A blurb from the Washington Post that I find somewhat ironic:
Obama’s return to Washington from 10 days in Martha’s Vineyard and a quick stop in New Orleans to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will begin with an address to the nation marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Days later, he will preside over the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks in Washington.
Both events offer Obama some political opportunities to help end a frustrating summer on a more positive note. But each is fraught with expectations that could prove difficult to meet in the long run, especially as the White House begins planning a reelection campaign next year.
And a week-long focus on foreign policy — timing driven largely by events outside of the president’s control — could seem oddly out of step during an election season that has been dominated by concerns over the national economy.
I guess “political opportunities” is in the eye of the beholder. The Post goes on to say that the timing of the foreign policy events is mostly “outside of the president’s control” meaning, obviously with the elections in November rapidly approaching, one would normally not look to foreign policy as a place he would gather “political momentum” as the Post’s title says.
There are a couple of reasons for that in Obama’s case. First he’s probably the least qualified president we’ve ever had in the foreign policy arena. Certainly the most inexperienced. And to this point, it’s rather difficult to point to any achievements in that area. So it seems to me to be a good deal of wishing and hoping by the Post’s Michael Shear if he thinks this is the arena in which lay Obama’s best chance for gathering “political momentum” again.
Secondly, Iraq can hardly be considered an accomplishment of his administration. The drawdown has been accomplished there in accordance with a timeline negotiated and agreed to (the SOFA agreement) by the Bush administration, before Obama ever took office. Ironically, we never hear Obama saying he inherited that.
As for the peace talks in the Middle East, it will most likely be the usual political theater with little accomplished. Turkey’s entrance into the ME debate on the side of the Arabs has had, I would think, a very profound effect on the possibility of such negotiations succeeding. I don’t think that impact is yet fully understood, but I suspect we’ll get an inkling of that when these talks begin.
If foreign policy is Obama’s best hope for regaining political momentum, then he’s in real political trouble.
Speaking of irony, this also caught my eye:
Forty-eight percent (48%) of U.S. voters now regard President Obama’s political views as extreme. Forty-two percent (42%) place his views in the mainstream, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
By comparison, 51% see the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as mainstream. Thirty-five percent (35%) think Clinton’s views are extreme. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.
Incredible to think that the person who first tried to nationalize health care is seen as less extreme than the guy who did. The poll speaks to a possibility though. If Obama’s job approval numbers continue to decline (now at 43%) and if the numbers that consider him extreme continue to climb, I can see a possible challenge from the left in 2012 from Hillary Clinton.
And, btw, if there are any “successes” in foreign policy, you can bet that Ms. Clinton will be sure that she gets her share of the credit.
But you have to chuckle a bit about the noted poll numbers – Hillary Clinton, who was certainly regarded by at least a plurality and possibly a majority of being an extreme leftist is now considered by the majority as being “mainstream”? I guess that’s relatively true in the context of Mr. Obama, but I doubt that it is true in reality. She’s hidden herself well – ideologically speaking – these last few years, you have to give her that.
Oh, and speaking of extremist views, the Rasmussen poll didn’t just concentrate on Democrats:
Among five top contenders for the White House in 2012, only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is viewed as more extreme than the president. Just 38% say Palin’s views are mainstream, while 55% regard them as extreme.
Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, is considered mainstream by 45% and extreme by 33%. Twenty-two percent (22%), however, are not sure about his views.
Forty-four percent (44%) say the views of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another unsuccessful 2008 GOP hopeful, are in the mainstream. Thirty-eight percent (38%) think Huckabee is extreme, and another 18% are not sure.
It’s important to note that the questions did not define “mainstream” or “extreme.”
Love the last line – yup, I guess “extreme” is something only an individual can define based on his personal ideology (and we all have them). It is like pornography – you know extreme when you see extreme.
Anyway, back to Obama and foreign policy. If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t bank on foreign policy being the area that pulls his political fortunes out of the ditch. He’s certainly, to this point, shown us nothing that would indicate he has a grasp on the situations around the globe and much to demonstrate he hasn’t. I can’t imagine how his political momentum is going to be restarted in an area in which he spends so little time and effort.
