Thursday, June 10, 2010

Clinton to Brazil/Turkey: You're Against U.S.? Hey, That's Cool!

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By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration has replaced George W. Bush’s, “You’re either with us or you’re against us,” with, “If you’re not with us, that’s cool!

What do you do when a supposedly friendly country stabs you in the back?

Normal diplomacy: Show them (and would-be imitators) that there is a cost for behaving that way.

Obama diplomacy: Assure them that their actions are understandable and their behavior will have no effect on your relationship.

Brazil and Turkey sabotaged U.S. efforts to get more sanctions against Iran by making their own deal with Tehran, then voting against sanctions so weak that even China and Russia supported them. Why? It isn’t a misunderstanding but rather because Brazil and Turkey are allies of Iran.

Then, Turkey’s government in part managed and has done everything it can to turn into a major crisis the Gaza flotilla affair.

Now it isn’t a matter of the United States declaring war on Brazil and Turkey, or slapping sanctions on them, or insulting them. But when someone stabs you in the back a couple of times you must react in some way to indicate that if they continue to do it there will be consequences. This is how foreign policy works (or should I say, is supposed to work).

You can say something like this:

We value the historic friendship of Brazil and Turkey but we are disturbed by their recent actions and feel that it is contrary to the way that allies should be expected to behave. In future, we must bear in mind their performance and hope that it will change so we can preserve the rich, mutually beneficial relations that have for so long existed between our countries.

Instead, what we get is assurance from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that there are no hard feelings, the United States is going to do nothing, and instead will continue to consider Brazil and Turkey to be helpful even for the purpose of dealing with Iran.

Clinton also said that while she disagreed with their vote, she could understand why they thought it was logical to oppose sanctions. In other words, you not only don’t punish or criticize those who sabotage you, not only do you make clear you won’t hold it against them, but you actually praise their action.

It isn't that Clinton is just being irrational. U.S. policy apparently hopes to use Brazil and Turkey in future as intermediaries with Iran to try to negotiate. But that's precisely part of the problem: you don't use a "rotten" timber to build your policy house; it's a mistake to employ a demonstrably unreliable party as your agent because things are certain to go wrong.

There’s something profoundly wrong in this and it is one more symptom of why Obama’s foreign policy will fail and create further problems: Why do what the United States wants when there is no reward for doing so and zero punishment for not doing so?

[Incidentally, the same applies to Venezuela whose dictator, Hugo Chavez, increasingly sounds like Hamas. He recently declared: “Israel finances the Venezuelan opposition, the counter-revolution. There are groups, even Israeli terrorists, the Mossad, that are after me, trying to kill me.” The U.S. government has repeatedly praised, never criticized, Venezuela either despite its anti-American activities.]

Note for the sake of fairness: Some sources say she has been tough on them in private. Perhaps, but I've seen no evidence to that effect so far.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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