Commentary Magazine


Topic: Czech Republic

Flunking Foreign Policy 101

A Los Angeles Times news article notes that Obama’s blowup with Israel followed rebuffs in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil — and that the harsh treatment of Netanyahu was intended to send a broader message:

Arab diplomats say the United States has also not been seen as forceful in dealings with Lebanon, which has seen an increase in Syrian influence, or with Iran. The United States and Western allies have been pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear program, but they continue struggling to impose tough international sanctions. …

President Obama made little progress with the Chinese during his visit to Beijing in November. When Obama visited Saudi Arabia in June to raise money for the Palestinians, he was given a polite but firm no.

When Clinton visited Brazil this month to try to win support for tough new sanctions on Iran, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced in a public appearance with her that his country simply would not go along.

One senior U.S. official acknowledged that the tough U.S. position is not just about Israel and the settlements issue, but about “sending a message more broadly about what we’re willing to put up with. … This couldn’t continue.” [emphasis added]

Here’s a thought experiment, a kind of one-question foreign-policy exam: Assume you’re a superpower worried about not being seen as forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Which of the following strategies might change that impression?

(a) Become more forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil; or

(b) Land hard on Israel — to show Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil how forceful you can be.

Obama chose “b.”

Lee Smith’s perceptive article describes one of the strategic consequences of that choice: he notes that the Obama administration has “all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program” and is moving toward a policy of “containment and deterrence” — and that such a policy will be undermined by Obama’s decision to land hard on Israel:

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we’ve just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

Substitute “ally” for “pit bull” in Smith’s last sentence and you have a pretty good summary of Obama’s foreign policy over the past year: if you were an ally, you were snubbed (the UK and Germany); your aid was cut off and your visas revoked (Honduras); your strategic defense was traded for magic reset beans (Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic); your free-trade agreement was withheld (Colombia); and your long-standing understandings and written commitments became “unenforceable” (Israel).

If you were an adversary (Iran, Syria, North Korea), you got an outstretched hand — with no deadline for shaking it and no serious consequences if you didn’t. It was only if you were an ally that you had to worry about Obama’s being forceful.

A Los Angeles Times news article notes that Obama’s blowup with Israel followed rebuffs in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil — and that the harsh treatment of Netanyahu was intended to send a broader message:

Arab diplomats say the United States has also not been seen as forceful in dealings with Lebanon, which has seen an increase in Syrian influence, or with Iran. The United States and Western allies have been pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear program, but they continue struggling to impose tough international sanctions. …

President Obama made little progress with the Chinese during his visit to Beijing in November. When Obama visited Saudi Arabia in June to raise money for the Palestinians, he was given a polite but firm no.

When Clinton visited Brazil this month to try to win support for tough new sanctions on Iran, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced in a public appearance with her that his country simply would not go along.

One senior U.S. official acknowledged that the tough U.S. position is not just about Israel and the settlements issue, but about “sending a message more broadly about what we’re willing to put up with. … This couldn’t continue.” [emphasis added]

Here’s a thought experiment, a kind of one-question foreign-policy exam: Assume you’re a superpower worried about not being seen as forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. Which of the following strategies might change that impression?

(a) Become more forceful in dealing with Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil; or

(b) Land hard on Israel — to show Lebanon, Syria, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil how forceful you can be.

Obama chose “b.”

Lee Smith’s perceptive article describes one of the strategic consequences of that choice: he notes that the Obama administration has “all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program” and is moving toward a policy of “containment and deterrence” — and that such a policy will be undermined by Obama’s decision to land hard on Israel:

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we’ve just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

Substitute “ally” for “pit bull” in Smith’s last sentence and you have a pretty good summary of Obama’s foreign policy over the past year: if you were an ally, you were snubbed (the UK and Germany); your aid was cut off and your visas revoked (Honduras); your strategic defense was traded for magic reset beans (Poland, Georgia, and the Czech Republic); your free-trade agreement was withheld (Colombia); and your long-standing understandings and written commitments became “unenforceable” (Israel).

If you were an adversary (Iran, Syria, North Korea), you got an outstretched hand — with no deadline for shaking it and no serious consequences if you didn’t. It was only if you were an ally that you had to worry about Obama’s being forceful.

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Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

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RE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

The Obama administration’s dramatic escalation of tensions with Israel, in the aftermath of Israel’s decision to begin new housing in East Jerusalem, is both puzzling and disturbing. John provides excellent background and analysis of the unfolding events here.

I would add to what he wrote by saying that this may be the latest manifestation of something we have seen before: the president’s tendency to treat our allies (such as Israel, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia) in a manner that strains relations while treating our adversaries (such as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China) in a way that that radiates irresolution.

Compare the Obama administration’s heated response to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East and one of our best friends in the world, with how Obama has treated Iran, a repressive regime that has a burning hatred for America (and Israel), actively supports terrorism, is trying to destabilize Iraq, is in breach of international laws, and is accelerating it nuclear enrichment program in order to build a nuclear weapon.

One would think it would be obvious where our loyalties should lie. Yet the Obama administration uses its most provocative and incendiary language against Israel. The U.S. “condemned” the announcement of the construction of new housing that is still years away. As Elliott Abrams put it, “The verb  ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism — not acts of housing.” Things have now traversed from rhetorical blasts to symbolic acts against the Jewish state, with the administration postponing Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s trip to the region. This step, in the words of the Associated Press, “appeared… to deepen one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory.”

Toward Iran, on the other hand, Obama and his administration seem deferential, cautious, and hesitant, parsing every word in order not to offend — so much so that Obama was reluctant to speak out against the brutal crackdown we saw there in the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 elections. He clearly wanted to maintain a dialogue with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship even at the expense of expressing solidarity with the freedom movement there.

It is as if Obama viewed Israel as a punching bag and Iran as a delicate porcelain doll.