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I have to say, the “unclenched fist” diplomacy is just working out swimmingly with Iran. From a speech Iranian president Ahmadinejad gave on Thursday:
“It is God-given that all the anti-human plans in the world, and all the crimes and bloodshed, are being carried out under U.S. government supervision, but that the demand [to stop them] comes only from our nation… This move of theirs [apparently a reference to calls by President Obama to support the Iranian protest movement] forces us to adopt yet another international mission, because today the most brutal dictatorship is being implemented against the American nation, which is subject to the worst suffocation – the press is not free to depict the crimes of Israel and America, nor can demonstrations in response to these crimes be held freely…
“I hereby announce that from this point forward, one of the Iranian nation’s main aspirations will be to deliver the American people from [its] undemocratic and bullying government.”
Thank goodness someone is going to help us in that regard /sarc.
Your guess is as good as mine as to how he plans on accomplishing that but his take on Jews remains about the same as when we had a clenched fist.
“…Sixty years ago, they [i.e. the West] gathered the filthiest and greatest of criminals, who [only] appear to be human [i.e. the Jews] from all the corners of the earth, organized and armed them – on artificial and false pretexts, fabricating information and inventing stories [hinting at the Holocaust]. They gave [the Jews] propaganda and military backing so that they would occupy the lands of Palestine and uproot the Palestinian nation…”
Rhetoric says, at least to me, that the Islamists are warming up to another run at Israel sometime in the not to distant future.
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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.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
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Jackson Diehl has a theory:
I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued.
The hemming and hawing which ensued points to the fact that this president has done nothing to forge those sorts of “strong personal relationship[s]” that are so necessary to moving a country’s foreign policy forward. Diehl points to a few suggestions from the administration officials of foreign leaders with whom Obama may have a “strong personal relationship”. Diehl’s examination of each finds the claim to be unlikely. Unsurprisingly one who isn’t suggested is Britain’s Gordon Brown.
The bottom line of course is forging those sorts of relationships is vital to the conduct of foreign policy. Diplomacy is about friends, neutrals and enemies. Friends are THE vital component in forging alliances and the coalitions necessary to deal with the world at large. And without them doing what is necessary to advance your nation’s best interests becomes exponentially harder. A perfect example of that shortcoming playing out is our attempt to increase sanctions on Iran (something we’re apparently now backing away from somewhat). No one is willing to really back our desire to make it tougher on Iran. And if Britain is, given our Falklands gaffe and other slights, they’re probably less likely, or at least less enthusiastic about doing so. Russia has flatly said it’s not at all interested. And recently, so has Brazil.
If you can’t take the time to forge the relationships necessary to advance your country’s best interest, who’s job is it? Well, on a peer to peer level, it’s no one else’s job but that of the President. And, as we watch the stories coming out about these relationships, we find them to be, at best, cordial. And in many cases, they’re less than that.
Diehl ends by emphasizing why this failing to cultivate these strong personal relationships has an effect that can be the difference between success and failure in foreign policy:
Still, it’s worth wondering: Would Sarkozy have fought French public opinion and sent more troops to Afghanistan (he has refused) if he had been cultivated more by Obama? Would Israel’s Netanyahu be willing to take more risks in the (moribund) Middle East peace process if he believed he could count on this U.S. president? Would Karzai cooperate more closely with U.S. commanders in the field if Obama had embraced him?
The answers seem obvious. In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.
The aloof, “you must come to me” attitude that Obama cultivates isn’t at all useful in the arena which is his exclusively – foreign policy. He talks about “engagement”, but he’s not apparently talking about himself. Engagement with foreign leaders is critical to his ability to successfully conduct the business of the US. A disconnected “leader” focused internally can’t do that. Again, Obama’s leadership is found wanting and wanting in a critical area that could find the next person to hold his office in a very bad relational situation with our allies that will take years to repair.
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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.
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