Commentary Magazine


Topic: Honduras

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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The Blame Israel Firsters

Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, and five other “peace” organizations sent a joint letter to President Obama today – to “echo” the McDermott-Ellison letter sent last week by 54 Democrats to the president, blaming Israel for holding Gaza “hostage”:

We are aware that the [sic] Israel links its closure to a cease-fire and release of Gilad Shalit, which Egypt has been pursuing with Hamas. Nevertheless, we urge that, while supporting these efforts, the U.S. should oppose holding Gazans’ right to food, shelter, healthcare, education, and travel hostage to these issues.

Hamas currently rules over Gaza as a result of a military coup; it prefers to hold Gilad Shalit and continue its war against Israel rather than see the closure of Gaza lifted; it has sacrificed the Gazans’ right to food, shelter, health care, education, and travel to its own genocidal goals; it cannot make peace even with the Palestinian Authority, much less with Israel; it caused a war from the relentless firing of rockets year after year into Israel, after Israel removed every settler and soldier; no nation – and certainly not one under existential threat – can reasonably be expected to open its borders to a declared enemy, particularly one currently arming itself for another war. And these seven organizations blame the situation on . . . Israel.

The Obama administration is a firm opponent of military coups (even when they take the form of the “coup” in Honduras), so we can presume the administration will not adopt the suggestion of these organizations to blame Israel for the situation Hamas has caused, or pressure Israel to jeopardize its self-defense. The letter is a useful reminder, however, that even if an organization advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” it is not necessarily either one.

Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, and five other “peace” organizations sent a joint letter to President Obama today – to “echo” the McDermott-Ellison letter sent last week by 54 Democrats to the president, blaming Israel for holding Gaza “hostage”:

We are aware that the [sic] Israel links its closure to a cease-fire and release of Gilad Shalit, which Egypt has been pursuing with Hamas. Nevertheless, we urge that, while supporting these efforts, the U.S. should oppose holding Gazans’ right to food, shelter, healthcare, education, and travel hostage to these issues.

Hamas currently rules over Gaza as a result of a military coup; it prefers to hold Gilad Shalit and continue its war against Israel rather than see the closure of Gaza lifted; it has sacrificed the Gazans’ right to food, shelter, health care, education, and travel to its own genocidal goals; it cannot make peace even with the Palestinian Authority, much less with Israel; it caused a war from the relentless firing of rockets year after year into Israel, after Israel removed every settler and soldier; no nation – and certainly not one under existential threat – can reasonably be expected to open its borders to a declared enemy, particularly one currently arming itself for another war. And these seven organizations blame the situation on . . . Israel.

The Obama administration is a firm opponent of military coups (even when they take the form of the “coup” in Honduras), so we can presume the administration will not adopt the suggestion of these organizations to blame Israel for the situation Hamas has caused, or pressure Israel to jeopardize its self-defense. The letter is a useful reminder, however, that even if an organization advertises itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” it is not necessarily either one.

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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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Hillary Wants Out Too?

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

Obama isn’t the only one musing about a single term. Now Hillary Clinton gets into the act, declaring, “I don’t wanna make any predictions sitting here, I’m honored to serve, I serve at the pleasure of the President, but it’s a, it’s a 24/7 job, and I think at some point, I will be very happy to LAUGHS pass it on to someone else.” Hmm. (She assures us she isn’t, however, interested in running for president.) Is this not everything she hoped it would be? Maybe not anything.

She can claim not a single foreign-policy accomplishment (escaping the corner she painted herself into on Honduras doesn’t count). She was going to restore our standing in the world, but who thinks our relations with Britain, Eastern Europe, and Israel (to name just a few key allies) are better now than during the Bush administration? Seriously, we went from the most robust and productive relationship with Israel of any administration to the worst. We’ve offended and rebuffed the Brits at multiple turns. And we’ve pulled the rug out from under the Poles and the Czechs. Are we being smart diplomats yet?

Meanwhile, we’re in the process of missing a historic opportunity to affect a peaceful, popular revolution in Iran. We’ve given the cold shoulder to human rights advocates. And we’ve accomplished none of the items on the Obama multilateralist to-do list. (Climate-control efforts look eerily similar to the course taken by ObamaCare.) We didn’t even get the Olympics.

Hillary might well want to bug out. It’s nice to go out on a high note after some major achievement. But it might not be a good idea for her to wait that long. While her popularity is still high, she might want to flee. There are lots of Senate and gubernatorial races, after all. But then after a year of Obama, it’s not exactly the time to run if you have a “D” after your name. Poor Hillary. Another male politician has done her wrong.

