One of the supposed areas in which President Obama has done well is in the area of foreign relations. And, of course, the press has dutifully helped create the myth of success.
But have foreign relations really been a success for him?
Don’t forget, this is the man who thinks he was responsible for “Arab Spring”. In both Egypt and Libya, radical islamists have begun to take charge. And this morning, a rocket launched from Egypt hit Israel.
Of course relations with our staunchest ally in the region – Israel – are terrible.
Then there is Russia. They way they’ve treated the US Ambassador to Russia is indicative of their belief that Obama is weak:
The Kremlin sees the Obama administration as weak and indecisive, making it a perfect, nonthreatening partner that can be bullied and provoked using the same tools Moscow routinely employs against opposition leaders and civil and human rights activists at home. This was the approach that the Kremlin used against the Estonian ambassador to protest the relocation of a monument to Soviet soldiers from downtown Tallinn. By Moscow’s reasoning, if such tactics are permissible when dealing with "weak" Estonia, why not use the same methods against a "weak" United States? Why should Putin and his cohorts show respect for the U.S. ambassador? On the contrary, it is better to put him in his place.
And they have used a “Kremlin-sponsored media campaign aimed at discrediting, pressuring, provoking and defaming him.”
Of course in the anarchy of world politics, weakness is something to be exploited, and Russia sees the opportunity to do exactly that.
You’d think, in the midst of all this failure, he could at least maintain good relationships with his allies. But Israel would beg to differ. And, surprisingly, so would Canada and Mexico. But you won’t read about it in the US press.
Obama’s neglect of our nearest neighbors and biggest trade partners has created deteriorating relations, a sign of a president who’s out of touch with reality. Problems are emerging that aren’t being reported.
Fortunately, the Canadian and Mexican press told the real story. Canada’s National Post quoted former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson as saying the North American Free Trade Agreement and the three-nation alliance it has fostered since 1994 have been so neglected they’re "on life support."
Energy has become a searing rift between the U.S. and Canada and threatens to leave the U.S. without its top energy supplier.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Obama the U.S. will have to pay market prices for its Canadian oil after Obama’s de facto veto of the Keystone XL pipeline. Canada is preparing to sell its oil to China.
Until now, NAFTA had shielded the U.S. from having to pay global prices for Canadian oil. That’s about to change.
I talked about that yesterday when I noted the ultimate cost of Obama’s fit of pique that led to him disapproving the Keystone XL pipeline.
And Mexico? Is it as bad as Canada?
Things were even worse, if you read the Mexican press accounts of the meeting.
Excelsior of Mexico City reported that President Felipe Calderon bitterly brought up Operation Fast and Furious, a U.S. government operation that permitted Mexican drug cartels to smuggle thousands of weapons into drug-war-torn Mexico. This blunder has wrought mayhem on Mexico and cost thousands of lives.
The mainstream U.S. press has kept those questions out of the official press conferences, while Obama has feigned ignorance to the Mexicans and hasn’t even apologized.
As usual, we’re poorly served by our media which somehow seems to have managed to miss all the points the Canadian and Mexican press have noted.
Yes, this president has a record he has to run on finally and it seems his foreign relations record isn’t, in reality, much better than his domestic one.
Of course it will be up to the GOP to point that out since obviously, the US press isn’t going too.
Bottom line for the Obama record?
Obviously I have mixed feelings about the country of Saudi Arabia. On the one hand they’re a tyrannical 12th century monarchy that controls a good portion of the world’s oil and exports a brand of radical Islamism. On the other hand they’re a bulwark against Iranian aggression and expansionism and a titular ally of the US.
So, the question then, given the situation in the Middle East, is it in the best interest of the US to do things that have them seeking solace and partners (allies they feel they can depend on?) elsewhere?
Yeah, probably not. But that’s exactly what is going on. Interestingly it is Tom Brokaw who brought the situation to our attention:
After remarking on the difficulty of establishing democracy in the Middle East, Brokaw said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “will face some tough questions in this region about the American intentions going on now with all this new turmoil, especially in an area where the United States has such big stakes politically and economically.”