What motivates such conduct is hard to determine. It is probably of a piece with Obama’s worldwide American apology tour, where he engaged in serial apologies for America for wrongs past and present, large and small, real and fictional. President Obama has repeatedly gone out of his way to disparage the nation he was elected to lead in the hopes of improving America’s image abroad. His effort has been an utter failure. Increasingly we are seen as a superpower that can be pushed around.

We saw in the Carter administration this pattern of undermining our allies and placating our adversaries. It didn’t work then; and it won’t work now.

The Obama administration’s dramatic escalation of tensions with Israel, in the aftermath of Israel’s decision to begin new housing in East Jerusalem, is both puzzling and disturbing. John provides excellent background and analysis of the unfolding events here.

I would add to what he wrote by saying that this may be the latest manifestation of something we have seen before: the president’s tendency to treat our allies (such as Israel, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Colombia) in a manner that strains relations while treating our adversaries (such as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China) in a way that that radiates irresolution.

Compare the Obama administration’s heated response to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East and one of our best friends in the world, with how Obama has treated Iran, a repressive regime that has a burning hatred for America (and Israel), actively supports terrorism, is trying to destabilize Iraq, is in breach of international laws, and is accelerating it nuclear enrichment program in order to build a nuclear weapon.

One would think it would be obvious where our loyalties should lie. Yet the Obama administration uses its most provocative and incendiary language against Israel. The U.S. “condemned” the announcement of the construction of new housing that is still years away. As Elliott Abrams put it, “The verb  ‘condemn’ is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism — not acts of housing.” Things have now traversed from rhetorical blasts to symbolic acts against the Jewish state, with the administration postponing Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s trip to the region. This step, in the words of the Associated Press, “appeared… to deepen one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory.”

Toward Iran, on the other hand, Obama and his administration seem deferential, cautious, and hesitant, parsing every word in order not to offend — so much so that Obama was reluctant to speak out against the brutal crackdown we saw there in the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12 elections. He clearly wanted to maintain a dialogue with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship even at the expense of expressing solidarity with the freedom movement there.

It is as if Obama viewed Israel as a punching bag and Iran as a delicate porcelain doll.

What motivates such conduct is hard to determine. It is probably of a piece with Obama’s worldwide American apology tour, where he engaged in serial apologies for America for wrongs past and present, large and small, real and fictional. President Obama has repeatedly gone out of his way to disparage the nation he was elected to lead in the hopes of improving America’s image abroad. His effort has been an utter failure. Increasingly we are seen as a superpower that can be pushed around.

We saw in the Carter administration this pattern of undermining our allies and placating our adversaries. It didn’t work then; and it won’t work now.

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More Criticism

As Noah and I have pointed out, the administration’s peevishness is unprecedented. It is also proving to be alarming to those on both sides of the aisle. A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner had this reaction: “The tone and substance we are seeing emerge as a pattern for this Administration are both disappointing and of great concern. Israel has been and remains a close friend and ally, and we need to focus our efforts and energy on the issues of mutual concern for both countries, most especially Iran.” Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has weighed in as well with a written statement, declaring:

I am deeply concerned over the comments of the last two days by the Vice President and the Secretary of State. They assert that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the special 60-year bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel have been jeopardized by this week’s announcement that Israel plans to build housing units in East Jerusalem.

The Administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction. No doubt the administration’s overwrought rhetoric is designed to try to appease Palestinian politicians and convince them the U.S. is an honest broker in the peace process by seizing every available opportunity to criticize the actions of our ally Israel.

That strategy also includes ignoring the myriad provocations by Palestinian leaders that make pursuing peace such a long and arduous process. Where, I ask, was the Administration’s outrage over the arrest and month-long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms-smuggling into Gaza? Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.  Yet once again, no concern was lodged by the Administration. And, all the while, Hamas restocks its terror arsenal and fires rockets into Israel.

I advocate an even-handed, not a one-sided, U.S. policy as we do the difficult work of establishing peace, and eventually, a Palestinian state. These are critical goals for our nation and for the future of the Middle East. We owe the process nothing less than fairness, candor, and intellectual honesty, not a policy of constant appeasement and reinforcement of the Palestinians’ failings as legitimate partners in the peace process.

I strongly believe that despite this week’s flap over Israel’s announcement regarding housing construction, the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong and our partnership in pursuit of peace remains undiminished. I call on the White House to rethink its counterproductive rhetoric and to affirm that the U.S. and Israel remain united in pursuing a fair, equitable, and honest peace process with the Palestinian powers that be.

The administration is not only fraying the relationship between the U.S. and Israel but also isolating itself from the broad bipartisan coalition in favor of a warm and respectful U.S.-Israeli relationship. It is, as Berkley explains, breathtaking that an administration that can rarely muster condemnation for the most brutal regimes has lashed out — repeatedly now — against its sole democratic ally in the region. That simply isn’t going to sit well with a Congress and American public that is broadly pro-Israel.

Whether Noah is correct — that this is a convoluted gambit to paralyze an Israeli strike on Iran — or this is simply the administration revealing its true predilections (antagonistic toward Israel, sycophantic toward the “Muslim World”) is nearly unfathomable. But as with so much else, the results rather than the motives matter most.

And let’s not kid ourselves: the rest of the world is watching, just as other nations looked on as we shoved the Hondurans under the bus when confronted with a lackey of Hugo Chavez, and just as we did to the Czech Republic and Poland in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the Russian bear. This administration has an unseemly habit of trashing our allies so as to prevent conflicts with our foes. In the end, we will be low on allies and our foes will be emboldened. As for our standing in the world, I suggest it’s about to reach Jimmy Carter–like depths. That’s what happens when friends come to regard the American president as untrustworthy and motivated by personal pique. (So much for the president with the “superior temperament.”) Let’s see if the administration can undo the mess it has made. It won’t be easy.