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Humility Isn’t in the Obami Repertoire

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

Elliott Abrams sums up the mess that is the result of a year of the Obami’s “smart” Mideast policy:

So the Obama administration’s Middle East adventures in 2009 came to a close with Netanyahu, whom the administration has never much liked or treated well, stronger politically; and Abbas, whom the administration wished to strengthen, weaker and talking of retirement. In Arab capitals the failure of the United States to stop Iran’s nuclear program is understood as American weakness in the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, making additional cooperation from Arab leaders on Israeli-Palestinian issues even less likely. A strongly pro-American former Israeli official shook his head as he evaluated the Obama record in 2009: “This is what happens when -arrogance and clumsiness come together.”

While George Mitchell prattles on about a time limit on peace negotiations that have no starting point, no attendees, and no hope of success, Abrams suggests there is another way: forget the “peace process,” the endless churning of diplomats in European capitals with the same impediments to meaningful progress (not the least of which is a viable Palestinian negotiating partner for Israel), and instead create “a Palestinian state from the bottom up, institution by institution, and ending with Israeli withdrawal and negotiation of a state only when Palestinian political life is truly able to sustain self-government, maintain law and order, and prevent terrorism against Israel.” Despite the inescapable logic of the idea and the presence of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is devoted to such an approach, the Obami seem insistent on trotting out Mitchell to rehash what has been tried not for only a year but for a couple decades.

It’s worth asking why the Obama team has yet to see the light, and why Mitchell digs in, ever insistent on spinning a fantasy world in which he imagines that, in just the right setting (what, Vienna instead of Oslo or Annapolis?), and with just the right mumbo-jumbo rhetoric, and with enough sanctimonious condescension about past administrations’ failed efforts, there will be a breakthrough. We have to ask: doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he sounds?

Well, neither Obama nor his minions appear to have much self-awareness, whether about the Middle East or any other aspect of their not-very-smart diplomacy. They pat themselves on the back as they slip the trap they have set for themselves (be it in Honduras in backing, and then abandoning, Manuel Zelaya, or imposing and then dropping the precondition of Israel’s agreement on an absolute settlement freeze), but they never advance past their initial starting point.

One gets the sense that the Obami regard their own earnestness and the number of frequent-flier miles accumulated by Mitchell as ends unto themselves. Look how hard they’re trying! It’s a pattern of self-congratulation not uncommon to the Obama team, which is long on meetings and short on results.

But there’s also something else at play here: if the Obami were to follow Abrams’s advice, where would be the glory in it for them? As Abrams describes it, institution-building by definition is a process undertaken by Palestinians for Palestinians. Abrams quotes Fayyed: “This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly” (emphasis added). Indeed there is nothing much for Mitchell to go on Charlie Rose to crow about. It’s not about them. There is an art and a certain humility required to step back, to allow the Palestinians to earn their own statehood. And humility is something in very short supply in the Obama administration. So let’s not get our hopes up that the Obami will see the light and try a different approach with some chance of success.

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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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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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Standing up to the Obami

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

This report tip-toes around the facts related to how Honduras ousted Manuel Zelaya and achieved remarkable success in thwarting the Obami bullies. The report prefers to characterize it an as “elite” victory:

The story of how the second-poorest country in the hemisphere defied a superpower involves smooth-talking U.S. lobbyists and a handful of congressional Republicans. Perhaps most of all, it features a Honduran elite terrified that their country was being hijacked by someone they considered an erratic leftist.

But that’s not quite right. In fact, the support for Zelaya’s ousting came from the Honduran Congress, military, supreme court, business community, and the Catholic church. It was, at the very least, the victory of a wide and broad “elite.” Nor is there any evidence that Zelaya stood with non-elites. He stood with Hugo Chavez against virtually every institution and segment of Honduran society. Nor was this a “coup” in the way the term has historically been used in Latin America. The report grudgingly concedes as much:

Still, it was hardly an old-style Latin American coup. The soldiers were acting on a secret Supreme Court arrest warrant charging Zelaya with abuse of power. Legislators replaced him with a civilian. As promised, the de facto government proceeded with regularly scheduled presidential elections in November.