“And a lot of those questions presumably will come from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia,” reported Brokaw on the Nightly News. “I was told on the way in here that the Saudis are so unhappy with the Obama administration for the way it pushed out President Mubarak of Egypt that it sent high level emissaries to China and Russia to tell those two countries that Saudi Arabia now is prepared to do more business with them.”
All of this stems from how the Obama administration handled Egypt. And it has caused Saudi Arabia to doubt the sincerity of the relationship between the US and the kingdom.
However, Saudi Arabia’s concerns emanate from the manner in which Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was removed from power. Mubarak had been an American ally for decades and yet the Obama administration, in the eyes of Saudi criticism, turned its back on the Egyptian government when reformist protests spilled into the streets.
High sounding rhetoric talks, but actions walk, and SA is not at all happy about the actions the administration took in Egypt nor, apparently, satisfied with their assurances since. And despite the supposed buy-in of the Arab League on the latest attack on an Arab country- Libya- I’d guess they’re not particularly happy with that either. Another indicator they file away and continues to feed their fear of the sincerity of the US as an ally.
The good news, if there is any, is the administration has apparently figured out that it has badly messed up its relationship with SA. Whether or not they can salvage the relationship remains to be seen. It may take another trip by Obama and a lot more bowing and scraping to do that:
Mr. Gates met with the Saudi king on Wednesday, and the Associated Press reported that the purpose of the meeting was to smooth relations with the uneasy and oil-rich ally, noting that "this was Gates’ third trip to the area in the past month."
Thus far the Obama administration has been a foreign policy disaster. Interestingly, some of the highest polling results for Obama deal with his handling of foreign affairs. If anything, that should clue you into how badly it is going for him on the domestic front.
So now what?
We had the tough talk from Obama and the State Department about “new” sanctions designed to bring Iran to its knees over the development of nuclear weapons.
But now the administration is face with walking the walk concerning those sanctions. And apparently Turkey isn’t at all worried or concerned about the US’s reaction:
Ankara will continue to permit Turkish companies to sell gasoline to Iran, despite US sanctions against fuel exports to Islamic regime, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
"If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them," said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
Tupras, Turkey’s sole oil refiner and gasoline exporter, expressed little fear of retribution from US Treasury officials who have the power to ban sanctions violators from accessing the US banking system or receiving US contracts.
"For us, Iran is more important than America because we get crude oil from them. We don’t get anything from America," a Tupras official was quoted as saying.
It seems that Turkey has figured out that our new motto is “Speak loudly and carry no stick”. No fear and certainly no respect is shown in the statement by the Tupras official. And Minister Yildiz is obviously waving away any official concern with his statement.
Two things are demonstrated by their stance. A) Turkey is “all in” in it’s support of the “Islamic world”. It has obviously made a choice between the being a part of the coalition of Middle Eastern Islamic countries and the West and NATO. B) Turkey has been given absolutely no reason to believe we’ll actually enforce our sanctions and thus demonstrates no respect for them or the US.
I’m not sure that would have been the case 2 short years ago. While Turkey was certainly moving away from the Western orbit at the time, their overt hostility to the US wasn’t at all evident. And my guess is they knew the US would enforce sanctions then. However, they have deduced that the US is a weak horse right now, and they plan to build their credibility in Middle East at our expense. Defying the “Great Satan” is a great way to do that.
And, of course, there’s the China problem. China too is shipping in gasoline. So in order to enforce sanctions against Turkey the US would have to do the same against China. Oh – and our “good friends” the Russians as well. Yeah, that’s right, Russia and China are both selling gasoline to Iran, and have come to no harm. What’s the risk of bucking the US? Turkey figures it to be nil. And, it appears, they’re right.
