Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Obama Ideology and World Affairs, Part 2: Mostly Middle East

By Barry Rubin

Theme Three: What are America’s goals?

The list of the seven top Obama administration priorities Clinton provides in her speech to the Council of Foreign Relations isn't all that different from those of the previous administration, albeit with some fascinating aspects.

Item 1: “We want to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons, prevent their use, and build a world free of their threat.”

Item 2: “We want to isolate and defeat terrorists and counter violent extremists while reaching out to Muslims around the world. “

Item 3: “We want to encourage and facilitate the efforts of all parties to pursue and achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

All three top items relate directly to the Middle East. And the nuclear issue--which mainly means Iran--is number one, even if camouflaged with the utopian intention of getting rid of all the world's nuclear weapons.

If the Bush administration had made this the number-one item on its explicit agenda, I suspect Obama’s supporters would have blasted him for it as an obsessive focus on Iran neglecting other important priorities.

But why the talk of a nuclear-free world? Aside from any merits for that goal, it is needed to avoid basing opposition to Iran or North Korea on the nature of those regimes. Remember that the Bush administration spoke about the "axis of evil," aggressive, anti-American terrorism-supporting states that were deeply anti-American.

Obama's administration avoids such value judgments. It wants to leave open the door to engagement and believes such claims scare off potential allied cooperation. So Iran is not even named here. Of course, this approach also weakens the administration's case. Ironically, it goes so far as to imply acceptance of Tehran's own argument: why is it all right for other countries to have nuclear weapons and not Iran? The Obama administration approach subverts itself.

Number 2 is what was called the war against terrorism, roughly the same thing in the Obama agenda. It is amusing how the administration avoids relating “terrorists” and “violent extremists” directly to Islam in the first part of the sentence while making it clear they are talking about Muslims in the second part. Note also the basic similarity to Bush administration policy, despite Obama's different style of outreach.

Only in position number 3 is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not even named. The wording seems to indicate a downplaying of pressure on Israel.

I’d go so far as to say that the administration is already moving on, being pressed by events to put more emphasis on Iran. Whatever pretense of intensive action it keeps up on the Israel-Palestinian issue it may already have learned that focusing on this is a mistake. Israel isn’t giving way on the construction, the Palestinians don’t want to do anything, and the Arab world isn’t helping.

Item 4: “We want to seek global economic recovery and growth by strengthening our own economy, advancing a robust development agenda, expanding trade that is free and fair, and boosting investment that creates decent jobs.”

One could argue that in terms of U.S. interests this should be item number 1.

Item 5: “We want to combat climate change, increase energy security, and lay the foundation for a prosperous clean-energy future.”

It is open to question whether such a high priority should be placed and so many resources should be spent based on a theory of man-made climate change which is still being hotly debated. Such an emphasis involving huge amounts of resources and dealing with a long-term phenomenon seems premature. It is also questionable that an administration which rejects drilling for oil on U.S. territory speak of energy security.

Perhaps it would have been better to have gone with a more traditional pro-environment approach, stressing a commitment to both development to fight poverty and sufering in the world while also protecting the environment.

Item 6: “We want to support and encourage democratic governments that protect the rights and deliver results for their people.”

Item 7: “And we intend to stand up for human rights everywhere.”

These last two sound like the historic liberal agenda. But they also sound like George W. Bush, don’t they? And that’s the subject of Part Three of this analysis.

To be continued

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.