Ironically, the Honduran interim government wound up isolating the Obami — not the other way around. They smartly made their case to Republicans in Congress (“They won support from a handful of Republicans, who held up diplomatic appointments, weakening the State Department’s Latin America team”) and pushed forward with the only feasible solution — free and fair elections. Eventually the Obami were forced to back down: “As the crisis dragged on, U.S. diplomats got both sides to agree in October to allow the Honduran Congress to decide on Zelaya’s restoration. Until the end, Washington publicly supported his return. But after many delays, lawmakers finally voted Wednesday — no.”

There is a lesson there for small democracies. If they abide by democratic principles, sustain a united front domestically, and refuse to accede to the arrogance of Foggy Bottom and the White House, they can control their own destiny. (Hmm, seems to also have worked out in Israel.) That it should require such a Herculean effort to resist the strong-arming tactics of the United States is sobering and distressing.

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Over, Finally

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

The curtain has come down on Manuel Zelaya and the Obami’s Honduran escapade:

The Honduran Congress voted on Wednesday not to allow the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a move that closes the door on his return to power after he was toppled in a June coup. Congress was deciding Zelaya’s fate as part of a U.S.-brokered deal between the deposed leftist and the country’s de facto leaders who took power after the coup.

Well, Zelaya is still “holed up in the Brazilian Embassy.” But democracy has prevailed in Honduras. Hugo Chavez’s ambitions have been thwarted. The conservative critics of the Obami’s ill-fated decision to back Zelaya have been vindicated. And we hope that the Honduran people harbor no ill will toward the U.S., which cut off aid and took away some visas. But all’s well that end’s well, right?

Marty Peretz puckishly suggests that the Obama team should be touting this as a rare foreign-policy success. But that might require an uncomfortable recitation of the salient facts following the ouster of Zelaya:

The president spoke, Mrs. Clinton spoke especially shrilly. The government’s Latin American professionals supported Zelaya, whose backing seemed increasingly thin. And then quietly the Obamae began its retreat. First it said that it wanted Zelaya to return. But, then … no one in Foggy Bottom was talking about the deposed would-be dictator. And, yes, the U.S. would recognize the election of Lobo.

Yes, it’s a bit meandering. But what other foreign-policy foray has worked out so well? The Middle East. Hmm, not even. Iranian engagement? Yikes! Alliances with Eastern Europe and India? Uh, not really. The Russian reset? Slim pickings. The illustrious record on human rights? You see the point. At least in Honduras, the Obami figured out that they were playing a losing hand and retreated from the scene. It really is their finest hour.

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A Losing Season

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

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Congratulations to the Little Country That Could

Throughout the Honduran “crisis” — the removal of the Honduran president by order of a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court, supported by the virtually unanimous approval of the Honduran Congress — many noted there was an easy remedy for the alleged “coup”: hold the already scheduled election between the already selected candidates and install an undeniably democratic government.

Instead, President Obama labeled what had happened a “military coup,” cut off aid to one of the poorest states in the hemisphere, revoked the visas of the entire Honduran Supreme Court, and resisted for months the obvious solution to the “crisis.”

On Friday, the State Department finally endorsed the election, describing it in terms that would have made Simon Bolivar blush:

The electoral process — launched well before June 28 and involving legitimate candidates representing parties with longstanding democratic traditions from a broad ideological spectrum — is conducted under the stewardship of the multi-party and autonomous Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was also selected before the coup. The electoral renewal of presidential, congressional and mayoral mandates, enshrined in the Honduran constitution, is an inalienable expression of the sovereign will of the citizens of Honduras.

Honduras now holds the Guinness record for shortest Latin American “coup” ever. Yesterday, the election officials announced that more than 61.5 percent of registered Hondurans went to the polls, a historic record turnout:

The announcement from the TSE [Tribunal Supremo Electoral] received a standing ovation from the attentive room of official observers and spectators.

The TSE stated they would welcome any international audit of the results.

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally recognizing that its misguided policy had reached a dead end and reversing course before it was too late. It is a lesson the administration could profitably apply in other foreign-policy areas as well.

Throughout the Honduran “crisis” — the removal of the Honduran president by order of a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court, supported by the virtually unanimous approval of the Honduran Congress — many noted there was an easy remedy for the alleged “coup”: hold the already scheduled election between the already selected candidates and install an undeniably democratic government.

Instead, President Obama labeled what had happened a “military coup,” cut off aid to one of the poorest states in the hemisphere, revoked the visas of the entire Honduran Supreme Court, and resisted for months the obvious solution to the “crisis.”

