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.
Russia is our friend. Don’t believe it? Well let’s look at a couple of things.
Just as the US starts talking about cutting defense spending and axing weapons systems and programs, what are our friends in Russia doing?
President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday announced a “large-scale” rearmament and renewal of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, accusing NATO of pushing ahead with expansion near Russian borders.
Meeting defence chiefs in Moscow, Medvedev said he was determined to implement reforms to streamline Russia’s bloated military and stressed Moscow continued to face several security threats needing robust defense capacity.
“From 2011, a large-scale rearmament of the army and navy will begin,” Medvedev said.
He called for a renewal of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal and added that NATO was pursuing a drive to expand the alliance’s physical presence near Russia’s borders.
“Analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that a serious conflict potential remains in some regions,” Medvedev said.
So, new nukes and large-scale rearmament in the face of US defense cuts. As the article asks “reset” or new Cold War?
And then, just to really upset the apple cart, how about a new currency?
The Kremlin published its priorities Monday for an upcoming meeting of the G20, calling for the creation of a supranational reserve currency to be issued by international institutions as part of a reform of the global financial system.
The International Monetary Fund should investigate the possible creation of a new reserve currency, widening the list of reserve currencies or using its already existing Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs, as a “superreserve currency accepted by the whole of the international community,” the Kremlin said in a statement issued on its web site.
The SDR is an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement the existing official reserves of member countries.
The Kremlin has persistently criticized the dollar’s status as the dominant global reserve currency and has lowered its own dollar holdings in the last few years. Both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have repeatedly called for the ruble to be used as a regional reserve currency, although the idea has received little support outside of Russia.
Now there’s not much “there” there as it pertains to this initiative, but it another indicator, among many, that the “Joe Biden Challenge” is alive and well and Russia is in the running to bring it to fruition.
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]