Friday, September 21, 2012

Obama's Foreign Policy Failures

Obama's foreign policy approach is looking deeply naive. Here's a deeply reported piece on his China policy in the NYT, which clearly relies on discussions with the White House. It claims he is shifting to a tougher line with China, after initial accommodation delivered poor results:

The shift emerged in fits and starts, after a first year in which critics, including the president’s aides, concluded that the United States had been too soft on China. In interviews, a dozen current and former administration officials described a White House that struggled to find the right tone with Beijing.

From his decision not to meet with the Dalai Lama in 2009 to his tightly constrained first trip to China, the president accommodated Chinese leaders in the hopes that the moves would translate into good will on issues like climate change or Iran’s nuclear program.

They did not. China spurned the United States on climate change standards, dragged its feet on efforts to pressure Iran and began bullying its neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea. That last development, in particular, persuaded the administration that the time for accommodation had come to an end.

The same story has played out with Iran.

To some extent, Mr. Obama’s learning curve on China parallels his early outreach to Iran: an initial hope that old adversaries could put aside their differences, followed by a jolting recognition of reality and the ultimate adoption of a realpolitik approach. The difference, officials argue, is that in this case the tougher line has led not to stalemate but to a constructive give-and-take with a country bound to rub up against the United States.

(My bold). Wishful thinking, in other words, was the basis of his foreign policy, and all the more so in his notorious Cairo speech. This is a deeply shocking account. A President is not there to have a "jolting recognition of reality" halfway through his term. That is shameful.

Charles Krauthammer is no friend to the Obama administration, of course. Still, his blistering attack in the Washington Post this morning makes sense. He says it is a foreign policy in "epic collapse."

It’s now three years since the Cairo speech. Look around. The Islamic world is convulsed with an explosion of anti-Americanism. From Tunisia to Lebanon, American schools, businesses and diplomatic facilities set ablaze. A U.S. ambassador and three others murdered in Benghazi. The black flag of Salafism, of which al-Qaeda is a prominent element, raised over our embassies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.
The administration, staggered and confused, blames it all on a 14-minute trailer for a film no one has seen and may not even exist.

What else can it say? Admit that its doctrinal premises were supremely naive and its policies deeply corrosive to American influence?

In foreign policy terms, I'm not a complete "realist", as the doctrine goes. Not everything is pure power or narrowly defined national interest. Legitimacy and ideas count as well. But you do have to deal with reality as you find it.

Much liberal foreign (and domestic) policy has a Hogwarts quality about it. It imagines that saying the right words can work like a magic spell, if only they are spoken in the right way. Perhaps that is a very old conviction about ritual that dates back to the earliest religions. But unfortunately the world does not respond to magic.


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