On Friday, the State Department finally endorsed the election, describing it in terms that would have made Simon Bolivar blush:

The electoral process — launched well before June 28 and involving legitimate candidates representing parties with longstanding democratic traditions from a broad ideological spectrum — is conducted under the stewardship of the multi-party and autonomous Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was also selected before the coup. The electoral renewal of presidential, congressional and mayoral mandates, enshrined in the Honduran constitution, is an inalienable expression of the sovereign will of the citizens of Honduras.

Honduras now holds the Guinness record for shortest Latin American “coup” ever. Yesterday, the election officials announced that more than 61.5 percent of registered Hondurans went to the polls, a historic record turnout:

The announcement from the TSE [Tribunal Supremo Electoral] received a standing ovation from the attentive room of official observers and spectators.

The TSE stated they would welcome any international audit of the results.

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally recognizing that its misguided policy had reached a dead end and reversing course before it was too late. It is a lesson the administration could profitably apply in other foreign-policy areas as well.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

You have to strain to find the Washington Post‘s editors acknowledging that Obama’s Honduras policy has been a bust.

Elliott Abrams on the human-rights consequences of raising “multilateralism” to the end-all and be-all of American foreign policy: “Multilateral diplomacy means small talk with torturers, tea with dictators, negotiations with regimes that survive through sheer brutal repression — and it means putting such unpleasant facts aside to gather UN votes and seek consensus.”

David Ignatius has figured out what scares Democrats: “If the Fed’s projections are right, the public is going to be very angry next year — at big business and at the elected officials who have spent trillions of dollars without putting the country fully back to work.” Translation: they mortgaged our future economic security and growth for nothing.

Clarence Page is scared about the gap in enthusiasm, which shows that in 2010, “81 percent of self-described Republicans say they are certain or likely to vote, compared to 65 percent of independent voters and only 56 percent of Democrats.”

Charles Krauthammer keeps getting hung up on that whole Constitution thing: “I think what’s interesting about Obama is he is going to be at the U.N. [conference in Copenhagen] to announce the [new] policy about climate change on the basis of — nothing. He is going to be proposing what the House has passed — that he knows is not going to pass in the Senate. And we are actually a constitutional democracy where the president can’t announce a policy unilaterally. It actually has to pass the two houses of the Congress, and our allies abroad know that, and they’re going to look at this announcement he is going to make and think it … extremely strange.”

Apparently Americans don’t like panels of experts telling them what to do about health care: “A federal medical panel’s recommendation that women can now wait until age 50 to get a routine mammogram instead of age 40 is stirring up strong debate. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds that 81% of adults disagree with the panel’s recommendation. Just nine percent (8%) agree with the new guideline, and another nine percent (9%) are not sure.”

We certainly have seen lots of these already: “It’s one of the oldest tricks in the presidential playbook: when you want to focus attention on an issue, hold a meeting and call it a ‘summit.’” But if you really don’t have a plan to address unemployment and your agenda items are anti–job growth (e.g., raising taxes on small businesses), is it such a good idea to hold a summit?

The New York Times pans Obama’s Middle East approach: “Nine months later, the president’s promising peace initiative has unraveled. The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything. Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.” And to boot, even the Times can see that George Mitchell and Rahm Emanuel bear responsibility for the debacle. So will either be canned?

You have to strain to find the Washington Post‘s editors acknowledging that Obama’s Honduras policy has been a bust.

Elliott Abrams on the human-rights consequences of raising “multilateralism” to the end-all and be-all of American foreign policy: “Multilateral diplomacy means small talk with torturers, tea with dictators, negotiations with regimes that survive through sheer brutal repression — and it means putting such unpleasant facts aside to gather UN votes and seek consensus.”

David Ignatius has figured out what scares Democrats: “If the Fed’s projections are right, the public is going to be very angry next year — at big business and at the elected officials who have spent trillions of dollars without putting the country fully back to work.” Translation: they mortgaged our future economic security and growth for nothing.

Clarence Page is scared about the gap in enthusiasm, which shows that in 2010, “81 percent of self-described Republicans say they are certain or likely to vote, compared to 65 percent of independent voters and only 56 percent of Democrats.”

Charles Krauthammer keeps getting hung up on that whole Constitution thing: “I think what’s interesting about Obama is he is going to be at the U.N. [conference in Copenhagen] to announce the [new] policy about climate change on the basis of — nothing. He is going to be proposing what the House has passed — that he knows is not going to pass in the Senate. And we are actually a constitutional democracy where the president can’t announce a policy unilaterally. It actually has to pass the two houses of the Congress, and our allies abroad know that, and they’re going to look at this announcement he is going to make and think it … extremely strange.”