The tough “new” sanctions, it appears, are a farce and our “friends” see no risk it flouting them. It sort of boils down to the old western adage of “if you’re going to wear a gun, you have to be ready to use it”. Apparently these three have figured out the gun the administration is wearing is empty.
There’s something to be said for respect and fear in foreign policy – but you have to actually do something (or be willing to do it) before the world community will heed what you say. This administration’s weapons are words, not deeds. And the expected result is on display in this little scenario, a scenario that you can expect to see replayed over and over and over again as long as it is in power.
Marc Ambinder attempts to spin the pending spy swap with Russia as proof that the “reset” has worked:
Sure, U.S. and Russian spy services are agitating for a spy swap, but the fact that the two countries managed to so quickly figure out a mutually beneficial solution after the arrests of Russian spies last week suggests that Moscow and Washington work together well and that both countries believe it is in their best interest to move on from the wilderness of mirrors. In other words, it’s a sign of a healthy relationship.
It is? They’re spies Mr. Ambinder, and if you knew a stinking thing about intel you’d know that they haven’t even begun to be debriefed. It is another example of this administration kow-towing to a foreign government and acceding to their demands instead of doing what is best for our country.
This is no more a sign that “reset” is working than was unilaterally pulling trashing our plan to deploy a missile defense in eastern Europe. There’s a reason the Russians are interested in quickly doing a spy swap. That reason has to do with the intelligence that could and would be gathered the longer the spies are held.
We give up 10 spies who, with prolonged interrogation, give us invaluable information about Moscow center (yes, that’s right, Moscow center is still in business), its mission, networks, purpose, directorates, etc. Instead, we ship them back post haste and get:
Russia apparently began pushing for the swap, offering up Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear weapons expert who was convicted of espionage in 2004 and is now in jail, according to Sutyagin’s attorney and family. Sutyagin was sentenced by a Russian court to 15 years on charges of passing classified military information to a British firm that prosecutors said was as a front for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Sutyagin’s brother Dmitry told ABC News Wednesday that American agents met with Sutyagin Tuesday in a Moscow prison.
Oh – now there’s an intelligence gold mine.
Amateur hour in the White House continues unabated.
Apparently so, or at least the FBI is convinced that 11 people it has arrested were indeed spies and they were spying for Russia. Apparently the KGB’s successor, the SVR, just couldn’t help itself and places at least 5 couples in the US in deep cover.
The arrests were made after President Obama had a seemingly warm, back-slapping, hamburger eating meeting with Russian President Medvedev. We’re told that Obama was not happy with the timing of the arrests (is there ever a good time?), but that the FBI feared their spies were about to bolt.
The arrests came after years of surveillance. And, according to what has been released, if they weren’t spies, they certainly acted like them:
Criminal complaints filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday read like an old-fashioned cold war thriller: Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York.
But the network of so-called illegals — spies operating under false names outside of diplomatic cover — also used cyber-age technology, according to the charges. They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet, and they communicated by having two agents with laptops containing special software pass casually as messages flashed between them.
Their mission, according to the FBI, was to “penetrate American policy making circles”, something ordinary Americans have been trying to do for years.
Specifically they were to, “gather information on nuclear weapons, American policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics and many other topics.”
One old KGB general was a little shocked at the size of the operation:
“The magnitude, and the fact that so many illegals were involved, was a shock to me,” said Oleg D. Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general who was a Soviet spy in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s under “legal” cover as a diplomat and Radio Moscow correspondent. “It’s a return to the old days, but even in the worst years of the cold war, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the U.S., probably fewer.”
I’m not particularly shocked – this isn’t anything particularly surprising at all. We’re talking about Russia here – a country that still resents the US and isn’t a friend, despite all the smiles, visits and hamburgers shared.
It’ll be interesting to watch how the administration reacts to this. True, these folks were put in place when Bush was enamored with Pootie Poot, but supposedly the relationship is much closer and has been ‘reset’.
Apparently no one told the Russians that “reset” is supposed to work both ways?
