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.
A couple of paragraphs from a story about Obama and Russia’s Medvedev which seem pretty telling to me:
Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.
The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.
Of course many on the right are making a big, if sarcastic, deal about Medvedev calling Obama “comrade”. To many that seems more than appropriate. However, there’s a lot of diplospeak in this which seems key.
First, although not much of substance was accomplished, note the Medvedev says that unlike Bush, Obama “can listen”. In diplospeak, that means he thinks he can roll Obama, while Bush, not so much.
Note too that it appears that Obama has caved on the missile defense. In his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles, he’s given up something which our allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic were keen for in order to see warheads dropped from 2,200 to 1,500. That’s a laughably cheap price for Russia to pay to kill the missile defense they opposed so adamantly.
Yup, after a capitulation like that, I’d be clapping Obama on the back and hailing him as my comrade too, if I were Medvedev.
Russia sent a strong warning to the United States Thursday about supporting Georgia in the U.S. ally’s efforts to rebuild its military following last year’s war.
The Foreign Ministry said helping arm Georgia would be “extremely dangerous” and would amount to “nothing but the encouragement of the aggressor.”
Nope, apparently Obama just listened. That’s a comrade any Russian could love.
Iran isn’t just fomenting unrest in its home region, it has found a new area to spread the revolution and fund it:
Iran is increasing its activity in Latin America and the Caribbean, including actions aimed at supporting the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a top U.S. military commander said on Tuesday.
Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who oversees U.S. military interests in the region as head of U.S. Southern Command, also said Hezbollah was linked to drug-trafficking in Colombia.
“We have seen… an increase in a wide level of activity by the Iranian government in this region,” Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“That is a concern principally because of the connections between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah,” he said.
The U.S. State Department lists the Lebanese-based political and military movement as a terrorist organization.
Stavridis said Hezbollah activities in South America have been concentrated particularly in the border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, but also in Colombia.
“We have been seeing in Colombia a direct connection between Hezbollah activity and narco-trafficking activity,” the commander added, without providing specifics.
Of course, one of Iran’s NBFs in the area is Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. And he’s not the only one as reported by Todd Bensman:
But with the exception of my own coverage, there’s been hardly a peep about the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planted the Iranian flag so far north in Nicaragua as soon as the time-tested American nemesis Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007. In fact, Ahmadinejad considered Ortega’s ascension so important that he was in Nicaragua to attend the inauguration. Within months, Iran was promising hundreds of millions in economic projects — and quickly set up a diplomatic mission in a tony Managua neighborhood where it could all supposedly be coordinated. Now Iran is extending its reach even further north, right into Mexico City with equally under-covered proposals to vastly expand tenuous ties to America’s immediate southern neighbor.
Hey, we mess around in Iraq and Afghanistan, they mess around in Mexico. Of course all we have to do talk to them and we can straighten this all out, right?
An interesting story out of Russia via the Jerusalem Post. And while good news, albeit of a temporary nature I’m sure, I’m betting there is much more to this than meets the eye. This is about positioning in upcoming missile defense talks with the US:
Russia has frozen the sale of the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday.
Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was reportedly informed of the decision by his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on his visit to Moscow on Wednesday.
Russia said the delivery of the systems would be delayed at least until the upcoming meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his US counterpart, Barack Obama. Kommersant cited Russia’s wish to prevent hindering dialogue with the new US administration.
Military diplomatic sources were quoted by Kommersant as saying that the issue had been the focus of Najjar’s visit.
Of course the important point is the sale is frozen, not canceled. While that’s good news for both the US and Israel (the S-300 system is reported to be a very good air defense system against not just aircraft, but cruise missiles), it may not be any more than a temporary sop to the Americans and a reminder to the Iranians that Russia is their major backer and can pull that backing at any time. And, interestingly, there’s one other reason (or at least so Israel claims):
Israel Radio quoted Moscow sources as saying that apart form the gesture to the Americans, Russia also wanted to avoid ruining a $100 million drone purchase from Israel.
I say interesting because the S-300 sale is an $800 million sale. You jeopardize an 800 million sale for a 100 million purchase? Or do you grab the 100 mil buy because you know the 800 mil sale is in the bag? I’d say the latter, meaning the freeze is most likely for show only. Unless, of course, the Russians are just incredibly stupid businessmen.
I don’t think they are, although they’re not as clever in other areas as they sometimes think. This seems to me to be a very crude (but probably effective) set up for an “aw gee and here we made this great gesture toward working with you and this is how you act?” result of our first meeting with Russia. Absolute world opinion gold for Putin and the boys if they manage it correctly and, of course, the perfect opportunity to then unfreeze the sale. Can anyone guess who’d end up being embarrassed by such a scenario?
