Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is Anyone Going to Do Anything that Obama Asks?

Here's an interesting way to look at things: Nobody does what America asks them to do.

The Europeans turned President Obama down flat on all his requests.

Pakistan is only fighting the Taliban to the minimal extent needed to avoid being overthrown. It doesn't fight that hard to wipe out al-Qaida and the country's intelligence services are probably helping both these groups.

Iran doesn't stop building nuclear weapons.

Syria doesn't stop sending terrorists across into Iraq or other countries.

Arab states don't help very much with the peace process.

Israel isn't going to risk its existence if the White House says to do so.

And so on. What we see here is a limit on U.S. power. It is no doubt exacerbated when people don't take the United States seriously as a tough, determined country. Even when the United States does act this way, they doubt its staying power.

One lesson is that multilateralism is not a magic wand for solving problems.

Another is that after you apologize for past use of power and leadership, insist you're going to listen to what everyone else wants, and put a priority on conciliating your enemies, other countries are not inclined to follow your lead.

In other words, Obama has been sabotaging his own effectiveness.

President Teddy Roosevelt memorably said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." And he got the Panama Canal built and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war.  

He didn't say, "Speak softly and apologize a lot."

Can the Obama administration even succeed in a very small, specific task, say to reform the UN human rights' committee?

On the other hand, though, how much can everyone want to play by Politically Correct rules when they look at Sri Lanka. The government finally defeated a long insurgency by taking off the gloves, launching a major offensive, ignoring civilian casualties, and following through--without foreign interference--to victory.

Countries wanting U.S. and European support aren't allowed to do things that way. Enemies are, or in the Sri Lankan case, countries that fall off the radar. We saw the same thing with the Algerian defeat of the Islamist insurgency there.

Contrary to what many think, we did not see that kind of thing in Israel's defensive wars against Hizballah in 2006 or Hamas in 2009. That's not all due to U.S. policy, of course, but these distinctions should be kept in mind.

As for the current U.S. government, the difference between domestic and foreign policies is that the government controls a lot more variables in the former category. No matter how much the "beautiful people" love Obama at home (and say they do so in Europe), doesn't make him more effective internationally.

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