As Noah and I have pointed out, the administration’s peevishness is unprecedented. It is also proving to be alarming to those on both sides of the aisle. A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner had this reaction: “The tone and substance we are seeing emerge as a pattern for this Administration are both disappointing and of great concern. Israel has been and remains a close friend and ally, and we need to focus our efforts and energy on the issues of mutual concern for both countries, most especially Iran.” Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has weighed in as well with a written statement, declaring:

I am deeply concerned over the comments of the last two days by the Vice President and the Secretary of State. They assert that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the special 60-year bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel have been jeopardized by this week’s announcement that Israel plans to build housing units in East Jerusalem.

The Administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction. No doubt the administration’s overwrought rhetoric is designed to try to appease Palestinian politicians and convince them the U.S. is an honest broker in the peace process by seizing every available opportunity to criticize the actions of our ally Israel.

That strategy also includes ignoring the myriad provocations by Palestinian leaders that make pursuing peace such a long and arduous process. Where, I ask, was the Administration’s outrage over the arrest and month-long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms-smuggling into Gaza? Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.  Yet once again, no concern was lodged by the Administration. And, all the while, Hamas restocks its terror arsenal and fires rockets into Israel.

I advocate an even-handed, not a one-sided, U.S. policy as we do the difficult work of establishing peace, and eventually, a Palestinian state. These are critical goals for our nation and for the future of the Middle East. We owe the process nothing less than fairness, candor, and intellectual honesty, not a policy of constant appeasement and reinforcement of the Palestinians’ failings as legitimate partners in the peace process.

I strongly believe that despite this week’s flap over Israel’s announcement regarding housing construction, the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong and our partnership in pursuit of peace remains undiminished. I call on the White House to rethink its counterproductive rhetoric and to affirm that the U.S. and Israel remain united in pursuing a fair, equitable, and honest peace process with the Palestinian powers that be.

The administration is not only fraying the relationship between the U.S. and Israel but also isolating itself from the broad bipartisan coalition in favor of a warm and respectful U.S.-Israeli relationship. It is, as Berkley explains, breathtaking that an administration that can rarely muster condemnation for the most brutal regimes has lashed out — repeatedly now — against its sole democratic ally in the region. That simply isn’t going to sit well with a Congress and American public that is broadly pro-Israel.

Whether Noah is correct — that this is a convoluted gambit to paralyze an Israeli strike on Iran — or this is simply the administration revealing its true predilections (antagonistic toward Israel, sycophantic toward the “Muslim World”) is nearly unfathomable. But as with so much else, the results rather than the motives matter most.

And let’s not kid ourselves: the rest of the world is watching, just as other nations looked on as we shoved the Hondurans under the bus when confronted with a lackey of Hugo Chavez, and just as we did to the Czech Republic and Poland in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the Russian bear. This administration has an unseemly habit of trashing our allies so as to prevent conflicts with our foes. In the end, we will be low on allies and our foes will be emboldened. As for our standing in the world, I suggest it’s about to reach Jimmy Carter–like depths. That’s what happens when friends come to regard the American president as untrustworthy and motivated by personal pique. (So much for the president with the “superior temperament.”) Let’s see if the administration can undo the mess it has made. It won’t be easy.

Read Less

The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

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. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

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. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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How’s That Diplomacy Working, Mr. President?

Today wasn’t a good day for the Obama administration’s plan to isolate Iran by appeasing that rogue regime’s two main protectors: Russia and China.

China once again demonstrated that it was not even entertaining the notion of supporting sanctions against Iran when its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he opposed any talk of pressure on Tehran since it would block chances of a diplomatic settlement of the impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The Iranians have made it clear over and over again that there is no possibility of such a settlement. Which means that the Chinese are merely backing Iran’s strategy of stalling Western diplomats until their nuclear capability is a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Iran has received more assurances from Russia that it still intends to deliver long-range air-defense missiles to Tehran. Both the United States and Israel — the likely first target of any Iranian nuclear device — have expended considerable energy on trying to stop the Russians from augmenting Iran’s air-defense system. This is a particularly irresponsible move on Russia’s part. The more secure Iran feels about its ability to defend itself against potential U.S. or Israeli attacks aimed at either forestalling or destroying its nuclear project, the more dangerous it becomes.

Taken together, these two developments illustrate the fact that Obama has wasted a full year pursuing a diplomatic-engagement scheme that never had a chance of success. The idea that you could win Moscow’s heart by betraying the Czech Republic and Poland (over missile defense) or woo China by demonstrating weakness on human rights and trade issues only convinced those countries that Obama’s main characteristic as a leader was neither charisma nor eloquence but rather weakness. The notion that Obama, whose stock is falling not only in the United States but also abroad, can rally either the United Nations (where China and Russia can veto sanctions) or Europe to take serious action on Iran is a White House fantasy.

There is a cottage industry of apologists both for Iran and for the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Tehran, whose main line of argument is that Iranian nukes are no big deal and that both the West and Israel will have to learn to live with them. That fits in nicely with a White House mindset that prefers to obsess over the administration’s faltering domestic agenda rather than deal with a perilous threat to international peace. But the longer Obama waits before attempting to do something about Iran, the more serious the consequences will be. The clock is ticking toward the day when a triumphant Iran will be able to announce that its nuclear dreams have become a reality. As much as this administration’s fate seems to be riding on the economy and failed projects like its hopes for a government takeover of health care, Iran, the issue they prefer would go away, may turn out to be the greatest danger to Obama’s legacy.

Today wasn’t a good day for the Obama administration’s plan to isolate Iran by appeasing that rogue regime’s two main protectors: Russia and China.

