Obama's Foreign Policy: Bambi Versus the Sharks
It is not such a big deal to disagree with a president and his policies. But it is shocking to realize that the leader of the world's most powerful country doesn't appear to understand the most basic principles of international relations.
This isn't surprising since Barrack Obama has no-zero, nada-previous experience in this area. It shows. There are two distinct ways other countries respond to this combination of his ignorance at realpolitik, urgent desire to be liked, and pride in projecting U.S. weakness:
- Friends, especially in Europe, are pleased, applaud, but then add that they don't have to give this guy anything because he is all apologies and no toughness. They like the fact that he is all carrots and not sticks. If, however, they are states more at risk-Israel, relatively moderate Arab states, perhaps Asian and Latin American allies--worry that they cannot rely on the United States to help and defend them.
- Enemies or potential rivals, a category including Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, and many-mostly Islamist-revolutionary movements, say that this guy is weak and defeated. He apologizes, offers unconditional engagements, and promises concessions because all previous U.S. policies have failed. Obama says so himself. They'll eat the carrots and, of possible, their neighbors as well.
Obama, the supposed liberal, also offers some considerable, bizarre reversals in the meaning of that word. A couple of years ago when a brilliant conservative Middle East analyst asked me if I, too, was a conservative now, I said that I remained a liberal. In my view, the problem is not liberalism itself but the way that the far left has taken over liberalism, as Communism tried-but failed-to do in the 1930s.
For me, though, a liberal president is one who is harshly critical of dictatorships. He has been the kind of person who understands the importance of ideas and the value of America's good side throughout history. He didn't spend his time denouncing U.S. mistakes so much as urging others to follow the American system of democracy and reasonably regulated free enterprise.
Such a president hates totalitarianism because he extolled the liberty embodied by the United States. A liberal president wasn't someone eager to suck up to repressive dictatorships but someone who could unite democratic and moderate states.
Will some presidential successor of Obama have to apologize some day to all those people who were crushed by the dictatorships he is coddling?
In this sense, Obama is a very conservative president.
A sophisticated president, for me, is not just someone with university degree credentials and slick delivery, even if unenhanced by teleprompter, but someone who knows how the world works. This includes knowing not everyone thinks the same way and that ideas matter.
In this sense, Obama is a very uneducated president.
These thoughts were inspired most immediately by something said by Dan Restrepo, Obama's Latin American expert on the National Security Council, for that regoin's summit. Regarding Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, he said:
"Let's not have tired ideological arguments. Let's get down to figuring out how we can advance things that are in our national interest: things that matter to the United States that should matter to Venezuela."
Clearly, Obama read Restrepo's briefing paper. Rather than defend America, after a long anti-American rant by the demagogic and repressive Chavez, Obama responded:
"Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We've all heard these arguments."
In effect, he was saying: I refuse to believe you mean anything you say. I reject the idea that you are a threat. I will pretend we can get along just fine.
Implied here is the idea that Chavez can be persuaded by pure pragmatism to cooperate on solving problems. This is nonsense. The basic issue here is not that Chavez is "evil" but that his interests are based on bashing America, obstructing cooperation, repressing his people, and allying with other radical forces. He will never change because he has such a huge interest in continuing to do the same things.
The same applies for the rulers of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and probably for the Putin regime in Russia as well. You don't persuade them because their behavior is based not on misunderstanding or grievance but their own very sound material interests and ambitions.
In addition, they also believe America is declining and they're winning. Why change if no force or pressure requires it? Why moderate when you're doing great being radical and aggressive?
If you follow what is said in these dictatorships, it's crystal clear that Obama's positions are encouraging future violence, conflict, instability, and the spread of repressive doctrines. Here's the best single example from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's April 15 speech in Kerman:
"We welcome [the call by the West for dialogue with Iran], but we put forth several proposals to them: We say to you that you yourselves know that you are today in a position of weakness. Your hands are empty, and you can no longer promote your affairs from a position of strength."
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), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org