Caroline Glick, writing in the Jerusalem Post, seems to have as good a measure of Barack Obama’s “foreign policy” as anyone I’ve read. Discussing that in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Sunday speech (two state solution/demilitarized Palestine), Glick writes of Obama and his advisors:
To be moved by rational argument, a person has to be open to rational discourse. And what we have witnessed over the past week with the Obama administration’s reactions to both North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and Iran’s sham elections is that its foreign policy is not informed by rationality but by the president’s morally relative, post-modern ideology. In this anti-intellectual and anti-rational climate, Netanyahu’s speech has little chance of making a lasting impact on the White House.
If rational thought was the basis for the administration’s policymaking on foreign affairs, North Korea’s decisions to test long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, send two US citizens to long prison terms and then threaten nuclear war should have made the administration reconsider its current policy of seeking the approval and assistance of North Korea’s primary enabler – China – for any action it takes against Pyongyang. As Nicholas Eberstadt suggested in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, rather than spending its time passing UN Security Council resolutions with no enforcement mechanisms against North Korea, the administration would be working with a coalition of the willing to adopt measures aimed at lowering the threat North Korea constitutes to regional, US and global security through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its proliferation activities.
But the administration has done no such thing. Instead of working with and strengthening its allies, it has opted to work with North Korea’s allies China and Russia to forge a Security Council resolution harsh enough to convince North Korean leader Kim Jung Il to threaten nuclear war, but too weak to degrade his capacity to wage one.
Similar to Obama’s refusal to reassess his failed policy regarding North Korea, his nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support. Far from standing with the democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran’s sham democracy, the administration has reportedly expressed concern that the current postelection protests will destabilize the regime.
Obama has also refused to reconsider his decision to reach a grand bargain with the ayatollahs on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that would serve to legitimize their continued grip on power. His refusal to make a moral distinction between the mullahs and their democratic opponents – like his refusal in Cairo to make a moral distinction between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed America – makes clear that he is not interested in forging a factually accurate or morally clear-sighted foreign policy.
At that point in her article, she brings it home to Israel and points to why, given her assessment of Obama’s foreign policy tendencies, Netanyahu’s speech will not be met with the approbation it deserves, in her opinion, by the US. And she makes a good case for her point which you ought to read.
But I was far more interested in the general analysis than how it specifically applied to Israel because it is one of the best and most clearly stated I’ve seen yet. While she doesn’t say it directly, the path the administration is taking is an extremely dangerous path in dealing with these problems she points too.
Regimes like NoKo and Iran see any conciliatory or ineffective moves toward them as signs of weakness to be exploited. And NoKo is presently in the middle of doing precisely that. Iran, caught up in its own internal difficulties at the moment, will soon follow once those are resolved (and they will be resolved).
To bring it back to the Israeli question, the same sort of policy is at work there – lean on Israel to come up with the solution and make the concessions while mostly ignoring the Palestinian side of the equation. Netanyahu made a point, in his speech, to remind the Obama administration of the very first thing which must be done before any meaningful peace process can begin:
Netanyahu demonstrated that through their consistent rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state, the Palestinians – not us – are the side responsible for the absence of Middle East peace.
Until that is done, nothing will change. Instead of trying to get Israel to accept Palestine and make concessions, this should be the focus of the US effort there. Without it, nothing changes. But, as Glick points out, that isn’t the focus of he US effort and thus, it is doomed to failure (and she assumes when it failure is finally admitted, it will be Israel that is blamed).
A very interesting and disheartening read. Like I said, I think Glick has nailed it, and, to quote someone close to the Obama administration, in a few years, unfortunately, these foreign policy chickens are going to “come home to roost”.
While I’ve been monitoring the upheaval in Iran, I’ve also been fascinated by the debate (and commentary) over what President Obama should or shouldn’t say about what is going on there.
Politico makes the point that the administration doesn’t want to become is part of the story. Consequently the State Department has been studying the situation, the White House was “monitoring” it and Obama had been silent. Finally, when the silence had become awkward, and other world leaders had spoken out, Obama finally commented:
“I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television,” Obama said Monday, more than two days after protests began to break out Saturday in Tehran. “I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all of those are universal values and need to be respected, and whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled.”
Not exactly the strongest statement in the world. Certainly better than silence, but not much.
You know, here’s a chance to show a little leadership, call on the ruling mullahs to do a careful investigation, invite in election monitors from around the world and have a run off so the world can see “the democratic process” actually works in Iran. Not that any of that would happen, but putting it out there as what should happen calls Iran’s hand, and puts pressure on the regime to respond.
Instead we get a statement that is more philosophical than practical, more general than specific. Something that can easily be waved away by Iran. Obama went on to say:
“I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views,” he said.
Again, little of substance, carefully avoiding any condemnation or judgment concerning the events of the election. More talk about a process instead of the claimed irregularities.
The closest he got to actually criticizing the regime came when he talked about the desire to talk with Iran:
Obama reasserted a promise for “hard-headed diplomacy” with any Iranian regime and stressed that he wasn’t trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics, but he also expressed sympathy with the supporters of the opposition, describing “a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy, who now feel betrayed.”
Again, very nuanced, and, at least in my opinion, very weak. Certainly I appreciate the concerns about being perceived as “trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics”, but condemning violence, election irregularities and arrests don’t really do that, do they? And while he hits around those things, he never does, in fact, condemn them. He’s “troubled” by the violence, he’s “sympathetic” with the “opposition”, and he hopes that those with dissenting views won’t be “stifled”.