China once again demonstrated that it was not even entertaining the notion of supporting sanctions against Iran when its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he opposed any talk of pressure on Tehran since it would block chances of a diplomatic settlement of the impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The Iranians have made it clear over and over again that there is no possibility of such a settlement. Which means that the Chinese are merely backing Iran’s strategy of stalling Western diplomats until their nuclear capability is a fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Iran has received more assurances from Russia that it still intends to deliver long-range air-defense missiles to Tehran. Both the United States and Israel — the likely first target of any Iranian nuclear device — have expended considerable energy on trying to stop the Russians from augmenting Iran’s air-defense system. This is a particularly irresponsible move on Russia’s part. The more secure Iran feels about its ability to defend itself against potential U.S. or Israeli attacks aimed at either forestalling or destroying its nuclear project, the more dangerous it becomes.

Taken together, these two developments illustrate the fact that Obama has wasted a full year pursuing a diplomatic-engagement scheme that never had a chance of success. The idea that you could win Moscow’s heart by betraying the Czech Republic and Poland (over missile defense) or woo China by demonstrating weakness on human rights and trade issues only convinced those countries that Obama’s main characteristic as a leader was neither charisma nor eloquence but rather weakness. The notion that Obama, whose stock is falling not only in the United States but also abroad, can rally either the United Nations (where China and Russia can veto sanctions) or Europe to take serious action on Iran is a White House fantasy.

There is a cottage industry of apologists both for Iran and for the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Tehran, whose main line of argument is that Iranian nukes are no big deal and that both the West and Israel will have to learn to live with them. That fits in nicely with a White House mindset that prefers to obsess over the administration’s faltering domestic agenda rather than deal with a perilous threat to international peace. But the longer Obama waits before attempting to do something about Iran, the more serious the consequences will be. The clock is ticking toward the day when a triumphant Iran will be able to announce that its nuclear dreams have become a reality. As much as this administration’s fate seems to be riding on the economy and failed projects like its hopes for a government takeover of health care, Iran, the issue they prefer would go away, may turn out to be the greatest danger to Obama’s legacy.

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Waiting for the Realists

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

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Time for Change

If you think we’ve been tough on Obama around here, take a look at Mort Zuckerman’s blast at Obama in his piece entitled “He’s Done Everything Wrong”:

He’s misjudged the character of the country in his whole approach. There’s the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He didn’t get it. He was determined somehow or other to adopt a whole new agenda. He didn’t address the main issue.

This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage. This is going to raise costs dramatically.

In the campaign, he said he would change politics as usual. He did change them. It’s now worse than it was. I’ve now seen the kind of buying off of politicians that I’ve never seen before. It’s politically corrupt and it’s starting at the top. It’s revolting.

The corruption he is referring to is the Cash for Cloture deals, of course. (“Five states got deals on health care—one of them was Harry Reid’s. It is disgusting, just disgusting.”) He doesn’t like the union deal on Cadillac health plans either. Then there’s Obama’s inability to connect with voters — a combination of overexposure and remoteness. (Hard to pull off, I know.) Okay, he’s didn’t do everything wrong — just the “major things.” Read More

If you think we’ve been tough on Obama around here, take a look at Mort Zuckerman’s blast at Obama in his piece entitled “He’s Done Everything Wrong”:

He’s misjudged the character of the country in his whole approach. There’s the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He didn’t get it. He was determined somehow or other to adopt a whole new agenda. He didn’t address the main issue.

This health-care plan is going to be a fiscal disaster for the country. Most of the country wanted to deal with costs, not expansion of coverage. This is going to raise costs dramatically.

In the campaign, he said he would change politics as usual. He did change them. It’s now worse than it was. I’ve now seen the kind of buying off of politicians that I’ve never seen before. It’s politically corrupt and it’s starting at the top. It’s revolting.

The corruption he is referring to is the Cash for Cloture deals, of course. (“Five states got deals on health care—one of them was Harry Reid’s. It is disgusting, just disgusting.”) He doesn’t like the union deal on Cadillac health plans either. Then there’s Obama’s inability to connect with voters — a combination of overexposure and remoteness. (Hard to pull off, I know.) Okay, he’s didn’t do everything wrong — just the “major things.”

Zuckerman doesn’t bother detailing the long list of foreign-policy screwups — the failed Middle East gambit, dumping on our allies in the Czech Republic and Poland, frittering away a year on “engaging” Iran, the appallingly disengaged reaction to three domestic Islamic jihadist attacks, etc. Zuckerman gives Obama credit for “improving our image” in the world, but then explains:

Let me tell you what a major leader said to me recently. “We are convinced,” he said, “that he is not strong enough to confront his enemy. We are concerned,” he said “that he is not strong to support his friends.”

And Zuckerman warns that, at this rate, Obama will be a one-term president and “succeed” only in reviving the GOP.

Aside from the helpful catalog of Obama’s blunders, Zuckerman captures the amazement and disappointment that much of the chattering class must be experiencing. Their political messiah has been revealed as not only human but as a rather incompetent and foolish one. The political superstar has become a Jimmy Carter-esque figure from whom members of his party will now have to distance themselves to survive.

Conservatives shake their heads in disbelief that the media mavens are shocked, shocked to find that Obama is less than meets the eye. They snicker that only now is there some recognition that Obama was adept at winning but lacks both a reasonable governing philosophy and the executive skills to excel in the job. Conservatives spent an entire election trying to point out Obama’s lack of experience and his leftist bent. They warned and researched and sounded the alarm. But the media spinners, like so many Americans, wanted to believe that Obama was a politician like no other and that they had latched onto a superhuman figure of extraordinary political skill. They were wrong.

So what happens now? The choice, we hear, is between doubling-down or reversing course. But there are also the competency and connectivity issues. How does Obama suddenly learn to govern and take back the reins from the Reid-Pelosi machine? (And really, what’s the point if he hands it to the Emanuel-Axelrod machine?) And then how does he transform his personality? It’s quite an uphill climb, and it’s tempting to write him off and to declare game, set, and match. But other presidents have come back and revived their presidencies; this one just has a deeper hole (dug more swiftly) out of which to climb.

