Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Obama Meets, Greets, and Self-Inflicts Defeats

Some months ago I teased a European ambassador by saying, "You Europeans have spent years pulling back the United States from one direction and now you're going to have to pull it back from the opposite direction." He laughed, understanding the point precisely. Europeans thought Bush was too far to the right, now they have to deal with an American president who, even for their tastes, is too far to the left.

The G-8 meeting will show how much this factor is in play. Clearly, a number of European countries were tougher on the Iranian regime than was Obama. But still, the Europeans don't actually want to do anything so perhaps the Americans and Europeans will get along okay any way.

Obama's visit to Moscow, in contrast, looks like a failure to anyone other than the mass media for which he cannot do much wrong. Given the massive problems and misunderstandings plauging the relationship, getting an agreement on reduction of nuclear arms doesn't achieve very much.

A serious U.S. president would have been dealing with differences over Central Europe and the south Caucasus, as well as regarding sanctions on Iran. But Obama's world view seeks to avoid trouble so--except when dealing with Israel or Honduras--he ignores actual problems (North Korea, Iran crisis, Somali pirates, instability in Pakistan, for example). That's the first thing wrong with Obama's policy.

There is something profoundly revealing about his use of the phrase "bearing witness" regarding the conflict within Iran. The issue is not that a U.S. president should intervene internally there, but certainly if America becomes witness rather than leader, observer rather than shaper of events, there is a second aspect of Obama's policy that is seriously wrong. 

In the stead of real issues we get utopianism, the third thing wrong. Obama wants to eliminate nuclear weapons, he says, and so the deal with Russia can be portrayed as such. But there's a mistake here. America's problem is not with Russian nukes but with Pakistani and Iranian nukes. No matter how few warheads the United States and Russia have will not contribute anything to world peace or stability.

Similarly, Obama wants to obtain a quick Arab-Israeli peace agreement but gets tangled up in details; to make friends with Iran and Syria but  they keep biting his hand; and make Muslims love America by pretending that radical Islamists are an insignificant minority that's got nothing much to do with Islam.

As the administration approaches the six-month mark, one can be grateful that not more damage has been inflicted but it's still early and the president has not faced a crisis yet. True, there have been some crises, but he didn't face them either.

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