Meanwhile other world leaders have spoken out more forcefully and specificially:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for an investigation of the election results, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said flatly that there were “signs of irregularities” in the results.
“Expressions of solidarity with those who are defending human rights, with students and others, are important,” former Czech President Vaclav Havel said Monday.
“We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.”
Really? The US has been the “issue inside Iran” for 30+ years. It has been the “Great Satan” since the revolution. It can’t escape being the issue even when it remains silent.
Leaders who claim to represent democracy step up when a crisis dictates a strong response. Apparently Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” only applies domestically in the Obama administration. With the hope of engaging who ever comes out on top in Iran, Obama is content to only give tepid support to those actually engaged in trying to establish democracy in Iran.
That’s not leadership. But it isn’t unexpected either.
The Iranian government has started making moves to quell the protests that have arisen in the wake of the contested Iranian presidential election.
Move one was for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to meet with Mir Hussein Moussavi and agree to investigate his allegations of election irregularities. This will again provide the veneer of legitimacy when the “investigation” returns its verdict of minor irregularities but none serious enough to invalidate the election within 10 days.
In the meantime, Khamenei apparently got Moussavi to help stop the protests:
The protesters gathered in Tehran despite a government ban on further demonstrations, and at one point Mr. Moussavi apparently called off the rally. As originally planned, the rally was to begin at Tehran University and reach Azadi Square several miles away.
But it apparently never got under way.
The other reason has to do with what we talked about on the podcast last night. Most of the protests are coming from university student groups. Those groups have been thoroughly infiltrated by police informers. Last night, police moved on the information gathered:
Opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested overnight, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
In addition, leaders of the opposition were rounded up:
The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.
Meanwhile Ahmadinejhad wrote off the opposition protests as “unimportant” and likened them to disappointed soccer fans. He also invoked the external threat:
He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.
Classic police-state tactics, with a twist. For whatever reason the Iranian mullocracy finds it desirable to have at least the veneer of democratic legitimacy associated with their authoritarian rule. So they will go through this charade of an investigation in an attempt to maintain it. But if anyone thinks that the outcome will be any different than that announced previously by the Interior Ministry, there’s a well-known bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in buying.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.
Steve Benen is “shocked, shocked I tell you”, that some on the right are trying to hang the Iranian election shambles on Obama. He entitles his post:
“WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME OBAMA…”
Of course, for 8 years, Benen and company made a cottage industry of substituting the name “Bush” for “Obama” while doing the very same thing. Apparently that’s gone the way of an Alzheimer patient’s memory of breakfast and they’ve awakened in a new world which began on January 20th of this year.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so insufferably hypocritical.
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Subject(s): Iranian election and the foreign policy implications, van Brunn and “right-wing hate”, China says no to emission cuts, economy.
It’s kind of hard to protest an election in court when you’re in jail.
Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was reportedly arrested Saturday following the reformist’s defeat at the polls by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mousavi’s arrest was reported by an unofficial source, who said that the presidential contender had been arrested en route to the home of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
My guess – and that’s all it is – is this is a move to defuse the protests. It will also remove the last bit of the veneer from the belief that these were “free and open” elections. In some ways this makes Iran easier to deal with. There’s no longer any doubt that it is a totalitarian regime where no “robust debate” is taking place or possible.
Look – the fantasy that these were “free and open” elections was a sham to begin with. 475 people applied to run for the presidency. 4 were approved by the ruling mullahs. That should tell you all you need to know about this election. Even Mousavi had impeccable revolutionary credentials, or he wouldn’t have been one of the 4.
But the election appears to have taken an unexpected turn. It would seem those that voted for Mousavi and perhaps Mousavi himself, took it a little more seriously than the authorities expected. Supporters turned out in record shattering numbers (85% of eligible voters) to vote and simply aren’t buying this supposed “landslide” win the mullahs and IRG had put together to keep their guy in office.
Crude, certainly, but to be expected. Authoritarians don’t believe in the democratic process – never have. But they understand the power of popular approval – even if they have to fake it and fake it poorly.
Electoral, of course.
Given the announced size of the victory (62.6% to 34%), we’re to believe that the majority of the country is quite happy to maintain the confrontational course (and style) set by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not that it makes a particular difference (since the candidates all were approved by the ruling mullahs and in the case of Ahmadinejad, his opponent’s “reform” label was a relative one to begin with) in the long run. But given the reported unpopularity of Ahmadinejad and the vast turnout, it’s hard to believe that he was the first choice of the majority of those voting.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the “opposition” candidate, claims there’s bee widespread vote fraud and he’ll take his case to court:
“I’m warning that I won’t surrender to this manipulation,” Mousavi said in a statement posted on his Web site Saturday. He said the announced results were “shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s sacred system” and represented “treason to the votes of the people.” He warned that the public would not “respect those who take power through fraud.”
“I would like to inform you that in spite of wide-ranging fraud and problem-making, according to the documents and reports we have received, the majority of your votes have been cast in favor of your servant,” the statement said. It concluded with a veiled suggestion of a possible confrontation, calling his supporters into the streets to celebrate his victory Saturday night and warning that if the votes are not fairly counted, “I will use all legal facilities and methods to restore the rights of the Iranian people.”
Meanwhile the mullahs have signaled the voting charade is over:
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni praised Ahmadinejad’s election and called on his rivals to cooperate with him.
In Iran, that’s as good as the fat lady singing.
So much for the “robust debate”. So much for the “unclenched fist” as well.
And nothing could make that point better than this:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.
Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.
Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!
Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.
Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.
Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.
Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?
Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.
Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.
Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).
That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.
Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.
Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.
The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.
The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.
So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.
Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:
Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.
Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.
And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.
In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.
I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.