As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:
Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.
So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?
As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.
That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:
Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.
Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.
The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.
The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.
“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.
Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.
“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:
“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”
Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?
How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?
Well consider the internal politics of the country. You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate. You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either. Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.
Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US. It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions. He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change. The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.
And in the real world, results speak for themselves.
More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East. All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.
[HT: Gateway Pundit]
The new line out of Tehran is that Iran is ready for talks with the US if those talks are a “dialog with respect”. So let’s check out President Ahmadinejad’s words, shall we?
“The new U.S. administration has said that it wants change and it wants to hold talks with Iran,” President Ahmadinejad said.
“It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes,” he said. “Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran could cooperate with the United States to uproot terrorism in the region. “The Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism,” he said.
But he referred to former President Bush as one of reasons for insecurity in the region and said, “Bush and his allies should be tried and punished.”
“If you really want to uproot terrorism, let’s cooperate to find the initiators of the recent wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, try them and punish them,” he said.
“Fundamental, not tactical”. Remember, Ahamdinejad accused the Obama administration of only favoring a tactical change. His claim was the Obama administration would not be fundamentally different in its approach to relations with Iran than was the Bush administration. While in Munich, VP Joe Biden made it clear that the US wouldn’t tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons and reserved the right to pre-emptively attack Iran in case it refused to stand down its nuclear weapons program and produced a nuclear bomb. That is the very same policy the Bush administration advanced. How that can be spun as a “fundamental change” vs. a “tactical change” will be interesting to watch. But one is certainly hard put to describe such a policy as one which would place the talks on a plane of “mutual respect”.
An interesting line, of course, is Ahmadinejad’s declaration that the “Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism”. The obvious reason for that declaration is found in the next line, i.e. the policies of the Bush administration are interpreted by Ahmadenijad as being terroristic in nature as they pertain to Iran. But, other than the “let’s talk” invitation, the policy of pre-emptive action remains the announced policy of the Obama administration as well.
Last, but certainly not least, Ahmadinejad clearly puts the Israel question on the table and lays out his solution for stopping terrorism. While Iran demands a “fundamental” change in the US approach to relations with that nation, there’s certainly nothing to suggest that Iran is willing to make fundamental changes in return. And its proxy war with Israel, through Hamas and Hezbollah is certainly an indicator of its continuing attempt to take the “Zionist entity” on.
So while some may be encouraged by the fact that Ahmadinejad is at least talking about better relations with the US, I say take it all with a large grain of salt. Iran has aspirations toward being the regional power in the Middle East. That is what brought it in direct conflict with Iraq and precipitated their 8 year war. Iraq also had such aspirations. Iraq is no longer a threat in that regard, and the only entity that really stands in its way is the US. Obviously Iran would like to neutralize the US and its influence in the region. One way to do that is to pretend to give the new administration what is so desperately wants – a foreign policy success. Entering into direct talks with the US would do that while really costing Iran nothing. In return for those direct talks, Iran would demand that the US tone down its rhetoric and lift sanctions thereby accomplishing it’s neutralization goal. It can extend the talks as long as it wishes while it proceeds on its merry way to creating a nuclear weapon and marrying it to a long-range missile. At that point, the US is no longer necessary as Iran, by fiat, will be if not the dominant regional power in the Middle East, a close second (assuming as everyone does, that Israel has nukes).
At that point, an Obama administration would be left to either live up to Biden’s words or back off and hope Iran doesn’t finally deal with the “Zionist entity” before Israel deals with it.
Food for thought.
Joltin’ Joe Biden previewed it in Germany yesterday:
As promised, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to the international community Saturday, saying the U.S. is open for talks with Iran and Russia to repair relations, and willing to work with allies to solve world problems.But in his first major foreign policy speech for the new administration, the Democrat also warned that the U.S. stands ready to take pre-emptive action against Tehran if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.
Repair relations? Just words at the moment.
Pre-emptive action? I thought we quit doing that stuff. OK, pre-emptive action. Also known as maintenance of the status quo policy. “We want to repair relations but reserve the right to pre-emptively attack Iran”.
Good luck with that.
And while he said it is time to mend fences with Moscow, he said the U.S. continues “to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective.”
Continue to develop missile defenses? Status quo – but again, with the caveat “we want to mend fences”.
Good luck with that.
The article notes that Biden was “short on details”. No particular surprise there. But apparently the “tone” was just music to the diplomats ears.