It starts, however, with the humility to realize that this is not the Republicans’ fault, or Chris Christie’s or Bob McDonnell’s or Martha Coakley’s doing. It’s not even attributable to those Tea Party protesters (they’re the effect, not the cause, of the president’s political troubles). The fault is Obama’s. Whether he publicly confesses that fact or not, he’ll have to act like it is.

Ironically, all that mumbo-jumbo about “change” finally has some concrete meaning. Little did Obama imagine that to rescue his presidency, he’d have to change himself, not the country.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

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Smart Diplomacy — Watch Out!

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

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Obama’s Iran Deadline Gets Thrown Down the Memory Hole

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

For those optimists who still think the magic of Barack Obama’s diplomacy will create an international coalition that will force Iran to come to its senses and cease its development of nuclear weapons, January 1st was supposed to be an important date. The new year was the deadline for Iran to respond to a year’s worth of diplomatic overtures and begin backing down from the nuclear ledge onto which the Islamist regime had crawled.

Of course, the start of 2010 was not the first deadline Obama had given the Iranians. Back in July, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates promised the Israelis that the United States had given Iran until the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September to respond to American overtures, a sentiment that was echoed by the G-8 countries that month. That deadline came and went without Iranian action. But it was followed by statements from President Obama, according to which he was now giving Tehran until the end of December to begin serious nuclear talks or face the threat of crippling sanctions to be imposed by a broad international coalition, including the governments of Russia and China. Thus, the turn of the calendar page would, Obama apologists told us, mark a turning point that would demonstrate that the administration really understood the dangers a nuclear Iran would pose to the West and to Israel.

But a full week has gone by since they dropped the ball in Times Square and nothing has  happened that ought to give the mullahs in Tehran any reason to worry. In fact, the first few days of January have brought some good news to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and great discouragement to those who rightly worry about the threat their rogue regime represents.

First, the administration’s  hope that China would supply the diplomatic leverage for tough sanctions on Iran in 2010 was dealt another body blow. On Jan. 5, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Beijing’s UN ambassador, plainly stated his nation’s lack of interest in such sanctions. After Obama’s disastrous trip to China in November, the administration had bragged that China’s support for sanctions was in the bag. It was clear then that they were lying but the latest Chinese pronouncement on the issue removes any doubt about the failure of Obama’s overtures. Thus, the president’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Llama and the downgrading of American support for the cause of human rights in China and Tibet achieved nothing much, just as Obama’s betrayal of America’s missile-defense promises to Poland and the Czech Republic did not persuade Russia to support the U.S. position on Iran. Obama’s appeasement campaign managed to undermine important American interests without doing anything to put more pressure on Iran.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged this failure earlier this week when she admitted that the administration’s efforts to “engage” Iran had not succeeded. As for the deadline her boss had given before sanctions she herself had said would be “crippling,” well, that’s another thing. Much like the administration’s reaction to the war being waged on the West by Islamist terrorists, which consists of a policy of trying to avoid using the word “terror” while never mentioning the connection between such terrorists and Islam, Clinton now appears to want to throw the word “deadline” down the memory hole. “Now, we’ve avoided using the term ‘deadline’ ourselves,” said Secretary Clinton. “That’s not a term that we have used, because we want to keep the door to dialogue open.”

In other words, the Iranians have called Obama’s bluff and discovered, to no one’s particular surprise, that he won’t back up his tough rhetoric with any real action. We are no closer to the sort of tough sanctions that would bring Iran’s economy to its knees and its leaders to heel than we were a year ago before Obama’s international charm and apology offensive began. And there is no reason to believe that either Obama or Clinton have a clue about how to alter this disturbing situation. Their feckless devotion to diplomacy for its own sake has resulted in a stronger position for Iran’s extremist leaders, who must be now congratulating themselves on their ability to defy America with impunity. The clock continues to tick down to the moment when an Iranian bomb becomes a reality and the only thing the Obama administration seems capable of doing in response to this frightening development is to continue to spin their failures and redefine a new era of Western appeasement.

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Our Place In the World

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

Barack Obama rode into office promising to “restore our place in the world.” Many thought this meant that Obama intended to elevate America’s profile, make us more popular and more effective, and soothe the feelings of hurt allies. But “our place in the world,” it has turned out, means a smaller place from which a less confident and assertive America simply “bears witness” as events swirl around us.

In a must-read piece, Fouad Ajami argues persuasively that Obama would rather we do less in the world and turn our attention to his quite radical plans for refashioning America. He writes of the Obama mindset:

We’re weary, the disillusioned liberalism maintains, and we’re broke, and there are those millions of Americans aching for health care and an economic lifeline. We can’t care for both Ohio and the Anbar, Peoria and Peshawar. It is either those embattled people in Iran or a rescue package for Chrysler.

The joke is on the enthralled crowds in Cairo, Ankara, Berlin and Oslo. The new American president they had fallen for had no genuine calling or attachments abroad. In their enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, and their eagerness to proclaim themselves at one with the postracial meaning of his election, they had missed his aloofness from the genuine struggles in the foreign world.

The catch in all this is that America’s retreat and equivocation neither keeps our enemies at bay nor frees the president to focus on the home front. To the contrary, our foes become emboldened and the dangers rage. As Ajami observes: “History and its furies have their logic, and they have not bent to Mr. Obama’s will. He had declared a unilateral end to the ‘war on terror,’ but the jihadists and their mentors are yet to call their war to a halt. From Yemen to Fort Hood and Detroit, the terror continues.” And while Obama is obsessed with half-a-loaf policies (e.g., surge in Afghanistan but with a deadline, sanctions in Iran but just little bitty ones) our adversaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere remain unimpressed, if not emboldened, by what appears to be irresolution, not “nuance,” and hesitancy, not “smart diplomacy.”