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, and the Obama Administration’s childlike foreign policy. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
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You have to wonder why this announcement as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her visit, wasn’t treated the same was as a recent announcement in Israel was treated:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power plant will be launched this summer, even as the United States called for Russia to delay the start-up. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Moscow on an official trip, urged Russia not to launch the plant until Tehran proves that it’s not developing atomic weapons.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a joint press conference with Clinton, immediately responded that Russia would put the reactor online.
All smiles in Russia.
No courage in the face of an enemy, but willing to kick an ally at the first perceived “insult”.
Amateur hour in the US and the Kremlin knows it. I mean, look at the “respect” the American position was given.
The push for international support for tougher sanctions against Iran seem to be going well with our good friends in Russia:
Russia will not support “crippling” sanctions against Iran, including any that may be slapped on the Islamic Republic’s banking or energy sectors, a senior Russian diplomat said Wednesday.
“We are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director of the security affairs and disarmament department at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
“What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing the regime.”
Well, yeah – that’s sort of the point of sanctions. Short of that, there are few options left to force Iran to comply with the will of the international community – such that it is. And this is one of the failings of the Obama administration’s approach.
You have to sort of root around to find that approach spelled out, but the clearest indication of how the administration approaches foreign policy is actually found in the DoD’s recently released Quarterly Defense Review. One sentence tells it all:
“America’s interests are inextricably linked to the integrity and resilience of the international system.”
In the past, US presidents have realized that, “the integrity of the international system depends upon the resilience of American power.”
The Obama administration (and this explains much of his world apology tour) has flipped that now putting “American power” second to the will and “integrity” of the “international system”. As the article cited notes, Obama wants a “quiet world” so he can concentrate on his domestic agenda. One way to do that is cede the US’s leadership role.
You can see how well that approach is working. Russia has just demonstrated the “integrity” of the “international system” by saying “no”. I wonder if Obama will call them obstructionists and “the country of ‘no’.”
Seriously though, this is quite a step back from the American leadership of the past, and it will have consequences. That statement in the QDR cedes our former position as the supposed leader of the free world to organizations like the UN. That has been a dream of the liberal left for decades. And as you read through the article I’ve cited for the QDR quote, look at the analysis that says that the plan reduces the American role in world by “disarming” us and structuring our military for a lesser role.
Russia is just the first of many nations which are going to defy the US’s attempts at pushing its foreign policy throughout the world because, essentially, there is no down side to doing so. We’re a weakened debtor nation (Putin recently consoled EU economic basket case Greece by pointing out the US is in the same boat) that has made it pretty clear that it won’t act without clear consensus from the “international system” this administration seems to love. Russia is obviously a part of that system and doesn’t mind at all stepping up and saying no. And China? Well, if Russia is this blatant and blunt about denying what the US wants, you can imagine China’s position.
Like I said, 2009 was the year of taking this administration’s measure on the foreign policy front. 2010 is the year that those sensing a power/leadership vacuum inherent in this US pullback attempt to fill it. Russia’s just the first to step up to the plate. We’ll hear from China soon.
Vladimir “Pooty Poot” Putin, with the opportunity to either back the words of Russia’s president that sometimes sanctions are just necessary or the Foreign Minister’s words of yesterday, chose to back the FM’s:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned major powers on Wednesday against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme was “premature”.
Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia’s paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.
“There is no need to frighten the Iranians,” Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
“We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in a fiasco, then we will see.”
“And if now, before making any steps (towards holding talks) we start announcing some sanctions, then we won’t be creating favourable conditions for them (talks) to end positively. This is why it is premature to talk about this now.”
There’s more afoot here than just stiffing the US, although that seems to have become a bit of a game for the Russians lately. Iran is very important in the Russian scheme to have hegemony over its “near abroad”. It is interested in Iran, not because of its oil, but mostly because of its natural gas. Russia is the major supplier of NG to Europe. Iran is another potential source. Russia sees an advantage in exercising nominal control over Iran’s supply of NG by maintaining friendly relations. That control allows them to use the supply of NG as leverage. Power and money talk – “reset” buttons don’t.