“I think Vice President Biden came to Munich today in a spirit of partnership,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told AP Television News. “I think he set an ambitious agenda with big goals and high objectives, and he called and challenged us to work with him. I think that’s the right spirit.”
That hits me as diplo-speak for “he’s going to do things the way we want them done”. And, of course, that’s not leadership.
Understand too that diplomats are also going to give this a positive spin because they stand to gain from it. That’s why Russia said:
“The tonality was rather encouraging. It was really a serious call to restart U.S. foreign policy — including, clearly, Russian-American relations,” said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the international relations committee in Russia’s lower parliament house.
That’s diplo-speak for “we think we can roll these guys”.
What details Biden did give included the aforementioned continuation of the missile defense and this:
“It’s time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia,” said Biden. Yet, he added that the U.S. will continue to have differences with Moscow, including opposition to its efforts to carve out independent states in Georgia.
Again, “just words” and status quo.
And to Europe, Biden said:
Biden, who also met privately with a number of world leaders, including top officials from Russia, France, and Germany, told allies that they will be expected to share the burdens of fighting extremists and bolstering weaker governments and poor nations.
“America will do more, that’s the good news,” said Biden. “But the bad news is America will ask for more from our partners.”
I’m not sure why asking more from our “partners” is “bad news” but it certainly reflects a continuation of the status quo.
On another topic, Biden told the leaders that the U.S. needs their help in taking the detainees now held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He repeated Obama’s vow that the U.S. will adhere to its values, not torture, and will close the detention center at Guantanamo that has spurred such criticism from European allies.
Of course we’ve since learned that the Obama administration has reserved the right to approve more intensive interrogation techniques and, of course, you don’t need Guantanamo if you continue give the CIA permission to use rendition as a tool to deal with terrorists.
But apparently, to this point, that hasn’t really penetrated the good will that Obama still enjoys among the Euro types. Once the new wears off and they’re actually pushed to contribute “more” they’ll probably “discover” the duplicity of Biden’s words.
Hope and change.
It sure has been getting low-key coverage in the MSM, but it appears the election in Iraq went off very well and is producing some surprising and, frankly, good results.
14,400 candidates stood for office. Unlike 2005, when 200 candidates were killed prior to the election, this time 8 were lost. 14 of the 18 provinces were included (Kurdistan’s provinces are having separate elections) and while turnout was considered to be low (51%), Sunnis participated en mass for the first time. William Shawcross describes the results:
All the Islamic parties lost ground, especially that associated with the so-called “Shia firebrand”, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose share of the vote went down from 11% to 3%. The principal Sunni Islamic party, the Islamic Party of Iraq, was wiped out.
The only Islamic party to gain ground was the Dawa party of the Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki – and even that party dropped the word Islamic from its name. The power of Maliki, who has emerged a stronger leader than expected, is further enhanced by these elections. Now no Islamic parties will be able to control any provinces on their own. The election is thus a big defeat for Iran which had hoped that Shia religious parties would control the south and enable Iran to turn them into a mini Shia republic.
I know this has some of you gasping for breath out there. We were assured by none other than the great Juan Cole and his fellow travelers that Iran was in total control of the Iraqi governmental apparatus and would quickly turn into what Shawcross characterizes as a “mini-Shia republic”.
Yet it appears that the Iraqi public are rejecting the concept of a theocracy in favor of a more secular government. And that, of course is a de facto rejection of Iran.
Obviously Iraq still has a long way to go, but it is hard to deny the amount of progress that has been made. Except for the dead-enders who’ve vested so much into this being the “worst foreign policy disaster in US history”, it is looking pretty darn good in Iraq.
USMC Maj Gen John F. Kelly gives you an indication of the level of change that has taken place in previously violent Anbar province:
Something didn’t happen in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, today. Once the most violent and most dangerous places on earth, no suicide vest bomber detonated killing dozens of voters. No suicide truck bomber drove into a polling place collapsing the building and killing and injuring over 100. No Marine was in a firefight engaging an Al Qaida terrorist trying to disrupt democracy.
What did happen was Anbar Sunnis came out in their tens of thousands to vote in the first free election of their lives.
One of the things I’ve always said was that we came here to “give” them democracy. Even in the dark days my only consolation was that it was about freedom and democracy. After what I saw today, and having forgotten our own history and revolution, this was arrogance. People are not given freedom and democracy – they take it for themselves. The Anbaris deserve this credit.
Today I step down as the dictator, albeit benevolent, of Anbar Province. Today the Anbaris took it from me. I am ecstatic. It was a privilege to be part of it, to have somehow in a small way to have helped make it happen.
There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.
Now that’s real hope and change.