Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hilary Clinton's Congressional Testimony Shows What's Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy

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By Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton explains to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that the Obama Administration needed to spend 13 months trying to engage Iran's dictatorship because that's helped its effort to line up world support for new sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

Let me get this straight. Russia and China still oppose sanctions. Some European countries and European Union leaders are holding up approval of sanctions. So I challenge Hilary Clinton: Name one country which opposed sanctions a year ago but now has become an energetic supporter because the United States spent a year giving Iran every chance to make a deal. Name one.

She next asserted that Iran's opposition supports Obama’s policy: "They actually think President Obama has struck exactly the right tone and approach, to give heart to the people who are putting their lives on the line, who know that we support their efforts, but also recognize that they've got a long hard road ahead.”

It is possible oppositionists privately flattered the administration by such statements but every public statement I’ve seen says the opposite. It is not exactly a secret that the administration refused to condemn the Iranian regime at the critical moment just after the stolen election, when the opposition's chances of building momentum were best.

And here, too, in Clinton's formulation, is the implication that popularity proves that a strategy is correct, a fundamental mantra of this administration. In fact, although it is only gradually starting to seep out in the media, many U.S. allies and supporters abroad are horrified by what's happening (as shown by dozens of articles on this blog).

Then she added one of those little sentences that passes unnoticed but is quite important in its implications (that’s why you read this blog to see things like this that everyone else is missing): “What we're trying to do is to get international opinion that will force the Iranian regime to change its calculations."

International opinion? I can understand why President Barack Obama thinks the United States should not be the world’s policeman but he seems to believe that instead it should be the world’s community organizer.

Contemplate this. You're leader of Iran’s regime. You believe the divine being fully supports everything you do. You've effectively defeated the opposition. You're doing well with international Muslim opinion, which is all you care about. You're making rapid strides toward nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. You have allies like Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, and the Iraqi insurgents. Turkey is moving in your direction. You continue trading profitably with Europe, Russia, and China. Things are going pretty well.

And you're going to be scared by “international opinion?”

Of course, Clinton’s arguments about persuading people by going slow and chatting up Iran--which give the appearance that this avoids conflict and problems--are intended for an American domestic audience, not Iran. It is legitimate and inevitable that governments focus a lot on looking good at home. But that should never inhibit at the same time having a good policy that actually deals with the international issues at stake.

And how about those Syrians? A lot of people are confused. The United States made a big concession  by announcing the return of its ambassador and then Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad slaps it in the face (or as a Lebanese friend put it, bashing it in the teeth) by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plus Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah to Damascus. Then,  in their presence, Asad boasts he is Iran's best buddy, calls for Israel’s destruction, and urges the expulsion of U.S. influence from the region.

Simple. Because he can do it and know that the current U.S. government won’t do anything to him. Indeed, the more trouble Syria causes, the rulers in Damascus think--since they view Syria as the region's key factor  and are very arrogant--the more concessions he will get from the United States.

And where could he have gotten such an idea? From everything the Obama Administration has done so far. Sure it talks tough but never does anything, making itself look ridiculous to the really tough bad guys.

Clinton told the congressional hearing: "I think because we were willing to engage, we have a much more receptive audience than we might have had otherwise,"

But, ladies and gentlemen, we have the proper answer to Clinton’s question as to what engagement has achieved: it has demoralized America’s friends and encouraged its enemies to believe that the United States is a cream puff, a pitiful helpless giant, a paper tiger. And are they wrong?

[Incidentally, the same thing seems to be happening--but receiving far less attention--regarding the administration's engagement effort with Cuba]

[Above is the serious political analysis part. Here begins the elective part of the article which you don’t have to read unless you want to.]

And so, if you will permit me some cultural analogies, while Clinton tells us that the Obama Administration is doing a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “I did It My Way,” this week Ahmadinejad, Asad, and Nasrallah got together as a trio to do Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.”

Their version goes something like this:

“You keep saying you'll do something to us.
to show your influence, but we just sneer at you.
You show us you’re more likely just to retreat
And you’ve failed the test we gave you that's quite true.

“These nukes are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these nukes are gonna walk all over you.

“You keep making threats but you’re a weakling,
All you want to do is just engage
You think you can make us do your bidding
But our answer is to escalate our rage

“These nukes are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these nukes are gonna walk all over you.

Are you ready nukes? Start walkin'!”


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