Apparently Americans don’t like panels of experts telling them what to do about health care: “A federal medical panel’s recommendation that women can now wait until age 50 to get a routine mammogram instead of age 40 is stirring up strong debate. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds that 81% of adults disagree with the panel’s recommendation. Just nine percent (8%) agree with the new guideline, and another nine percent (9%) are not sure.”

We certainly have seen lots of these already: “It’s one of the oldest tricks in the presidential playbook: when you want to focus attention on an issue, hold a meeting and call it a ‘summit.’” But if you really don’t have a plan to address unemployment and your agenda items are anti–job growth (e.g., raising taxes on small businesses), is it such a good idea to hold a summit?

The New York Times pans Obama’s Middle East approach: “Nine months later, the president’s promising peace initiative has unraveled. The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won’t talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything. Mr. Obama’s own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.” And to boot, even the Times can see that George Mitchell and Rahm Emanuel bear responsibility for the debacle. So will either be canned?

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Nice to Whom?

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

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What Are They Getting for It?

Gordon Chang notes that observers and analysts across the political spectrum are dismayed by Obama’s human-rights approach regarding China — a crouch more than an approach, actually. He writes:

What Obama and Clinton fail to comprehend is that America derives its security because of its values.  Peoples around the world support our policies precisely because they share our beliefs.  And with the Chinese there is another dimension:  Beijing’s ruthlessly pragmatic leaders see our failure to press human rights as a sign that we think we are weak.  And if they think we are weak, they see little reason to cooperate.  So promoting human rights is protecting American security.

And like so many other ill-conceived Obama foreign-policy gambits (e.g., the Middle East, Honduras, Iran), the end result is to set back American interests and embolden our adversaries. As Chang writes, the Chinese were delighted when Clinton declared earlier in the year that we can’t let human rights “interfere” with other matters. The predictable result is that China’s human-rights behavior gets worse and we weaken our own bargaining position on other matters:

Since [Clinton's remarks in February], they have been noticeably less cooperative on the great issues of the day. And in March, just one month after her statement, they felt bold enough to order their vessels to harass two of our unarmed ships in international waters in the South China and Yellow Seas. The Chinese even attempted to sever a towed sonar array from one of the Navy vessels. That hostile act constituted an attack on the United States.

It is unclear why, in the face of such uniform criticism and such dismal results, the Obama team shows no sign of reversing course. They believe what they believe, it seems, and no amount of real-world evidence is going to get in the way of their desire to throw human rights under the bus for the sake of ingratiating themselves with the world’s despots.

Gordon Chang notes that observers and analysts across the political spectrum are dismayed by Obama’s human-rights approach regarding China — a crouch more than an approach, actually. He writes:

What Obama and Clinton fail to comprehend is that America derives its security because of its values.  Peoples around the world support our policies precisely because they share our beliefs.  And with the Chinese there is another dimension:  Beijing’s ruthlessly pragmatic leaders see our failure to press human rights as a sign that we think we are weak.  And if they think we are weak, they see little reason to cooperate.  So promoting human rights is protecting American security.

And like so many other ill-conceived Obama foreign-policy gambits (e.g., the Middle East, Honduras, Iran), the end result is to set back American interests and embolden our adversaries. As Chang writes, the Chinese were delighted when Clinton declared earlier in the year that we can’t let human rights “interfere” with other matters. The predictable result is that China’s human-rights behavior gets worse and we weaken our own bargaining position on other matters:

Since [Clinton's remarks in February], they have been noticeably less cooperative on the great issues of the day. And in March, just one month after her statement, they felt bold enough to order their vessels to harass two of our unarmed ships in international waters in the South China and Yellow Seas. The Chinese even attempted to sever a towed sonar array from one of the Navy vessels. That hostile act constituted an attack on the United States.

It is unclear why, in the face of such uniform criticism and such dismal results, the Obama team shows no sign of reversing course. They believe what they believe, it seems, and no amount of real-world evidence is going to get in the way of their desire to throw human rights under the bus for the sake of ingratiating themselves with the world’s despots.

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What’s It Getting Us?

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

Mike Allen, who pouted over the weekend that readers were complaining about the lack of coverage of the “bow,” now seems to get it:

Greeting the Japanese emperor at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace last weekend, President Barack Obama bowed so low that he was looking straight at the stone floor. The next day, Obama shook hands with the prime minister of repressive Myanmar during a group meeting. The day after that, the president held a “town hall” with Chinese university students who had been selected by the regime.

