not with the Israelis, but among Palestinians:
The Palestinian Authority faces its own challenges in brokering a peace deal, namely the split between Hamas and Fatah — and, therefore, between Gaza and the West Bank — that essentially renders a two-state solution a three-state solution. Since the violent splinter between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, the U.S. has dealt only with Abbas.
So does the US change its policy and actively enter into negotiations with a terrorist group in hope of brokering a reconciliation? The chances of such a reconciliation seem remote. And of course, the splintering within the Palestinians makes the talk of a “two-state solution” an exercise in unachievable rhetoric for the time being. Why should Israel enter into serious negotiations about such a solution when they are unachievable as it stands today?
This will be an interesting trip to monitor.
More to come.
Edit: Changed Ecuador to Bolivia – thanks for the catch, looker.
North Korea says “no”:
North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a ruling party official as saying.
YTN Television quoted the South Korean weather agency as saying it detected a tremor indicating a test at 0054 GMT (8:54 p.m. EDT).
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had called an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers over the test, Yonhap said.
Well that ought to keep ’em buzzing around in DC for a day or two. I wonder if we’ll finally figure out that anything that NoKo agrees too in the future isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?
A very interesting piece in the LA Times about some European muslims who failed at the job of “holy warrior – or did they?
Pakistan is discovering that their unwelcome guests in the Swat Valley are harder to get rid of than cockroaches.
Apparently Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the outspoken Democratic chairman of the Agriculture panel, isn’t happy with the Waxman/Markey Cap-and-Trade bill and is promising trouble.
It seems even the NY Times is catching on to the Obama rhetorical devices. Helene Cooper points out that some of Obama’s “enemies” are “straw men” and Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that many of Obama’s “nuanced” positions would be flip-flops if it was anyone else. Of course both articles were published in the Saturday NY Times, so its not like they’re really calling Obama to task.
The Washington Post, examining Venezuela strong man Hugo Chavez’s latest attempt to destroy any domestic opposition, wonders if the Obama administration’s silence on the matter constitutes sanction by silence. Well if that’s the case, what does Nancy Peolsi’s silence about the use of waterboarding constitute?
A porn star is considering a run for the US Senate from Louisiana. Given the fact that she’s only worked in a different type of porn than what goes on in the US Senate, she ought to fit right in.
The NY “bomb plot” has apparently degenerated into an “aspirational” one.
And finally, it looks like Brits are finally fed up. According to reports, a big “vote the bums out” movement is taking shape in the UK. We should be so lucky.
This is pure political analysis, but I found it to be hilarious. It’s from today’s “Mike Allen Playbook” at Politico (Allen does this daily) in which he is discussing the appointment of Republican Gov Jon M. Huntsman Jr as ambassador to China by the Obama administration. His concludes it is a brilliant political move (and it may be) since it has been said that Huntsman has 2012 aspirations. And, of course, this effectively removes him from the spotlight.
But that’s not what I found hilarious. It was this:
The appointment is freighted with intrigue, and looks like political genius by the White House: It’s like John Edwards or John Kerry joining the Bush administration in 2001. And the GOP is left with no leading moderate voice. Huntsman was talking about immigration, the environment and gay rights in ways that would have gotten him endless elite media coverage in the run-up to 2012. Some Huntsman advisers realized that GOP primary voters might be more prepared to accept his views in 2016, after a 1964-like cataclysm in 2012. But at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, it was clear he was interested in running this time.
“Endless elite media coverage”? Anyone remember what happened to the GOP darling of the elite media this last election? Mr. Moderate was savaged by the elite media after he put away the other Republican contenders.
And you have to love the Allen implication that a candidate can enjoy “endless elite media coverage” if he happens to talk about wedge issues in a certain ‘way’. What does that say about the ‘elite media’ and journalism in general?
The 2012 presidential campaign has already begun, and like he did in his IL Senatorial race, Mr. Obama is finding ways to remove potential opponents from the ballot. That’s politics .
More disturbing, but certainly not at all surprising, is the Allen admission that the “elite media” will give a candidate “endless” coverage if he or she discusses the issues in a way that conforms with the media’s ideas of how they should be discussed.
The Taliban, as expected, have managed to endear themselves to another benighted people:
Up to 500,000 terrified residents of Pakistan’s Swat valley have fled or else are desperately trying to leave as the military steps up an operation using fighter jets and helicopter gunships to “eliminate” Taliban fighters.
As the military intensified what may be its most determined operation to date against militant extremists, the UN said 200,000 people had already arrived in safe areas in the past few days while another 300,000 were on the move or were poised to leave.
The escalation of the operation came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Gilani, made a public appeal for unity. In a televised address on Thursday evening, Mr Gilani said: “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time. We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
This is pretty much the style of the Taliban, certainly nothing very different than what they did in Afghanistan.