So after nearly a year, what has Obama accomplished? The world is no less dangerous, our allies (Britain, Israel, Honduras, Poland, and the Czech Republic, among others) are not cheered, and America has made it clear to human-rights activists and their oppressors that there is little this administration is willing to say (and even less it is willing to do) to advance democracy and freedom. The result? Ajami sums up: “We’re smaller for accepting that false choice between burdens at home and burdens abroad, and the world beyond our shores is more hazardous and cynical for our retrenchment and our self-flagellation.”

Anxious conservatives keep waiting for the “Ah ha!” moment when Obama will recognize the folly of his effort to turn away from the demands of a dangerous world, will instead embrace American exceptionalism, and unabashedly assert American values and interests. Yet he continues to nibble around the edges of an effective foreign policy. He drops the more ludicrous gambits (e.g., backing Hugo Chavez’s flunky in Honduras and demanding a unilateral settlement freeze by Israel) but has yet to match action with revised rhetoric. He continues to do the least possible when the most is required. His idea of America’s place in the world seems not so majestic as some had imagined. And the world, as a result, is more dangerous, and America is less enamored and respected. Alas, it is not at all what was promised.

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China Debunks Obama’s Spin on Iran Diplomacy

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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Could We Have Done Worse?

In the never-ending quest to do not much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Obami, we are told, are “walking a delicate diplomatic path.” On one hand, they are being played, and know it. (“They acknowledge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.”) But then again, they don’t want to upset the — you knew this was coming — “moderate opposition forces inside Iran.” So they stall. Yes, yes, they’ve been stalling for some time now, pretending that the regime would show interest in a grand bargain, downplaying Qom, cooking up the flimsiest of enrichment deals to provide cover for doing not much of anything, protracting the process of being rejected, ignoring news of other possible secret sites (that would fall under the “known unknowns,” in Donald Rumsfeld parlance), and refusing to concede that we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s a lot of work doing nothing for that long.

So what’s next? They’ll get cracking on this next year. Yeah, honestly:

The officials said Mr. Obama remains committed to ratcheting up pressure early next year, and that Washington is cobbling together a coalition of allies to punish Tehran even if Beijing and Moscow balk. The U.S. has also been talking with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about how to utilize oil sales to pressure Tehran. “Our patience is limited. The president has made clear that at the end of the year we’ll be able to decide” if Iran is serious, said Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferation, last week. “April 2010 is too late.”

April 2010 is too late, but November 2009 is too early. And it seems we are already banking on the noncooperation of Moscow, whose cooperation was the rationale for doing nothing this year. (I suppose we were chumps after all for giving up the missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

The result: we will have given Iran yet another year free of outside pressure, enabling it to proceed with its nuclear program. And along the way, we’ve helped bolster the mullahs and defund the democratic opposition. If we had tried to help the regime achieve its aims, we would have been hard pressed to do “better.” And if we were supposed to be defanging the threat of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state and staving off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East, we could hardly have done worse. But maybe next year will be better. Or whenever.

In the never-ending quest to do not much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Obami, we are told, are “walking a delicate diplomatic path.” On one hand, they are being played, and know it. (“They acknowledge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears to be using negotiations to limit U.N. pressure while also working to legitimize his government domestically.”) But then again, they don’t want to upset the — you knew this was coming — “moderate opposition forces inside Iran.” So they stall. Yes, yes, they’ve been stalling for some time now, pretending that the regime would show interest in a grand bargain, downplaying Qom, cooking up the flimsiest of enrichment deals to provide cover for doing not much of anything, protracting the process of being rejected, ignoring news of other possible secret sites (that would fall under the “known unknowns,” in Donald Rumsfeld parlance), and refusing to concede that we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s a lot of work doing nothing for that long.

So what’s next? They’ll get cracking on this next year. Yeah, honestly:

The officials said Mr. Obama remains committed to ratcheting up pressure early next year, and that Washington is cobbling together a coalition of allies to punish Tehran even if Beijing and Moscow balk. The U.S. has also been talking with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about how to utilize oil sales to pressure Tehran. “Our patience is limited. The president has made clear that at the end of the year we’ll be able to decide” if Iran is serious, said Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferation, last week. “April 2010 is too late.”

April 2010 is too late, but November 2009 is too early. And it seems we are already banking on the noncooperation of Moscow, whose cooperation was the rationale for doing nothing this year. (I suppose we were chumps after all for giving up the missile-defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.)

The result: we will have given Iran yet another year free of outside pressure, enabling it to proceed with its nuclear program. And along the way, we’ve helped bolster the mullahs and defund the democratic opposition. If we had tried to help the regime achieve its aims, we would have been hard pressed to do “better.” And if we were supposed to be defanging the threat of a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic state and staving off a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East, we could hardly have done worse. But maybe next year will be better. Or whenever.

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A Debtor’s Strategy?

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

Although the results — or more accurately, the lack of results — from Obama’s China visit suggest the opposite, the $800 billion the U.S. owes to Beijing “had no impact on [Obama’s agenda in China] whatsoever,” claimed Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman.

“The $800 billion never came up in conversation, and the President dealt with every issue on his agenda in a very direct way and pulled no punches,” Froman said at a news conference yesterday in Beijing.

On Nov. 15, the New York Times described Obama as a “profligate spender coming to pay his respects to his banker” and predicted before the trip’s beginning that “Mr. Obama will be spending less time exhorting Beijing and more time reassuring it.” It was a prediction that Froman’s statement contradicts.

And a savvy prediction, indeed, as it turned out. Obama offered vague statements on human rights—admittedly, an improvement on previous silence. Both sides reaffirmed their cooperation on environmental issues, nuclear nonproliferation and security – agreements likely less solid in reality than in rhetoric. Both promised increasing student exchanges. But all these stated commonalities are mild. If anything, the U.S. lost ground, minimizing India as a first-rate Asian power and making concessions on Taiwan, as Foreign Policy’s Daniel Blumenthal noted.