Another little change in Russia’s approach to the world today is their possible change in their nuclear arms strategy:
Russia is weighing changes to its military doctrine that would allow for a “preventive” nuclear strike against its enemies — even those armed only with conventional weapons. The news comes just as American diplomats are trying to get Russia to cut down its nuclear stockpile, and put the squeeze on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
Not exactly the position you’d like to see them take if you have a goal of reducing nuclear stockpiles. And note that Russia not only reserves the right to make a preemptive nuclear strike, but reserves that right to use nuclear weapons against a foe that is armed with conventional weapons only.
As for those talks, this seems to be the Russian negotiating position:
In the interview, he takes a swipe at the United States and NATO, saying that the alliance “continues to press for the admission of new members to NATO, the military activities of the bloc are intensifying, and U.S. strategic forces are conducting intensive exercises to improve the management of strategic nuclear weapons.”
In other words, Moscow is holding to a hard line, precisely at a time when Washington is trying to play nice. The administration wants the Kremlin’s help — to pressure Iran, to revive the arms-control process — but the bear still needs to brandish nukes.
Cutting through the clutter, it seems their initial demands will have little to do with nukes and everything to do with what they deem encroachments into their sphere of influence. That may lead to some talks about nuke stockpiles, but it appears those may end up aimed mostly at US reductions and not so much those of the Russians (who may claim to have unilaterally gotten rid of many nukes because they couldn’t afford to keep them up during the transition from the USSR to its present state).
In the meantime, it is reported that the US will allow Russian inspectors on US sites – apparently granted with absolutely nothing in return. Again.
If you have the feeling we’re going to get rolled in any future nuclear arms talks, join the club.
Not that some of us are at all surprised (for the umpteenth time, “Russia is not our friend”):
“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”
With that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov effectively killed any US hopes found in Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev statement that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable” of three weeks ago. As was predicted by many, the unilateral withdrawal of plans to base a missile defense in eastern Europe, an obvious attempt to better relations with Russia, yielded nothing.
Russia’s support is key to getting U.N. Security Council approval of any sanctions, but the country has traditionally been cautious on confronting Iran, a key trading partner and neighbor. In recent years, however, Russia has grown increasingly concerned about indications that Iran could be developing nuclear weapons, analysts say. Iran insists that its program is aimed only at producing energy.
Lavrov told reporters that Russia wants to focus on negotiations for now — particularly the concessions made by Iran this month, after the revelation that it had built a secret nuclear facility near Qom. Under heavy international pressure, the Islamic republic agreed to admit inspectors and send much of its uranium to Russia for enrichment.
Also key to any UNSC approval of sanctions is China – and they’re not at all sold on sanctions either.
However, as noted in the paragraph above, it is Iran which is in the driver’s seat here, not the US. Iran has again outmaneuvered everyone by officially revealing its “secret” nuclear facility near Qom and agreeing to allow it to be inspected. That move has effectively given the Russians the wiggle room they need to back away from imposing sanctions. Iran has years of experience manipulating this process and has once again had its way.
Meanwhile, as Marty Peretz says, Hillary Clinton’s team was engaged in trying to make a “cupcake out of a turd”:
Senior administration officials said that the differences are tactical rather than substantive. Both sides agreed that Iran would face sanctions if it failed to carry out its obligations, a State Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Which, of course means that nothing of substance came out of the talks. Such an agreement is the same agreement they had going into the talks. In essence, Russia turned the clock back on this process. And again, a reminder that China, a country whose support would be critical if sanctions are to be imposed, is nowhere on the playing field at the moment.
Anyway, to claim that differences are “tactical rather than substantive” is to try to hand wave away the fact that Russia is not presently on board to increase sanctions anytime soon when everyone was led to believe, just three weeks ago, that it was. I think that truly does represent a “reset”, but not in the way the Obama administration had hoped.