However, there is a difference between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that difference is nuclear weapons. Now most seem to think that the Pakistani army is strong enough to prevent a deterioration of the situation to the point that the Taliban would gain control over the nukes. But that makes a lot of assumptions which may or may not be warranted. It is important to remember that the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its eventual triumph there is irrefutably linked to support from Pakistan’s government, namely the ISI. Now it may be a stretch to believe the ISI would help the Taliban gain control of Pakistan, but it may not be to much to believe the organization may have mixed feelings about the present operations against the Taliban.
The Taliban needs to be destroyed as an effective organization. Like a type of cancer, the Taliban attacks the very religious core of countries. But only Islamic countries. Its extremist brand of Islam appeals to a certain element of Islamic countries and it is that portion of the population in which the Taliban embeds itself and attempts to exploit.
The very fact that Pakistan is treating the Swat valley takeover by the Taliban as an emergency in which drastic action must be taken to defeat them is an encouraging sign. Previously Pakistan’s government and army were content to give such opposition lip-service and some rather poor attempts to oust them from other territories. Now that the Taliban has all but declared war on the Pakistani nation, we may finally see a real and concerted effort by Pakistan to rid the region of the Taliban. In the end, the overreaching by the Taliban may end up being the best thing that could have happened. If Pakistan is successful in taking the Taliban out, the war in Afghanistan become much more winnable. The remaining Taliban based along the border may not enjoy the same safe-haven they’ve enjoyed for years.
However, should Pakistan fail in its attempt to destroy the Taliban, we may end up with two nations in jeopardy instead of one, and since one has nuclear weapons, we may have no choice but to intervene should it get to that point.
Gen. David Petraeus says it is put up or shut up time for Pakistan. They’ve let the Taliban establish itself within Pakistan’s Swat valley and they are now threatening other areas. We covered that in a post about the price of appeasement.
“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.
But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.
Earlier in the month the Talibs had advanced within 70 miles of the capital, Islamabad. So what about the nuclear weapons?
The officials who spoke with Petraeus, however, said he and they believe that even were Zardari’s government to fall, it was still conceivable that Kayani’s army could maintain control over the nuclear arsenal.
That is because the Pakistani arsenal is set up in such a way — with the weapons stockpile and activation mechanisms separated — so as to prevent easy access by invaders. Moreover, the Taliban is not believed at present to possess the sophisticated technical expertise necessary to exercise full “command and control” over a nuclear arsenal, and would probably require weeks if not months to develop it.
Oh wonderful – they don’t possess the knowledge now, but a few months, and the Taliban could be nuclear. And, of course, we know what organization would be a beneficiary of such a capability, don’t we?
Pakistan is suddenly a much more critical story than either Iraq or Afghanistan. So what is our plan?
As for the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Saturday, in an interview with FOX News in Baghdad, that the U.S. believes the arsenal to be “safe” but only “given the current configuration of power in Pakistan.”
She described as “the unthinkable” a situation in which the the Zardari government were to be toppled by the Taliban, adding “then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan, and we can’t even contemplate that. We cannot let this go on any further…”
You know, say what you will about the last administration, but if they had said what Clinton said, I’d pretty well understand what they meant. But with this administration I have no idea what “we cannot let this go any further …” means.
We’re known here at this blog for being adamant about denouncing plans which appease terrorists. It’s a absolute no-win situation for the appeaser. Pakistan is now in the middle of learning that hard lesson:
Pakistan’s strategy of trying to appease Taliban militants is showing signs of backfiring, as extremists move within 60 miles of the capital and threaten to spread their influence throughout the country.
Really? What a surprise. They caved to the Taliban demands and allowed them to impose Sharia law in the Swat valley in return for promises the Taliban would lay down their arms.
And, unsurprisingly, the Taliban have reneged on the promise. That, of course, has Hillary Clinton huffing and puffing at Pakistan:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Wednesday that Pakistan’s government is “basically abdicating to the Taliban” by agreeing to let them implement Islamic law in the Swat region last week. Instead of putting down their weapons, as the government had hoped, the insurgents have since moved fighters into the neighboring Buner region, local lawmaker Istiqbal Khan said.
Of course that’s precisely what appeasement buys with zealots. Absolutely nothing except an even weaker position for the appeasers.
Additionally, the Taliban have turned the Swat valley into a theocratic hell while the Pakistani government stands by and tut-tuts:
President Asif Ali Zardari has blamed the Taliban for a wave of assassinations in Swat in recent months, and he condemned a recent video that showed militants flogging a young woman they accused of having an improper relationship.
There is a glimmer of good news however. There seems to be a public backlash building among Pakistanis with even conservative members of the Pakistani parliament distancing themselves from the militants. However in the complicated world of Pakistani politics, that may end up meaning nothing in a real sense as the Taliban, who recognizes no authority and certainly no obligation to live up to any promises, relentlessly pushes to expand its hold on northern Pakistan.
