Despite all the happy talk about hope and change concerning America’s foreign policy the reality is every nation out there has its own agenda and America still stands in the way of many of them. In the case of our allies, their agenda usually entails seeing how much of the load they can get America carry. And, while the hope, hype and spin claim that this is the dawn of a new era, in reality the clock is ticking:
The danger is that, as the novelty of the Obama administration begins to wear off the U.S. will be left with little more to show for its renewed focus on diplomacy than the Bush administration achieved.
Before that occurs, U.S. officials are hoping a willingness to engage in a way that the Bush administration never was will produce progress. Major reviews of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Iran are currently under way and are expected to produce new options for Obama within several weeks.
The options produced may be new for Obama, but will they be new for those nations at which they’re aimed? And will they address the fundamental problems in the areas they are intended or will they simply be the same policies with shiny new names? While Obama may come up with what he considers many new options, in reality the options are quite limited when it comes to some of the nations who are going to challenge him (and that will be dictated by the attitude those nations take to any new Obama initiatives).
As the Washington Times notes, his foreign affairs problems are beginning to cascade:
On Friday, Pakistan – the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid – released from house arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who for two decades ran a black market that sold nuclear-weapons technology to U.S. adversaries including Iran and Libya.
Two days earlier, Kyrgyzstan announced that it would not renew a U.S. lease at
the Manas air base, a critical transshipment point in the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the Russians – who offered Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in cash and loans to oust the Americans – said that they intend to establish a new base in a breakaway enclave of Georgia, the country Moscow invaded over the summer in response to a Georgian assault on another enclave.
If this were not enough, Iran last week launched a crude satellite into space, suggesting that the Islamic regime has mastered at least some of the technology for multistage, long-range missiles.
Finally, Yemen on Sunday announced that it had released 170 men arrested on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda. Just two weeks earlier, the terrorist group called Yemen its base for the entire Arabian Peninsula.
And let’s not forget that the Obama administration has already upset India with its claim that it would involve itself in the India/Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.
A president’s primary job involves foreign policy. He is the sole architect and executor of it. But thus far, it seems more of a distraction than a focus for Obama. He has primarily concerned himself with his domestic agenda and delegated his foreign policy role to Biden – at least for the time being. But Biden isn’t the decision maker and lack of focus on foreign affairs could see the US end up, diplomatically, behind the power curve if enemies perceive him as not being fully engaged and his diplomatic effort lacking leadership. That is a weakness they would try to exploit.
If that ends up happening, all of this happy talk will quickly go out of the window and the Obama administration could be facing the same stark choices, and options, that his predecessor faced – if he’s lucky.
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.
Bruce wrote earlier that the stimulus bill, in it’s current form, invites a Trade War with the rest of the world. Naturally, the protectionist elements of the bill had many of our trading partners both worried and miffed.
The EU, for example, has been struggling with the issue over there, and began tossing off warnings of a trade war. The EU Ambassador to the united States, John Bruton, expressed those warnings frankly.
The EU warnings came in letters to US political leaders in Congress, Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. Mr Bruton urged them to respect the decision taken by the G20, the world’s leading economic nations, in Washington last November to resist protectionism as a defence against the crisis. They are expected to meet again in London in April.
“Failing this risks entering into a spiral of protectionist measures around the globe that can only hurt our economies further,” he wrote.
“Open markets remain the essential precondition for a rapid recovery from the crisis, and history has shown us where measures taken contrary to this principle can lead us.”
Back in Europe proper, the language was bit less guarded and diplomatic.
The European Commission’s powerful trade department, a bastion of open markets formerly headed by Lord Mandelson, said yesterday that the “Buy American” clause was “the worst possible signal” that could be sent to world trade.
A spokesman said: “We are particularly concerned about the signal that these measures could send to the world at a time when all countries are facing difficulties. Where America leads, many others tend to follow.”
In responding to those concerns, Pres. obama seems to have backed down a bit.
Last night Mr Obama gave a strong signal that he would remove the most provocative passages from the Bill.
“I agree that we can’t send a protectionist message,” he said in an interview with Fox TV. “I want to see what kind of language we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake, though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.”
Congratulations to Pres. Obama for realizing the toxic effect that outright protectionism would have on world trade, and economic recovery.
Of course “Dear Leader” and the boys also call the missile the Taepodong-2 and it is supposedly capable of reaching the US (Alaska or Hawaii – and no Sarah Palin can’t see NoKo from Alaska). But as the title indicates, there’s little doubt about why it is to be launched:
The apparent preparations for a launch, which are easily discernible by spy satellites, may be intended by the government as a way of asserting itself as it prepares to resume nuclear disarmament negotiations with the new US government of Barack Obama.
Dear Leader knows all about political brinksmanship and he wants to see how the Obama administration reacts to him and his machinations. This is all a pretty normal course of events in international relations. If there’s a new guy, the usual suspects try to test him to see what they can get away with. And, if he blinks, well, the full court press will be on.
One of the strengths of our American democracy, of course, is we don’t have a “Dear Leader” problem here. Nope, sure don’t. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Hope and change.
I think my guy Hugo is beginning to see the handwriting on the wall and realizes that if he doesn’t manage to fool the population into making him president for life now, he’ll have to seek other means.
You see, the situation in Venezuela is not getting better nor the future brighter for our favorite socialist:
Treasury reserves are dwindling, electricity blackouts are becoming commonplace, public security is deteriorating, and the finances of the state-owned oil monopoly, PdVSA, are in apparent disarray. There is little reason to think that the decline will be reversed any time soon.
If Mr. Chávez hopes to continue governing under the guise of democracy after 2013, when his term expires, he must get the constitution changed now.
The last time he tried this, even with almost total control of the voting apparatus, he was unable to concoct a win. He apparently tried for days, but apparently the loss was such that even he couldn’t fudge it.
So now the newest attempt. Interestingly, the latest attempt includes open-ended terms for nearly every elected official in Venezuela, not just the presidency. I’d suggest that actually works against Chavez and not for him. Those that marginally favor Chavez may not want the local mayor, legislator or governor in office indefinitely. It is an even bet then that they will not be inclined to vote for such a constitutional amendment. They, as well as anyone, know the hazards of entrenched power.
You have to wonder then, given the great possibility that the amendment will go down in flames on Feb. 15th what Hugo’s next move will be. My guess is it will have nothing to do with supporting and defending the constitution of Venezuela.