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Does It Take Two To Engage?

Michael Hirsh (defying the odds by writing something other than the sort of fawning tribute to Obama which has become the mainstay of the new Newsweek) reviews North Korea’s behavior of late and writes:

As much as he might like to, it doesn’t look as if the president has anyone to engage with, even in North Korea’s traditional language of blackmail.

The puzzle in Pyongyang is bad enough for Obama, but it’s just one part of a larger problem now facing Washington.

On a number of perilous fronts—Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Mideast—this most diplomatically oriented of American presidents, who came into office four months ago eager for “engagement,” has few responsible or dependable parties with whom he can negotiate. As a result, despite Obama’s best intentions, each of these foreign-policy problems is likely to grow much worse—possibly disastrously worse—before it gets any better.

Hmm. That sounds problematic. What’s more, it suggests that Obama is in his own make-believe world in which dialogue, “respect,” and smart diplomacy are met with goodwill, reciprocal gestures and acts of loving kindness. It suggests that the president has constructed an approach to foreign policy that is divorced from reality. Well, what to do about this? Hirsh explains:

The result of all this one-sided talking is likely to be stasis, drift and a certain amount of incoherence, as spokesman Kelly demonstrated this week. Repeatedly questioned about U.S. policy toward North Korea, Kelly said the Obama administration still believed a “multilateral approach” in the form of six-party talks was the best way forward—even though his boss, Clinton, recently told Congress that she thought the likelihood of Pyongyang returning to those talks was “implausible, if not impossible.”

Perhaps we should just talk among ourselves.

Perhaps we should try something else. Maybe stop needlessly hammering Israel to prevent its citizens from building add-ons to their homes in the West Bank in search of some nonexistent “peace process.” Maybe it’s time to reverse decisions to curtail missile defense programs. In other words, respond to the world as we are experiencing it rather than pursuing a fruitless policy of talk, talk, talk with people who don’t want to listen. We were told this president was going to be “pragmatic” and not be driven by “ideology,” but the question remains whether he persists, despite all evidence to the contrary, on an entirely ideological and a-factual policy which is allowing dangerous problems to fester. Is it too much to hope for a change?


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