So the question is one of correlation or causation: whether Obama’s conciliatory approach can be blamed on the debt alone, or whether it is instead indicative of a larger China-policy outlook.

True, as Froman said, there was no documented mention of the $800-billion debt on the White House website. (But, given its status as a quite rotund elephant, perhaps it was a topic that should have been broached at least once.)

But if Obama intends to shift U.S.-China policy altogether, expect bigger foreign policy problems soon, a dilemma articulately described by Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post before Obama’s visit.

Previously, the American strategy has been to simultaneously engage and balance China, Kagan and Blumenthal write. But this time, throughout the visit, Obama repeated that “we do not seek to contain China’s rise,” words that must be musical to a country historically accustomed to regional dominance and hegemony.

Blumenthal and Kagan suggest a tension between reality and a policy of strategic reassurance: The U.S. doesn’t want to diminish its Asia presence or power, but China demands parity at bare minimum. “So it will quickly become obvious,” they write, “that no one on either side feels reassured. Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous.” As if Obama’s recent treaty forfeitures in the Czech Republic and Poland were not enough.

Either way, the tone of the visit belied a less confident America—but whether that’s by dollar or decision, we have yet to see.

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Now It Is Clear

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

Bill Kristol observes that Obama’s tenure is proving even worse than many conservatives had expected. (“His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial.”) He asks what the “loyal opposition” should do:

Oppose Obama’s destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama’s ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama’s policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.

In other words, be the movement of “no.” We had an interesting but highly unproductive argument at the end of the 2008 within conservative ranks. Throw out social conservatives! No, banish squishy liberals! Return to first principles. No, that’ll be the ticket to nowhere — innovate and problem-solve. On it went, based on nothing but the pundits’ own preferences and hunches. It had an air of unreality, for the discussion ignored the context, which, in fairness to those partaking in the debate, had yet to unfold.

Now it has unfolded. We know what Obamaism looks like. On the domestic side, it is liberal statism: higher taxes, mammoth bureaucracies, and a vortex of government regulation that sucks up private enterprise and transforms business decisions into political ones. It comes with an ungracious and sneering contempt for opposition. On the international scene, we have the intersection of incompetence and folly, with a strong element of cynicism. The Obami have deployed aggressive and losing gambits (Honduras and the Middle East), betrayed friends (Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic), snubbed allies (the Churchill bust goes home), thrown ourselves at the feet of adversaries (Russia, Iran), jettisoned human rights and the defense of democracy (Burma, Sudan, Iran), projected angst-ridden indecision (Afghanistan-war formulation), damaged our fighting ability (defense cuts and missile-defense withdrawal), and shown deference to debased institutions (the UN). Most alarmingly, Obama and his attorney general have scarred and scared our intelligence community and placed Lefty pie-in-the-sky moralizing above the safety of Americans (trying KSM, closing Guantanamo, and halting enhanced interrogations).

And so what should conservatives be doing? Well now it’s obvious — oppose, obstruct, warn, and cajole. There aren’t many weapons at conservatives’ disposal, but there are some. And the greatest is to be found in the reservoir of common sense and decency of the America people, who, when stirred, have risen up to oppose pernicious legislation and those whom they mistakenly trusted to behave in a responsible fashion. As Kristol points out, three years is a long time, but the congressional elections are approaching and the argument has begun. And now conservatives know precisely what must be done: as best they are able, slow and stop Obamaism until reinforcements arrive and the voters can render their verdict.

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Obama’s Missile Gap

Is Joseph Cirincione Barack Obama’s “top advisor” on nuclear affairs, as I stated here last week? He has denied it adamantly (scroll down to the comments section of my post), and even though I could not identify any other nuclear experts closer to the candidate, I am happy to take him at his word. It would be better to call him an Obama nuclear advisor rather than his top nuclear advisor.

Whatever his precise status in the campaign, there is no question about his views. Cirincione has backed away from his assertion that the Syrian facility destroyed by Israel last September was not a nuclear reactor. But does he stand by his views on missile defense?

Writing in the Globalist back in October, Cirincione compared the Bush administration’s effort to defend against Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles to “the Israeli settler movement,” saying that both “want to create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for successors to reverse course.”

On the one hand, he argues, spending billions to build radar stations and interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech republic is pouring money down the drain: “All evidence indicates that this U.S. anti-missile system is incapable of intercepting any long-range missiles.”

On the other hand, he argues, we are terrifying the Kremlin through our recklessness. “Russian military planners cannot count” on the fact that the system won’t work.  Indeed “the U.S. bases would have a real, though limited, capability against Russia’s nuclear deterrent force.”

Will it or won’t it work? Or will it only work against Russian missiles and let Iranian ones fly through? I confess to being confused.

Either way, what does Cirincione propose instead? “If the administration had any sense,” he writes, “it would ditch this technologically weak and strategically unnecessary plan — and instead seize the Russian proposal to use the radar at its Azerbaijan base bordering Iran.”

True, “that radar is not as powerful as the American radar” slated for deployment in the Czech republic. But never mind, even if the Russian proposal won’t work, it will work. The Azerbaijan radar would serve to “provide real military capabilities against any future Iranian threat.”

Am I alone thinking that this line of argument is a remarkably brazen attempt to have things both ways?

Memo to Barack Obama: when the time comes this fall to debate John McCain on defense issues, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from another adviser rather than two contradictory ones from Joseph Cirincione.

Is Joseph Cirincione Barack Obama’s “top advisor” on nuclear affairs, as I stated here last week? He has denied it adamantly (scroll down to the comments section of my post), and even though I could not identify any other nuclear experts closer to the candidate, I am happy to take him at his word. It would be better to call him an Obama nuclear advisor rather than his top nuclear advisor.