The images from the president’s journey through Asia carried a potent symbolism that has riled critics back home. One conservative website called the episodes “Obamateurism.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney told POLITICO that Obama was advertising “weakness.”

But the Obami love all this. It is showing “modesty about our attitudes toward other countries,” our president tells us. No, it is submissiveness, not modesty. But modesty would be a good thing — for example, not telling Honduras what its constitution means and not bullying Israel on where Jews can live would be vast improvements. Allen tells us that Obama doesn’t like all those “bald assertions of American self-interest.” Yes, it’s a head scratcher because the American president is supposed to be doing everything in his power to advance American interests. Isn’t he? I thought that was in the job description.

Ah, but it’s all so clever. He really wants what is good for us, he’s just going to pretend he doesn’t all that much, thereby getting everyone to co-operate with us. The way to do this is by bowing, figuratively and literally, and showing we are in effect not only no better than others, but less deserving. (That’s the meaning of the low bow — the other guy has higher status.) Cheney explains: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” What a quaint idea — that the president does not scrape before foreign leaders.

But is it working? The plan is to appear meek and mild and lure other countries into giving us stuff. But alas, it’s been a bust:

The pageantry of his trip is also playing out against a parade of disappointment: Administration officials have acknowledged that a binding international climate agreement won’t emerge from the Copenhagen summit next month. An arms-reduction treaty with Russia is going to expire Dec. 5 without a new one in place, forcing the parties to scramble to sign an interim “bridging agreement.” And Iran and North Korea have yet to deliver on Obama’s promise that U.S. engagement will yield better behavior.

And we’ve not exactly bowled them over in the Middle East or gotten anything from Russia.

You’d think Obama, who wanted “smart” diplomacy and new “pragmatism” (determined to “leave ideology behind”) would take a look around and see what his team has accomplished: nothing. If they have no innate aversion, no skin-crawling reaction to the suck-uppery, perhaps the Obama team will at least recognize that it’s all been a failure. Then they can fire some people and start over. Unfortunately, that photo of the bow is forever.

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The Bow Is Par for the Course

Jake Tapper finds an academic with some expertise on Japan who relates this on the cringe-inducing bow:

“Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.

“Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.

“The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms…. The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.

Without getting too carried away, this incident is a neat little example of Obama’s foreign-policy blunder-fest. First, the arrogance — he lived abroad, don’t you know. He “gets” other cultures. Second, the ignorance — no, he doesn’t. He should not have done this, both because it is an affront to American dignity (we have not submitted to monarchs since 1776) and because it conveys the wrong message to the Japanese. Third, Obama’s natural inclination is groveling, ingratiating, and general suck-uppery. He seems to believe that, rather than an erect projection of American strength, submissiveness is going to get him/us somewhere. Finally, the lie — oh this is “protocol,” the Obami say. Ah, no it’s not. Whether delivering fractured history (in Cairo), or denying their own failed gambit (preconditions? what preconditions for the Middle East peace process?), or disguising their motives (dismantling missile defense isn’t to appease the Russians, we were laughably told), or trying to pull a fast one to get out of an embarrassing jam (Honduras), the Obama foreign-policy operation is one of the most disingenuous and incompetent in recent memory.

Sometimes a bow is just a bow. And sometimes it is a reminder that it is amateur hour at a critical time in our history.

Jake Tapper finds an academic with some expertise on Japan who relates this on the cringe-inducing bow:

“Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.

“Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.

“The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms…. The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.

Without getting too carried away, this incident is a neat little example of Obama’s foreign-policy blunder-fest. First, the arrogance — he lived abroad, don’t you know. He “gets” other cultures. Second, the ignorance — no, he doesn’t. He should not have done this, both because it is an affront to American dignity (we have not submitted to monarchs since 1776) and because it conveys the wrong message to the Japanese. Third, Obama’s natural inclination is groveling, ingratiating, and general suck-uppery. He seems to believe that, rather than an erect projection of American strength, submissiveness is going to get him/us somewhere. Finally, the lie — oh this is “protocol,” the Obami say. Ah, no it’s not. Whether delivering fractured history (in Cairo), or denying their own failed gambit (preconditions? what preconditions for the Middle East peace process?), or disguising their motives (dismantling missile defense isn’t to appease the Russians, we were laughably told), or trying to pull a fast one to get out of an embarrassing jam (Honduras), the Obama foreign-policy operation is one of the most disingenuous and incompetent in recent memory.

Sometimes a bow is just a bow. And sometimes it is a reminder that it is amateur hour at a critical time in our history.

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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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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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