Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama's Foreign Policy

Maybe all the economic news is distracting, but I find it incredible that so many people seem to have forgotten all about the War on Terror. Obama didn’t really run on a strong foreign policy, but he did promise to end the Iraq War, and to talk to our enemies. The talking would be without preconditions, of course, and while that strategy might have its weak points it would have been an interesting change from the Bush policy of alternately completely flattening (Iraq) our enemies and blithely ignoring them (Iran).

But Obama hasn’t done any of that. North Korea seems to have nuclear missiles, and is engaging in some pretty provocative saber rattling. Iran is continuing its quest for nuclear weapons, and Hamas and Hezbollah aren’t behaving either.

Yet Obama hasn’t met with any of them. Okay, he hasn’t been president for very long, but given the gravity of the Iran and (especially) North Korean situations, some preliminary discussions towards that goal might be in order. Instead, Obama is containing Bush’s post-Iraq foreign policy—ignore the problem and hope that it will go away.

The problem with that strategy is that Bush, for all his flaws, had one thing Obama lacks—credibility. He was willing to invade Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there—it was a pretty good bet that if Iran or North Korea went too far, he would stop them (or in Iran’s case, let Israel stop them).

Obama doesn’t have that sort of credibility. Lacking that kind of “nuke-em-if-they-can’t-take-a-joke” diplomatic credibility isn’t necessarily a bad thing—Eisenhower, for example, got mostly good foreign policy results without being too aggressive.

But Obama doesn’t have either sort of diplomatic credibility. He emphasizes his understanding of other countries, which isn’t altogether bad (though his constant apologies for America’s past are). But there has to be at least the threat of force behind Obama’s understanding exterior. And there isn’t.

Iran, if left unchecked, will probably get a nuclear weapon this year. North Korea already (probably) has one, and it is possible (though not, right now, very probable) that it could invade South Korea, or at least very convincingly threaten to do so.

Obama will have to handle those situations somehow, and the threat of force will have to be involved. Obama will have to make such a threat believable. If he can do so while talking to our enemies, well and good—but he will have to do so some way.

One of Obama’s central campaign promises, especially at the beginning of his campaign, was his pledge to quickly wind down the Iraq War.

As the campaign went on, though, Bush finally got his act together and transformed Iraq from a total hellhole to a state approaching order. This took Iraq off the front pages, and unfortunately everyone pretty much forgot about it.

Now, Obama’s plan for Iraq is pretty much identical to Bush’s—have troops start leaving around 2010, and essentially keep a permanent presence there.

Given the Iran situation, having 120,000 troops stationed right next door might not be a bad idea. On the other hand, we are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars over there, and American soldiers are still being killed, and Iraq is on a somewhat stable footing, which means it might be a good idea to speed the withdrawal up just a tad.

And the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, though most Americans took that war off their radar screens years ago.

Iran and North Korea are dangerous threats, and there are other, less obvious dangers out there as well. Yet very few Americans seem very worried. That is reminiscent of another time in the recent past in which few Americans worried overmuch about foreign policy. As a result of that attitude, 3,000 Americans died. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself—but I’m afraid it will.


At May 30, 2009 at 10:26 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Indeed, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, I am just suprised American's short term memory is failing.

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