Whatever his precise status in the campaign, there is no question about his views. Cirincione has backed away from his assertion that the Syrian facility destroyed by Israel last September was not a nuclear reactor. But does he stand by his views on missile defense?

Writing in the Globalist back in October, Cirincione compared the Bush administration’s effort to defend against Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles to “the Israeli settler movement,” saying that both “want to create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for successors to reverse course.”

On the one hand, he argues, spending billions to build radar stations and interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech republic is pouring money down the drain: “All evidence indicates that this U.S. anti-missile system is incapable of intercepting any long-range missiles.”

On the other hand, he argues, we are terrifying the Kremlin through our recklessness. “Russian military planners cannot count” on the fact that the system won’t work.  Indeed “the U.S. bases would have a real, though limited, capability against Russia’s nuclear deterrent force.”

Will it or won’t it work? Or will it only work against Russian missiles and let Iranian ones fly through? I confess to being confused.

Either way, what does Cirincione propose instead? “If the administration had any sense,” he writes, “it would ditch this technologically weak and strategically unnecessary plan — and instead seize the Russian proposal to use the radar at its Azerbaijan base bordering Iran.”

True, “that radar is not as powerful as the American radar” slated for deployment in the Czech republic. But never mind, even if the Russian proposal won’t work, it will work. The Azerbaijan radar would serve to “provide real military capabilities against any future Iranian threat.”

Am I alone thinking that this line of argument is a remarkably brazen attempt to have things both ways?

Memo to Barack Obama: when the time comes this fall to debate John McCain on defense issues, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from another adviser rather than two contradictory ones from Joseph Cirincione.

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Bush: AWOL on Human Rights?

With three European leaders–Angela Merkel of Germany, Donald Tusk of Poland, and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic–having now announced that they will not attend the Beijing Olympic games to protest China’s treatment of Tibet, Washington’s near total silence is increasingly troubling.

Where, in particular is President Bush? He came out swinging In November of last year, when police shot peacefully protesting monks in Burma, Speaking before the United Nations, he condemned that country’s “19-year reign of fear” while calling for economic sanctions and announcing “an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members.”

The George Bush who briefly broke his silence about Tibet last Friday at a joint White House press conference was by contrast feeble. According to the New York Times it was his guest, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who laid out the case squarely, calling human rights abuses in Tibet “clear-cut,” adding “We need to be upfront and absolutely straight about what is going on.” Bush said only “[T]hat it [was] in his country’s interest that he sit down, again with representatives of the Dalai Lama–not him, but his representatives.”

Those last five words should be noted. Even as Lhasa burns and reports of atrocities continue to find their way out, the administration still is not urging direct talks with the Dalai Lama himself (as the Europeans and others have done), but rather only with “his representatives.” This careful official evasion manifests a United States unwillingness to contradict directly Beijing’s insistent denunciation of the Tibetan leader. (Most recently official Chinese media reported, contrary to fact, that it was the Dalai Lama who was blocking talks.)

This week Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will be heading for Beijing, to talk economics. But be reassured: he will mention Tibet: “All senior U.S. officials do raise our concerns with respect to Tibet and this trip will be no different,” he said. Paulson’s understatement, and the President’s avoidance of the issue, are products of the administration’s initial assumption that, after a quick and decisive Chinese crackdown, the March unrest in Tibet would prove no more than a bump on the road to the triumphant Beijing Olympics in August. American interest was therefore to stick with China’s government, even if doing so involved some substantial trimming of American values.

That approach is untenable now, as unrest spreads and world indignation grows. How to respond to Chinese oppression of Tibet has become a defining issue. Angela Merkel and her counterparts have firmly taken the lead in doing the right thing. The new question is, when and how will the putative “leader of the free world” follow?

With three European leaders–Angela Merkel of Germany, Donald Tusk of Poland, and Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic–having now announced that they will not attend the Beijing Olympic games to protest China’s treatment of Tibet, Washington’s near total silence is increasingly troubling.

Where, in particular is President Bush? He came out swinging In November of last year, when police shot peacefully protesting monks in Burma, Speaking before the United Nations, he condemned that country’s “19-year reign of fear” while calling for economic sanctions and announcing “an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members.”

The George Bush who briefly broke his silence about Tibet last Friday at a joint White House press conference was by contrast feeble. According to the New York Times it was his guest, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who laid out the case squarely, calling human rights abuses in Tibet “clear-cut,” adding “We need to be upfront and absolutely straight about what is going on.” Bush said only “[T]hat it [was] in his country’s interest that he sit down, again with representatives of the Dalai Lama–not him, but his representatives.”

Those last five words should be noted. Even as Lhasa burns and reports of atrocities continue to find their way out, the administration still is not urging direct talks with the Dalai Lama himself (as the Europeans and others have done), but rather only with “his representatives.” This careful official evasion manifests a United States unwillingness to contradict directly Beijing’s insistent denunciation of the Tibetan leader. (Most recently official Chinese media reported, contrary to fact, that it was the Dalai Lama who was blocking talks.)

This week Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will be heading for Beijing, to talk economics. But be reassured: he will mention Tibet: “All senior U.S. officials do raise our concerns with respect to Tibet and this trip will be no different,” he said. Paulson’s understatement, and the President’s avoidance of the issue, are products of the administration’s initial assumption that, after a quick and decisive Chinese crackdown, the March unrest in Tibet would prove no more than a bump on the road to the triumphant Beijing Olympics in August. American interest was therefore to stick with China’s government, even if doing so involved some substantial trimming of American values.

That approach is untenable now, as unrest spreads and world indignation grows. How to respond to Chinese oppression of Tibet has become a defining issue. Angela Merkel and her counterparts have firmly taken the lead in doing the right thing. The new question is, when and how will the putative “leader of the free world” follow?

Read Less




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