Or so claims David Axelrod.
Apparently Fidel Castro didn’t get the memo:
…At the press conference, as well as in the final meetings of the Summit, Obama looked conceited.
It’s an interesting little diatribe from Casto, and most of it is the usual nonsense, but what it easily demonstrates is Axelrod is as clueless as I asserted a couple of days ago.
Castro saw through most of the Obama rhetoric and unlike a vast number of Americans, figured it out:
When the US President said, in answering to Jake [Tapper], that thousands of years had elapsed since 2004 until the present, he was superficial. Should we wait for so many years before his blockade is lifted? He did not invent it, but he embraced it just as much as the previous ten US presidents did.
That’s the Cuban version of “meet the old boss, same as the new boss …”.
And my favorite:
Leaders just pass through; peoples prevail. There would be no need to wait for thousands of years to pass by; only eight years will be enough so that a new US President — who will no doubt be less intelligent, promising and admired in the world than Barack Obama- riding on a better armored car, or on a more modern helicopter, or on a more sophisticated plane, occupies that inglorious position”
Yup – completely charmed and impressed by our new leader, no?
Castro picks up on and states what he saw – conceit and superficiality. My guess is he wasn’t the only Latin American leader who came away with that impression.
Gloria Borger, hardly a right-winger (and certainly an Obama supporter), takes Obama to task about his performance so far in the foreign policy arena:
This is not a column about whether the president should take pictures with — or shake the hands of — unstable foreign leaders who mostly call him names and rant about America.
Sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. A grimace instead of a smile on the face would be better, sure. But it’s not the end of America’s standing in the world, as some are suggesting.
But there is a problem, and it’s not about photo ops. It’s about finding the appropriate tonal response to leaders who say outrageous things about us and about our allies.
What she’s talking about are two recent incidents – one in which Obama was in attendance and the other occurred in the UN when Iran’s Amadinejad called for the destruction of Israel.
In both cases, Obama’s response was essentially a non-response.
Case in point: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the podium at the United Nations conference in Geneva on Monday to call Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime,” we might have said something. The European delegates walked out of the conference (we declined to attend), but when asked about the brouhaha later, the State Department spokesman, sticking to the talking points, could only muster that “that type of rhetoric is not helpful and doesn’t help facilitate a constructive dialogue.”
A bit of a chuckle there for me. You know it’s gotten bad when even the Borgers of the world are criticizing the issuance of boilerplate rhetoric in response to what the rest of the West considers to be outrageous and inflammatory words. While not exactly a non-response, the administration comes as close to one as you can with its words.
But the second incident is even worse. Here Borger is talking about Newt Gingrich’s criticism of Obama and claiming he missed his real opportunity:
But the Summit of the Americas gave them an easy opportunity to decry the president’s weakness, not only after his handshake with Chavez but also when he sat quietly through Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s 50-minute anti-American rant.
He didn’t have to walk out, but he could have given a sharper critique of Ortega’s histrionics after the event. Instead, he decided to just give it the back of his hand, saying only that “it was 50 minutes long.”
Its funny, the administration will attack any domestic critic with the full power of its spin machine. And yet, the president sits through a 50 minute anti-American tirade (after one of his advisers declared anti-Americanism was no longer cool in the world) and has no reaction at all.
Tell me, who’s job is it to defend the US if not his? Of course that’s not an easy thing to do if a president engaged in apologizing for the country at every foreign affairs opportunity, is it?
The more I hear from this crowd the more I come to believe they live in cloud cuckoo land:
Top White House adviser David Axelrod on Monday said that President Obama’s trips to Europe, Turkey and Latin America in the last three weeks have made anti-American sentiment uncool and “created a new receptivity” to U.S. interests.
“What’s happened is anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore,” Mr. Axelrod said, speaking to an audience of a few hundred at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
“This president has not only engaged the leaders of the world, he’s engaged the people of the world,” Mr. Axelrod said, arguing that Mr. Obama’s approach to foreign policy has restored “a sense of humility” that “was missing” in the past.
So that’s what was missing. And it has paid such dividends so far – Europe rejected the two big Obama goals of his tour (increased governmental stimulus spending and increases in European combat troops to Afghanistan), but they feel much better about the fact that he “listened” while they said no. Heh … why engage in anti-Americanism when “no” suffices?
Axelrod’s statement is so pathetically naive that it is difficult to comprehend it being spoken by a senior adviser in a presidential administration. Bowing to kings and fist-bumping dictators doesn’t make anyone more receptive to the US – it simply identifies an easy mark. This crew has absolutely no grasp on foreign policy at all, especially when they seem to actually believe that one quick swing around the world has eliminated anti-Americanism and restored anything but a calculated understanding by each of those leaders Obama supposedly charmed as to how far he can push the US and get away with it.