Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama’s Foreign Policy Revisited

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 9, 2009

Recent events have turned the focus of the U.S. from domestic issues, such as health care and the economy, to foreign affairs. Critics point to a revelation about hidden nuclear facilities in Iran, the rogue nation’s missile tests, and as-yet unanswered questions about Afghanistan as proof of President Barack Obama’s weakness in foreign policy.

Certainly, it is true that the Obama administration stands in sharp contrast to the hawkish administration of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. This is to be expected, since the current Commander in Chief has consistently favored measured response and diplomacy to the knee-jerk commitment of troops into harm’s way.

Iran is a problem with no easy solutions.

Even with several officials in the previous administration favoring military action in reaction to Iran’s defiance, the reality of the delicate situation and U.S. entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan precluded such measures. Our continued military obligation in both wars, as well as growing concerns in the region, still rule out the kind of scorch and burn aggression some would like to see in regards to Iran.

Absent the option of invasion, one is left with only two real alternatives if one wishes to bring about a change: increased economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiations.

The latter began in earnest last week when the first face-to-face between Iran and United States since the 1979 Iranian Revolution was held in Geneva. This first meeting began a long process aimed at multilaterally addressing the threat of Iran with the support of major players like China and Russia who have a stake in the process as well as essential influence over its outcome.

Even the administration’s harshest critics have had difficulty describing the talks as anything other than a step in the right direction. Officials and the president are cautious in their public response, admitting that much depends on Iran’s willingness to abide by agreements made on October 1. The Iranians must come clean with full disclosure of information about nuclear plants and capabilities. They must also make good on promises to ship much of their existing uranium stockpile out of the country to be enriched (slowing the process and making it less likely that Iran could carry out clandestine plans to build nuclear weaponry).

Iranian officials have committed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to begin inspections within two weeks. However, much depends on the level of real cooperation that is forthcoming from the Iranian government. The missile tests over the past couple of weeks, and anticipation of additional acts of defiance, casts a shadow over hope of compliance.

Iran needs to recognize that it is in its best interest to become a good and responsible world citizen. Pivotal to that realization is the threat of sanctions by a unified global coalition. Steps are already being taken to prepare for the event of Iran’s insolence. With international cooperation, economic sanctions like the prevention of Iran’s importation of refined petroleum can be effective as long as other stakeholder nations work together.

In this sense, Obama’s strategy in dealing with Iran is exactly as it should be. The U.S. has initiated negotiations along with other nation’s that share an interest in limiting Iran’s nuclear capacity. And in the event that Iran squanders international goodwill by rejecting the opportunity to move forward, sanctions will be swift and harsh.

Obama’s position on Afghanistan has become increasingly complicated. It is problematic that during his election campaign and early in his presidency his claim was that the U.S. had taken its eye off the ball and too quickly became distracted by Iraq. It is true that opportunities were missed and it is true that Iraq consumed precious resources that may have possibly prevented the Taliban’s resurgence, and avoided some bloodshed in the violence-torn nation.

However, the war is becoming increasingly unpopular and many analysts believe that a reevaluation of strategy there is necessary. Civilian deaths and an open-ended timetable have become impediments to progress and the sources of growing animosity and mistrust of Americans. There is some evidence that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been used as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.

Further complexity is added to the predicament by forces of corruption within the Afghan government. The recent presidential elections are suspect and a culture of corruption seems to infect the political structure. Cooperation with a state to provide counterinsurgency defense becomes perilous in an environment that is contaminated by fraud.

It is becoming clearer that real success in Afghanistan may not be attainable. History has shown that the country does not respond well to military invasion and that those who have attempted in the past to wage effective warfare using formidable military might have found Afghanistan a hostile territory. Afghans have outlasted the Soviets, and the U.S. has fought there for eight years with worsening conditions and no clear goal in sight.

Whatever is announced as the White House’s official strategy regarding the increase of troops at the request of General McChrystal and others, Obama is right to take ample time to make the determination. This may seem like an odd approach after eight years of stay-the-course-at-all-cost policy, but risking the lives of America’s sons and daughters is a weighty decision and one that is best deliberated.

Lessons from Copenhagen

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, October 9, 2009

All we need to know about our president’s priorities and his readiness to play a major role in the world was made crystal clear to us this past week. While our brave soldiers fought the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and the illegitimate president of Iran flaunted his defiance toward the UN and the United States, we saw our president flying off toward Copenhagen to put the full force of his charisma behind the push for the 2016 Olympics to be played in his hometown of Chicago. Five full-size jets, two of which were undoubtedly needed to carry his ego alone, carried the leader of the free world to a foreign shore, not to show support for the above-named troops or to meet with foreign leaders about the crisis in Iran, but to act as a public relations office for a city that needs a major change in its effort to control rampaging youths more than it needs the Olympics.

The first indicator of your leader’s weakness is when he is criticized by the French leader as being too soft. President Sarkozy’s criticism of Obama, which seemed to escape the attention of our national anchors who had their hands full covering the weighty issues of David Letterman’s affairs, would have been trumpeted from every front page if he had called Bush naïve or accused him of living in a virtual world. Yet those are the words Sarkozy used in reference to Obama’s speech at the UN and his demeanor during the talks at Geneva.

Perhaps Sarkozy knows something of which he speaks. After all, his nation still smells of the burning buildings that resulted from radical Islamists who – for all their misguided direction – at least demonstrate true resolve and passion for their cause, which, by the way, is not peaceful coexistence with those of us they believe to be infidels.

Obama seems to indeed suffer from the naïve supposition that all the world needs is a song to sing and a Coke to drink and we will all live together in a nice yellow submarine. The sad fact is that the “peace at any cost” mantra of the 60’s and 70’s brought us the Carter years and it wasn’t until a more mature outlook from Reagan and Co. in the 80’s brought American pride and idealism back into prominence.

An overlooked fact by Obama as he takes his apology express to every international venue is that if it were not for the policies of Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2, he would be dealing with Iran plus an empowered and emboldened Saddam Hussein as well as a U.S.S.R that would have bases in Salvador and possibly Guatemala. He seems to miss the point that it was not by negotiations alone that we were able to dissuade radical dictators.

My brother claims that the recent meeting in Geneva represents a victory for multilateral talks and that we walked away from there with a whimpering, remorseful Iran agreeing to all the demands of the UN and IAEA. I am afraid to say that the real winner in Geneva was Iran. They gave up nothing and they received plenty. They admitted they had a previously undisclosed nuclear reactor in the region of Qom. Then they sheepishly agreed to open the facility for inspections – in two weeks. This surely shows that they are scared of Obama and the UN, right? Wrong.

A sad fact that has escaped the rookie in the White House, is that the reactor in Qom is not even operational. The real threat is located at the reactor in Natanz and while we send in inspectors who will issue reports and have further Security Council wrangling, the work goes on unhindered and sanctions are avoided for another six to nine months – more than enough time for weapons-grade Uranium to be developed.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is left to its own devices to defend its borders as they now realize that no help is to be expected from the president who essentially sided with the Palestinian suicide bombers in his speech to the UN. If they (the Israelis) demonstrate true resolve and forethought by using a surgical airstrike to destroy the reactors before they become operational, it will be even more evident that Obama lacks leadership on the world stage.

So, what have we learned in the past few weeks? Well, we learned that not only are we not the first choice for the Olympic games, we aren’t even first choice for the games that really matter.